We frequently hear how difficult it is to keep work from infringing on our personal lives. Technology allows work to be done anywhere, and we can be accessible 24/7. If you have the option of working from home, the dividing line can be blurred even further. It takes some discipline to remain focused on work tasks when there are competing domestic chores and familial responsibilities.
If you work in an agency or organization that requires your presence every day, your personal life may still spill over into the workplace. Surfing the internet, online shopping and banking, and personal phone calls and email all steal work time. When used in moderation, most companies aren’t particularly strict about these minor transgressions. Some companies, however, have more rigid policies. Generally these are the result of work requirements. For example, a nurse or teacher has little opportunity to surf the web during the work day.
In addition to the minor work abuses mentioned above, there are some boundary issues that can have a more negative impact on workplace success. Perhaps you are taking a college class and have an assignment due soon. It’s easy to give the appearance of doing your regular work when you are actually writing that term paper or preparing that class presentation. No one seems to notice until a coworker accidentally picks up your final draft from the shared office printer and asks you about it. Or you are finally going to go on that major trip. You are excited, and you can’t help working on your travel arrangements every chance you get. The problem is that every time someone passes your desk, they realize that you are engaged in something extraneous.
Or you are in charge of fundraising for a special cause at your child’s school. You need to contact two dozen people in the coming week. Some you can reach by email, but some you have to call. Things are fairly quiet, and you try to sneak in a few calls. Your boss chooses that exact moment to stick his head in to ask you a question. Did he overhear your conversation? Did he realize it was not related to work?
The problem isn’t occasionally doing something personal at work. The problem comes if coworkers begin to talk about your non-work activities, or when you are labeled as inattentive, or seen as slacking off.
To avoid this, plan personal activities for non-work time. Use your lunch hour and your cell phone if you must make some personal calls. Avoid using work computers or equipment for personal purposes, and never take work supplies for personal use.
Your career depends on the reputation you establish at work. Don’t undermine your work success with a few personal transgressions. Your employer pays for your work time. They deserve a full return on their investment.