who's stealing time from whom?
January 12, 2015 12:58 AM   Subscribe

It turns out that slacking off is serious business: “ ‘Doing nothing’ while at work can be a very demanding activity requiring planning, collaboration, risk calculation, and ethical consideration,” Paulsen observes. Some subjects turned shirking into a game they found more meaningful than their actual jobs.
So it turns out a lot of people rather shop or watch porn than actually work at work. And why not?
posted by MartinWisse (132 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
The lede is a bit disingenuous, on how much porn viewing and online shopping takes place "during work hours". What are these work hours of which you speak? I have been working for thirty years and it was at least twenty of those before I worked Monday to Friday (by my choice) and maybe two years of all that time that I had anything like a nine-to-five job. Even now my schedule is whoopsy-doodly enough that I can post on the blue at 4:21 AM on a weeknight (although in fairness I am not at work right now).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:21 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


This made me feel much better about my during-work-hours internet skiving. Today I have been in the office for half an hour so far and have checked out a couple of recruitment sites, had a skim over a celebrity gossip site (so sue me) and - of course - logged into MetaFilter. My colleague isn't in today so I'd imagine most of my day will be spent like this. Instead of feeling like a lazy mare I am now aware that I am merely stealing hours back from my boss that rightfully belong to me, and helping the redistribution of wealth in society. Excellent!
posted by billiebee at 1:25 AM on January 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


I keep hearing about all these slacker jobs there are but I can't find one for the life of me.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:42 AM on January 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


Fuck you all. You are costing me tax or corporate profit dollars. Grumble grumble. What about all those 40hr work weeks I put in before goddamned Gore and his mob, huh huh? And what about my lawn? Who's going to mow that while they are watching the internet?
posted by Kerasia at 1:46 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Roland Paulsen, a scholar of business administration at Lund University in Sweden, sets out to understand what he calls empty labor, which includes anything a worker does on the clock that isn’t work—be it surfing the web, sleeping, organizing the office football pool, or writing a doctoral dissertation on the sly.

What a tool.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:50 AM on January 12, 2015 [23 favorites]


Paulsen focused on the most extreme shirkers. He interviewed 43 Swedish workers who claimed to spend less than half of their work hours actually working. He tracked down these hardcore non-performers through friends of friends, web ads and the Swedish website maska.nu, where people share slacking stories and tips.

His "research" (n=43) which includes friends of friends, and a website sounds like what I'd call "empty research".
posted by hal_c_on at 1:53 AM on January 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


I've also never worked a job where this level of slacking was possible - except one where it wasn't desirable (I liked the work and the boss too much).

Right now I'm working a near-minimum wage job where every second not on break is supposed to be accounted for -- and I find myself deeply resentful of people working higher paid jobs who are allowed to stop and go get a coffee when they like or just take a breather. I took the job thinking it would be less stressful than higher paid jobs I had had, thus allowing me to complete an important non-work project. But I was so wrong -- minimum wage jobs have changed so much since I first worked in the 1990s.
posted by jb at 1:53 AM on January 12, 2015 [29 favorites]


Quasi-related Joel on Software: "there have been times in my career as a developer when I went for weeks at a time without being able to get anything done."

(Saw this on AskMe but can't seem to remember the precise thread right now -- sorry!)
posted by en forme de poire at 1:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


His "research" (n=43) which includes friends of friends, and a website sounds like what I'd call "empty research".

It's called snowball sampling, and that's how you do sampling when you want to find people with certain characteristics.

As for sample size: this always depends on what you're studying. No one complains when Shakespeare scholars have a sample of one.
posted by jb at 1:57 AM on January 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


I await shift-workers checking in on this. Two minutes from the bell to make your way to the breakroom, six minutes to eat cookies, drink foul coffee and maybe have a shit if you timed it right, and two minutes to get back before the bell sounds the start of the line again.
posted by vapidave at 1:59 AM on January 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


The "70% of all porn is viewed during work hours" stat seems just completely unbelievable to me. Like, I don't even understand just the logistics of it. 70% seems around an order of magnitude too high for the percentage of workers who either 1. telecommute or 2. have private offices where you can close the door. So WTF is going on with that stat?
posted by en forme de poire at 2:16 AM on January 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


I actually run redtube at my office computer in a dozen different tabs 24/7. It is kind of like an anti SETI project. So I skew the sampling a bit due to the fact that roughly 3600% of my work time is spent watching porn.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:20 AM on January 12, 2015 [98 favorites]


