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Is it OK to spend time at work on non-work stuff, like Facebook or YouTube?

The Real Question: Are you coming here to work or play?

Bottom-line Tactic: Their house, their rules. If you don’t like it, don’t take their money.

Nothing gets older employers foaming at the mouth quite like the topic of workplace distraction, also known as a morbid and sometimes irrational fear of millennials looking at YouTube all day, on the employer’s time.

In truth, it’s not just millennials who are bunking off in the office. Pretty much everyone is, although the issue is best illustrated by the gulf between boomers and digital natives, not least because the baby-boomer demographic holds most of the money and power in the developed world. Consequently, their views on this are best not ignored, even if they’re not universally accepted.

As the employer sees it, you are not paid to look at YouTube videos of cats falling into custard. But go into any office and it’ll often seem that some people do little else.

Certainly, there is a great deal of research to back up the fear that workplaces have become giant hubs of bunking off, with everything from Facearticle to porn being fair use of bandwidth to some. And the data for this research usually comes straight from the pipes and, as such, can’t be challenged: there really is a lot of bunking off going on. One study into browsing habits, from ContentWatch, quoted by Forbes magazine, put it like this:

  • Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964—waste 41 minutes a day at work.
  • Gen X’ers: born between 1965 and 1981—waste 1.6 hours a day at work.
  • Millennials: born between 1982 and 2004—waste 2 hours a day at work.

For their part, nothing makes young people fume more than the thought of being forcibly separated from their social browsing during the working day. As a millennial sees it, they’ve managed to get this far in life by seamlessly combining their browsing habits with their external obligations, so there is no harm in them multitasking their way through the rest of their career either.

So how much browsing is too much? Well . . . you can forget trying to come up with a number. Here, the number is not the important thing.

Instead, you ought to be seen to accept that the issue is hugely important to employers, and that any time you spend doing something other than what you’re being paid to do is likely to be viewed as misconduct, regardless of whether you think that’s reasonable or not. In short, you need to abide by whatever workplace policies are in effect.

Your employer doesn’t want to be reminded that everyone bunks off now and again. They already know—it’s why they’re bringing it up with you in the first place—so you’ve nothing to gain from being seen to consider both sides of the issue.

You’re being offered money in exchange for a certain set of specified behaviors; if you take the money but don’t deliver on the behaviors, you’re being dishonorable. In most workplaces, social browsing is explicitly banned or severely restricted. If you think that’s an unreasonable demand for an employer to make, don’t take their money.

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