When Did Working at Work Become Optional?

The line between work and home is hardly visible.  To describe it as “blurred” would be inaccurate. The reality (for most of us) is that the line can barely be seen and, for some, only fades into existence occasionally for short intervals.   And there seems to be little debate about the validity of this conclusion.  The debate begins only when the question is asked whether this reality is a positive or negative one.

For most, I believe it’s perceived negatively. At least it sounds that way when I hear it discussed.  Because what normally follows is the argument that, because of the “blurred” line between work and home, a metaphor most commonly described with a  visual of a worker whose Blackberry must be surgically removed from his hand, employers must permit employees a bit of “leeway” in their electronic follies.  For example, the story goes, because employees may be expected to respond to a client emergency after normal business hours, they should be permitted to do some online shopping during the work day. Or, another story goes, because employees are working more hours than ever before, they have no choice but to do some online banking from their office.  The need to send personal e-mails, browse the malls of cyberspace, and update one’s Facebook status takes precedent over the need to [gasp] work.

Oh, hogwash.

I just cannot buy into this nonsense.  The argument that employees should retain some right of privacy in the e-mails that they send from the account provided to them by their employers, using the computers purchased, maintained, and serviced by their employers, on a network owned by their employers, using bandwith that their employers intended for use for work-related purposes, is a losing one to me.

Those who argue in favor of this alleged entitlement for online detours during the work day must forget that not all employees are exempt. In fact, most workers are non-exempt, meaning that they must be paid (by their employer) for all time worked in excess of 40 per week.  (More in some states, mind you.)  So , non-exempt employees who take short detours to e-Bay via the information superhighway during working time have one of only two impacts: either they are being paid for something they’re not actually doing-some might call that stealing, or they are getting paid time and a half for it because they need to stay late to get their work completed on time.  There’s also a third option: that the employee completes his or her work in a hurry or in a half-done manner to expedite his access to the Internet.

To me, none of these three is an acceptable solution. Has it really become acceptable to demand we be given the choice to not work while at work?  Maybe the manufacturing sector is the only one that hasn’t lost its collective mind by taking breaks of designated lengths at designated intervals but actually working during the rest of the work day.  Not so novel, really, but seemingly a rarity in the office environment.


4 responses to “When Did Working at Work Become Optional?”

  1. Molly DiBianca says:


  2. Uris Pacheko says:

    When you use the phrase “labor shortage” or “skills shortage” you’re speaking in a sentence fragment. What you actually mean to say is: “There is a labor shortage at the salary level I’m willing to pay.” That statement is the correct phrase; the complete sentence and the intellectually honest statement.

  3. Mark says:

    You bring up some interesting points, Molly, as usual. Seeing firsthand the perspective of small businesses with progressive workplace practices as part of my nonprofit’s annual small business competition, I gravitate toward the counterpoint. While I definitely see your point about company purchased computer equipment and bandwidth, we see that with exempt employees especially, companies get value in having “perennially connected” employees be able to complete a priority task at odd hours — such as at 9 or 10 at night, after they’ve had some time with their families.

  4. So are you saying that before the digital age employees toiled with no breaks whatsoever in their workdays? There was no standing around a watercooler, no social lunches, coffees, etc? Today’s digital break is the 60’s smoking break.

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