"70% of porn is viewed during work hours" - however rigorously measured - should not be seen as equivalent to "70% of porn is viewed by people who are at work".
posted by rongorongo at 2:29 AM on January 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


I await shift-workers checking in on this.

it's not as prevalent as it might be in an office, but it goes on - the answer to the question in the link, "why don't employers do more to combat this?" is simple - it's too much work, the conflicts will turn an ok day for the supervisor into a very unpleasant one, and some of the people who could be disciplined can fight back by being "unable" to "fix" what's "wrong" with a machine, making production even worse - and the end result could well be high turnover that effects the efficiency of the business - the places where things are enforced tightly are either high paying enough that people don't mind - or they practically have a revolving door that's spinning like a top

my company tried cracking down on various things 4 or 5 years ago and ended up with seeing their average experience level drop by over half - and much of that wasn't due to people getting fired, but people bidding on other jobs in the plant that were less pressure and finding other jobs period

we've yet to recover from it
posted by pyramid termite at 2:45 AM on January 12, 2015 [20 favorites]


"70% of porn is viewed during work hours" - however rigorously measured - should not be seen as equivalent to "70% of porn is viewed by people who are at work".

Right, for sure, but is it all just down to people who are unemployed, part-time, or working a non-standard shift? Is that number really high enough to make up 70% of porn viewing? I mean that's just a lot of porn to account for.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Tumblr: I mean that's just a lot of porn to account for.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:57 AM on January 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


people who are unemployed, part-time, or working a non-standard shift? Is that number really high enough to make up 70% of porn viewing?

Also, students.
posted by dumdidumdum at 3:13 AM on January 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


I can't wait to get to work so that I can read the article.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:26 AM on January 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


Being able to goof off is why I went back to school and clawed my way out of blue collar hell.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:29 AM on January 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I always presumed everyone on Metafilter had one of these jobs? If it wasn't for slacking Metafilter would be dead.
posted by mary8nne at 3:31 AM on January 12, 2015 [46 favorites]


Snowball sampling is a real technique, yes, and it is required to gather samples when the characteristic in question is rare and secret, but it isn't representative. We can't assume that the reasons given for slacking by these research participants are typical of most at-work slackers, particularly given that the research was conducted in Sweden.
The 70% figure isn't referenced, so I am taking it with a big grain of salt.
posted by gingerest at 3:44 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm perplexed by the idea that people actually watch porn at work. I'm asexual and have little interest in it, but isn't the whole idea of watching porn that it's a - ahem - private pastime, as it were? Who would ever do that at work?

Anyway, I've got one of those jobs where I don't seem to ever have anything to do. It's not that I slack off - I do everything I'm asked to and then some, but it takes up less than a quarter of the time I'm actually contracted to sit here. There are a lot of jobs like this nowadays; more and more so with technology making fewer people able to do more faster while employers still bind us to the old 40-hour work week.

So I think it's important to make the distinction between slacking off as in "not doing what you're asked to do, and surfing cat pictures instead" and "doing everything you're asked to do, but still finding yourself with 30 hours a week to fill".

What this means for the future is troubling - I would like to hope for a rebalancing of working hours and life, so that we can take advantage of the technology available to us these days. But I suspect we'll just find ourselves chained to our employers in new and exciting ways.
posted by winterhill at 3:46 AM on January 12, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yeah, this 'research' all looks a bit thin. Likewise, the 70% of porn thing - there's no reference to what this actually means - is he just referring to time of day or did people actually admit they watch porn at work and he somehow extrapolated from there? Anyway 'take place during business hours' means nothing these days, with so much more flexibility in what business hours means.

There seems to be a moderate amount of this sort of behaviour where I work (not porn though - that is a stupid thing to do in a monitored environment), but it's more because people are working harder and longer and the time they spend doing other things during slow periods is really part of what used to be called 'leisure time'. These days, 'leisure time' so often involves the internet in some form that you can do it anywhere, including at work. Add into the mix the expectation that workers (particularly office workers) are 'always connected' through smart phones etc and that means we spend at least a small portion of every evening, morning and weekend either being pestered by work-related messages or constantly checking for them. More than anything, it seems like a gradual blending of work and personal time to the extent that it's hard to tell what mode you are in sometimes.
posted by dg at 3:54 AM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]




When a client wanted to put flying sanitary napkins on a company website, the team claimed it would take weeks

I... eh... what? Can anyone explain this sentence to me?
posted by Gordafarin at 4:05 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


A relevant big train sketch
posted by leibniz at 4:20 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does reading about a Swedish guy pulling things out of his ass count as porn?
posted by Segundus at 4:26 AM on January 12, 2015 [43 favorites]


His "research" (n=43) which includes friends of friends, and a website sounds like what I'd call "empty research".

