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November 19, 2007

Employees on the Net: Do Your Job, Then Dennis Kucinich and Giant Robots are OK


Ah the dedication. Ah . . . the productivity! It does a CEO’s heart good to wander around the office and see his employees intently focused on their computer screens, furiously typing away. The intensity in their eyes demonstrates their sense of purpose. At this moment, nothing and no one could stop them from completing their task with the highest level of effectiveness.


“Whatcha doin’, Mike?”


“Nothing, D.F.! Nothing!”


I invite myself over to the other side of Mike’s desk, where I can see his computer screen. What a surprise! It’s completely blank. I’m guessing it’s been that way for about a second-and-a-half – ever since he realized I was going to look at it.


What was Mike doing? It could have been just about anything (except work, obviously), but my guess is that he was posting to a blog or an Internet forum. Let’s see. Mike is a huge New York Jets fan. He is a big fan of the band Linkin Park. He doesn’t think I know this, but he supports Dennis Kucinich for president.


If I really wanted to, I could browse through the most popular Jets, Linkin Park and Dennis Kucinich forums and figure out which contributor is Mike. I could pick out three or four typical work days, look at his posting history and find out how many times he posts from work.


Then I could repeat the exercise with every single one of my employees, calculate the money I’m paying them to post on Internet forums, and cry myself to sleep.


But I won’t.


Call me crazy – you’d certainly not be the first – but I really don’t care about my employees’ Internet use. This is one of those management issues that has become an obsession with people who have forgotten about the nature of human work. Maybe it’s just because, for the first time, we can do the equivalent of reading people’s wandering minds.


Recently, the government of Japan found itself in an uproar because several mid-level bureaucrats in the Ministry of Agriculture were found to have made more than 400 Wikipedia entries about giant toy robots. They were reprimanded – they were supposed to be working! – and forbidden from that point forward from accessing Wikipedia at work.


So the next time they want to find out what soil is, they’ll have to ask a supervisor or something.


Now, what makes them so sure these guys weren’t working? Granted, I don’t have access to their full employee files, and maybe they were really getting little or nothing done. But it’s just as likely that this was part of their work style.


Before we had the Internet, people found other diversions from nonstop, wall-to-wall productivity. They called home. They doodled. They chatted with each other. They looked out the window. Some people can saddle in and just work like crazy for eight-and-a-half hours without ever diverting their attention, and just about everyone can do this on occasion when it’s really necessary. But most can’t do it every day. The nature of human work requires many, if not most, of us to give ourselves little breaks.


Back to Mike. There are certain things I expect him to accomplish, and he accomplishes them to my satisfaction. I suspect he needs any number of mental breaks during the day in order to maintain his pace of productivity.


“But D.F.,” the productivity police will protest, “just think how much more he could be getting done if he wasn’t posting on the Internet!”


But I’m not so sure. If I asked Mike to give up his Internet breaks and demanded high-level productivity during those moments, I suspect he would overheat. It would be like trying to drive a car too far without making sure there is water in the radiator.


As regular readers of this column know, I do this myself. I’ve even posted to the Internet during a client meeting – partly just to see if I could get away with it, but also because the meeting was extremely boring. I asked others if they have ever done the same thing. Many admitted that they have.


If you’ve got some guy sitting across from you talking about tying flies and putting them in front of fish – unless you’re in a boat on a small lake – you’re going to be looking for someone else to talk to as well, and the entire world beckons.


Besides, I’m not sure you really want to know that much about what your employees do on the Internet. Maybe supporting Dennis Kucinich is one of the tamer avocations they indulge. As long as they’re getting the job done, and not downloading porn, thank God and find other things to worry about. I’m sure that won’t be hard for you.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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