A certain amount of Internet distraction at work is understandable, but what about when a co-worker spends the majority of her time online shopping or browsing Facebook? When is it time to intervene?
Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) helps this reader figure out how to handle a distracted co-worker who’s not pulling her share of the work.
I share office space with one other person who is about half my age. The age reference is relevant because it relates to my question.
About half her work day is spent online rather than working. Whether she is clothes shopping, looking at mansions on Zillow, looking at pictures of dogs available for adoption, corresponding on Facebook, browsing Reddit, or reading her news feed, she will toggle between working and surfing throughout the day.
She prefers to keep our office door closed, although we have no outside windows and little air circulation, because it allows her to hear when someone enters so that she can quickly click off the internet screen. I have seen her do this numerous times, and so has our boss. Equally as annoying are her frequent comments to me about what she is reading, often accompanied by an email providing me with the link to that which she is referring.
My workload does not permit me the luxury of casual internet browsing, nor am I interested in it. When she talks to me or forwards her items of interest, it’s not just distracting, it causes me to feel resentment toward her for her lack of consideration of the time and effort that I put into my job. On an ethical level, I feel that collecting a paycheck for browsing the internet is, in essence, stealing from the non-profit organization for which we work.
Here is where the age-related part of my question comes in: Is this behavior now more generally accepted in the workplace because 20-somethings have grown up in a digital age? Am I just “old-school”? And if not, what can I do about it? When I brought it to my boss’s attention, he said he had noticed it, too, but failed to follow up with her. If I bring it up to him again, am I “tattling”?
I don’t think it’s age-related, although it’s possible that it’s experience-related, in that she doesn’t have enough experience yet to realize how out of sync this is with normal work habits.
But it’s more likely that it’s just about being a slacker, and there are plenty of those in all age groups. Pre-internet slacking just came in other forms: phone calls, endless chatting to co-workers, reading the newspaper, etc. The internet has certainly made slacking off easier though; it doesn’t require another person or leaving your desk, and it provides endless options for time-wasting.
Anyway, I would do two things and maybe a third:
1. Tell her that you want to leave the office door open. Say this: “Jane, I’d like to stop closing our office door except in rare situations where there’s a specific need to. It’s making our office stuffy, and people are hesitant to interrupt when they need something. So I’d like to start leaving it open from now on.”
2. When she tries to pull you into the stuff she’s wasting time on, don’t let her. Say things like, “Sorry, I’m on a deadline right now,” or “I’m right in the middle of something and don’t want to break my focus.” If you’re comfortable with it, you can also address it from a more big-picture standpoint: “I tend to be really busy during the work day, and it makes it hard to focus when you talk to me about what you’re reading online.”
3. Depending on what kind of relationship you have with her, you could call her out on the whole thing. This will be very relationship-dependent, but I can think of lots of co-workers where I could have just said, “How on earth do you have so much time for web surfing? . . . Aren’t you concerned that your internet use is monitored or that (the boss) will notice that you’re spending so much time not working?” But again, it’s relationship-dependent.
Of course, the other (possibly bigger) problem here is your boss, who apparently knows about the problem and has declined to do anything about it. It’s possible that he’s doing something behind-the-scenes, of course, and you don’t know about it–but if so, it doesn’t appear to be having an effect.
You asked about saying something to him again. Talking to him about it isn’t tattling–for the reasons I talk about here–but I do have some doubt about whether or not he cares/plans to take any action. And really, you already told him what’s going on. If he cares, he’s going to address it and then keep a closer eye on her for a while. I don’t know that a second report will change things if a first report didn’t.
I’m also betting that for this to have been allowed for so long and him not to have had any issues with her productivity (and/or adjust her workload), the answer to “Is he normally a competent manager?” might be no, in which case the best you can do here is to stop her from interfering with your own work and accept that the rest of it is not yours to fix.
This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.
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