This is silly comment. Care to point out what is wrong with his research rather than just snidely dismissing it?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:31 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


the answer to the question in the link, "why don't employers do more to combat this?" is simple

Yes, in my experience it's been because they're slacking too. Slacking isn't isolated to cubicle drones.

isn't the whole idea of watching porn that it's a - ahem - private pastime, as it were? Who would ever do that at work?

It's probably a bit of a thrill, doing something illicit at work. There may also be some sort of exhibitionist element.
posted by davros42 at 4:40 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Homer Simpson beat him to the conclusion:

Lisa, if you don't like your job you don't strike, you just go in every day and do it really half-assed
posted by jpe at 4:41 AM on January 12, 2015 [46 favorites]


isn't the whole idea of watching porn that it's a - ahem - private pastime, as it were? Who would ever do that at work?

Also surfing porn at work will get you sent home with all your stuff in a cardboard box a hell of a lot faster than just shopping a Amazon or browsing that weird blue website will. Seriously, who would be dumb enough to do that?
posted by octothorpe at 4:50 AM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I always presumed everyone on Metafilter had one of these jobs? If it wasn't for slacking Metafilter would be dead.

Or we work 5:30am to 10:30am, and come from time zones all over the world.

/posted on my one-15 minute break
posted by jb at 4:54 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I couldn't surf porn at work even if I wanted to. Our network has a blocker thing which blocks anything that even remotely sounds porn like.
Well actually I could get around it but it would take work and I'd have to want to look at porn. There is enough non porn slacking off material on the net to keep me satisfied so no worries.
posted by Jalliah at 4:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Right, for sure, but is it all just down to people who are unemployed, part-time, or working a non-standard shift?

Assuming for a moment that "during working hours" means something like "between 8AM and 6PM", I can come up with a couple things just off the top of my head that would significantly skew this.

First, schedules differ. I work in an office setting where more than half the employees don't arrive till 9:30 or 10 in the morning. On the flip side, there's a decently sized contingent of people who work early and are out of the office by 4PM. So, that could easily result in people pre-work or post-work seeming to fall into "working hours".

Second, and maybe more importantly: most schools are out by early afternoon (3-4PM). The few hours just after school when one or both parents aren't home would seem to be a prime opportunity for teenagers to engage in some, *ahem*, private time. And they can do an awful lot of looking.

Without more context for the numbers, it's impossible to really say for sure, but I really don't think that the numbers quoted (presuming they're true) are indicative of anything happening within the work environment.
posted by tocts at 5:14 AM on January 12, 2015


Favourite this comment if you're reading it at work.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:17 AM on January 12, 2015 [148 favorites]


Folks, when people are checking their smartphones at work, they're not just keeping up with Facebook or texting the daycare. Fet Life is optimized for mobile, all I'm saying.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:27 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


The trick is to have a job where you can simultaneously work and slack. Efficiency!

Code's compiling? Solution is running? Off to MeFi!
posted by Foosnark at 5:32 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Foosnark: "The trick is to have a job where you can simultaneously work and slack."

Yeah, an awful lot of jobs require you to be there just waiting around for something to happen. If you accomplished the WORK part of your work in an efficient and professional fashion, employers will retain a lot more talented employees by letting them read a book or surf the internet during their downtime instead of insisting they do makework. Not every work process can be optimized to have zero downtime!

I always think about pit orchestras, where maybe your trumpet player spends an hour reading his book, picks up his trumpet to play six notes, goes back to reading, and does a big song at the end. If you ever watch a professional pit orchestra in action, the lesser-used instrumentalists are doing ALL KINDS OF THINGS to kill time between their cues (often involving elaborate pranks). So then you imagine a world where the show's director came up with paperwork for those trumpet players to work on during all their measures of rest so that they're not "slacking off during work."

If your boss is the equivalent of the show director making the trumpet player do TPS reports during his "downtime," your boss is dumb and your job should let you relax during the downtime!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:41 AM on January 12, 2015 [42 favorites]


en forme de poire: "The "70% of all porn is viewed during work hours" stat seems just completely unbelievable to me."

Giving that uncited number the benefit of the doubt, the only thing that seems reasonable is that it captures sites like TheChive as porn.
posted by Mitheral at 5:46 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The "70% of all porn is viewed during work hours" stat seems just completely unbelievable to me. Like, I don't even understand just the logistics of it. 70% seems around an order of magnitude too high for the percentage of workers who either 1. telecommute or 2. have private offices where you can close the door. So WTF is going on with that stat?

Remember the drinking statistics that were discussed here a while back, where a minority of the drinkers do the vast majority of the drinking? Porn viewing might be the same way, with a lot of people having the smut equivalent of an occasional drink with dinner, and a small set of very dedicated users driving most of the traffic. We have a locked down network at my job, and yet someone recently figured out a work-around and downloaded some crazy amount of porn (well into the terabytes) during working hours. At some point IT noticed the traffic spike and then it became HR's problem.

Right now I'm working a near-minimum wage job where every second not on break is supposed to be accounted for -- and I find myself deeply resentful of people working higher paid jobs who are allowed to stop and go get a coffee when they like or just take a breather. I took the job thinking it would be less stressful than higher paid jobs I had had, thus allowing me to complete an important non-work project. But I was so wrong -- minimum wage jobs have changed so much since I first worked in the 1990s.

Yes, completely. Every move upward from entry level that I have made has resulted in more autonomy and more privacy. The people I supervise have to account for their time to me in very detailed ways, whereas I am accountable upwards only in terms of project metrics, budget issues, things like that. It is more than just the freedom to get a coffee -- as long as I am getting my stuff done and am accessible I can justify anything from an afternoon "meeting" at a lovely restaurant downtown to closing my office door and reading a work-related but very interesting book.

And you are right, low-paid work has changed significantly since I had those jobs in the late 1980s and 1990s (though the wages paid have remained the same, immorally). It is far more regimented and controlled (which doesn't mean that people don't still find ways to slack, but the methods have had to change) and in many cases considerably more stressful than higher paid work. For example, everyone I know in lower paid work has to clock out for things like doctor's appointments, while people I know in salaried jobs like mine only have to account for sick time when you are out for an entire day.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:49 AM on January 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


Slacking at work was always such a cause of stress for me. I'm in a creative line of work and have had salaried jobs where writing was essentially my only task, but where the specifics of the projects changed so much week to week that there was never a clear benchmark for how much I was expected to get done.

There's just no way that I can sit down at 9am and turn out decent writing for 8 hours. My work flow requires that I browse the Internet, go out for coffee, and stare off into space. But I couldn't help constantly wondering if I was underperforming (some days, I would spend 6 out of 8 hours not directly working) and, if so, if anyone would be able to tell.

Now that I get paid by the word, I am so much happier. My writing is still broken up by extensive web browsing and window staring, but I never have to feel guilty about it. And, in fact, if I want to have a glass of wine or take a break to play video games or something, that's fine too. Either way, I am getting paid for my actual output.
posted by 256 at 5:50 AM on January 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


Don't leave out people who work from home, like MeFi's own Legomancer. I am fortunate in that my job (for which I am physically at the computer from 8:30 am until 5 pm) is one for which as long as the work is getting done, nobody cares what else I might be doing. I do what I'm supposed to do, and I do it very well, and I often go above and beyond what's requested, but often there are still "slow points" where not much is going on or worse, I'm waiting on someone else to respond or do something before I can proceed.

I love my job because of this, even though those days when not much is happening tend to drag and drag, and I'm thankful that I've had supervisors who have the confidence in me to leave me be to do my job and not stand on my head to make sure I'm not "stealing time".

(And it goes both ways, too. This weekend I put in about 5 hours "off the clock" because I needed to do something when there was little chance of other people using the system I was working on.)
posted by Legomancer at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is basically my job. I spend a majority of the day not doing work. There is usually not enough to keep us busy, however we need to be available for when a lot of work does come in. I have a habit of procrastinating to an absurd level, so I tend to give a much longer estimate of how long it'll take to complete a project and then just hurry and do it at the last minute in a quarter of the time. End result is that I just ignore the meaningless busy work and get creative with my time expenditures so I can read metafilter and reddit all day. Doing so is definitely kind of stressful.
posted by polywomp at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2015


Paulsen's work - through his own writing - was featured on the blue not too long ago (The Art of Not Working at Work) and MeFite reaction at that time was much more positive. Curious.
posted by Western Infidels at 5:57 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:57 AM on January 12, 2015 [21 favorites]


isn't the whole idea of watching porn that it's a - ahem - private pastime, as it were? Who would ever do that at work?

"If you can shit in private, you can hold your smartphone and wank in private." - Abraham Lincoln
posted by cmonkey at 6:26 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how many of the office workers who cannot, will not take a shit at the office (according to my husband, this is A Thing--I haven't worked in a proper office in years so YMMV) are perfectly capable of jacking it with the help of their smartphone at the office.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:30 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how many of the office workers who cannot, will not take a shit at the office

Most of my coworkers have figured out that taking long, luxurious shits at the office is like getting an additional lunch hour, every day. We had one guy who would take 40+ minute bathroom breaks daily.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:46 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


"70% of all porn is viewed during work hours"

In other news, 90% of laying on the beach in the sun occurs during work hours. Same with visits to the dentist's office.
posted by 445supermag at 6:46 AM on January 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


"70% of porn is viewed during work hours"

And then I go home and watch the other 30% of porn.
posted by pracowity at 6:48 AM on January 12, 2015 [17 favorites]


Right now I'm working a near-minimum wage job where every second not on break is supposed to be accounted for -- and I find myself deeply resentful of people working higher paid jobs who are allowed to stop and go get a coffee when they like or just take a breather. I took the job thinking it would be less stressful than higher paid jobs I had had, thus allowing me to complete an important non-work project. But I was so wrong -- minimum wage jobs have changed so much since I first worked in the 1990s.

Every minimum wage job I've ever had, going back to the 90s, was 100x harder than the work I'm doing now. I wouldn't take any minimum wage job I've worked over this one, even if they paid me more than I'm making now.

Re: slacking at work. Where I work, nobody cares, really, as long as everything is getting done. People are encouraged to take long lunches, use the gym, take a nap in the middle of the day, whatever you need to do to keep engaged and productive when you actually need to get stuff done. You don't even need to come into the office, and we don't really even have set hours. My fiancee and I are actually considering traveling around the world for a year after we get married, while I telecommute, and my boss said it was fine as long as I have internet wherever I am.
posted by empath at 6:51 AM on January 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


256: " there was never a clear benchmark for how much I was expected to get done"

I had this one summer job where I had to read and annotate reports. There were four of us doing the job, and I was SO MUCH FASTER than my coworkers ... finally the woman overseeing us came and told me, "You need to get done 80 pages a day" or whatever, and basically told me that the project supervisor wanted to be able to bill 8 hours of intern time per 80 annotated pages or whatever it was, so it was problematic if I went too fast.

So 80 pages took me about 2 hours, maybe 3 if I stumbled into something particularly interesting which required excess annotating ... and then I had SIX. FREAKING. HOURS. to kill in a small windowless cubicle, and I couldn't do what the more senior, actual employees did, which was take long lunches and go for walks and things ... I had to just sit there and not get caught reading my book TOO obviously. It was so boring and useless.

I would rather have gone full-bore 6 hours a day (which was about as long as I could go without needing an overnight brain break; it was mental labor when I was actually DOING it) for 3 days a week and then take a four-day weekend. I would have gotten almost twice as much done, without being bored out of my mind.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 AM on January 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


Like others have said, slacking at work is a necessary part of my workflow. I do a lot of writing, and oftentimes it goes in bursts. I'll read something, think about it, let it roll around in my brain, and then knock out a short report or the like. It's just not possible for me to do that all day long. I've had jobs where my ability to slack was limited by monitoring (human or otherwise), bad work conditions, or just plain old workload. Ultimately, these situations cause my production levels to suffer. I don't do more, I do less over a longer time and feel stressed about it. It ends up with this vicious circle, where the stress from not doing what I should be doing (deadline-wise) causes my brain and body to shut down, even get sleepy. And then it just gets worse.

The ability to slack is like sleep (of which I don't get enough). It refreshes my brain, gives me time to process things in the background, and overall just keeps me happier.

I can't imagine watching porn (or associated activities at work), or pooping at work. That said, I had a friend who had a little bullet vibe on her keychain. She said that on particularly stressful days (she had an awful job working as an assistant in a law office), she'd go to the bathroom with her keys to *ahem* relieve her stress.
posted by X-Himy at 6:54 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Conincidentally, I'm listening to the "Hacked" episode of Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything, in which Walker interviews a consultant who lists off the large government agencies who have asked him to install porn-filtering software. The IRS, US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Forest Service, Parks Department...

"Porn filtering software is pretty much installed in every government agency."
posted by chrillsicka at 6:55 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thankfully I've also largely worked in offices where the goal was to do your work. Not necessarily to look busy (except in contracting jobs), but to finish the project or whatever. The leniency made it easier for me to get stuff done.

But slacking is also a way to reclaim time when you're not getting paid enough. If you're not being paid enough for 8 hours, but you're really only working 6.5 and taking the rest of the time for yourself, that evens out a bit.
posted by X-Himy at 6:56 AM on January 12, 2015


"Porn filtering software is pretty much installed in every government agency."

Which of course is what forced them to start creating their own porn.

Have you ever seen some of that National Institute of Standards and Technology porn? That stuff is exact.
posted by pracowity at 7:00 AM on January 12, 2015 [29 favorites]


n which Walker interviews a consultant who lists off the large government agencies who have asked him to install porn-filtering software.

I did desktop support at a large government agency in the late 90s, during the Year of Will-You-Please-Stop-Opening-Goddamned-Attachments-You-Fucking-Morons, and you would be amazed at how many times I found porn sites and gambling sites in people's browser history. I'm talking everyone from the janitors in the basement to the executive suites. There was basically no filtering at all back then.
posted by empath at 7:01 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


But slacking is also a way to reclaim time when you're not getting paid enough.

Slacking is also a cure for boredom. People who are excited about their jobs aren't piddling the work hours away on eBay.
posted by pracowity at 7:02 AM on January 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Chiming in on the reset-your-brain thing. I've got a weird office job where there are no set guidelines on how to successfully accomplish my goals...it's whatever my best judgement is on what's most appropriate for what's in front of me. As such, I have to make a series of judgements on how best to allocate my time for the projects of greatest value, and what a success will look like, combined with major multitasking.

Checking MetaFilter or MgoBlog is a great way to cleanse my brain of decision fatigue, and reset it so the next project I'm working on isn't tainted by my uncertainty over the decision I made on the last project. I see my colleagues checking the baseball game, online shopping, or whatever, too.

It is quite a shocking disconnect from blue collar or manual labor, for sure. I mean, I can (and do) take an hour to go on a run in the middle of the day. It makes me more effective at my job, but I definitely am thankful every day that I have that flexibility.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:07 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would like to hope for a rebalancing of working hours and life, so that we can take advantage of the technology available to us these days.

But, but... that technology belongs to your employer, and any profits or time savings naturally belongs to them. Now get back to work!

I've spent the last 10 or so years automating large chunks of data organizing so that I can spend more time doing QC on my results. Also because those processes were badly designed and stupid. Coincidentally, I've managed to free up enough time to read a couple of news/science articles every day, because like 256 above, that helps my flow. Plus I've pretty much stopped going to meetings. Am I stealing from my employer? Also, SLACK!

I am so glad that IT many years ago installed those oversensitive and demonically unsleeping porn filters. As the local hardware problem solver in our office, I was getting tired of people asking for help and finding out that various porn sites had installed so much malware and crap that their hard drive was full, they couldn't log on to corporate sites because all their browser traffic was being redirected through servers in Arizona, or in one case they couldn't close IE because it had loaded one of those porn sites that opens two windows every time you close one. Umm, how stupid are you, exactly?
posted by sneebler at 7:07 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not all slack is the same. From the article:
On the question of why people spend so much time goofing off, Paulsen distills some common themes. Some said their jobs were so miserable, or so meaningless, that they felt compelled to goof off in order to endure them. Others said they wasted time at work to get back at an abusive boss, annoying coworkers or a firm that stole their wages.

Paulsen was surprised to discover how much empty labor was involuntary. Subjects often told him they were simply trying to occupy themselves because there wasn’t enough work for them to do, either because their workload waxed and waned or because their managers were too incompetent to make sure they had enough to do.
And there's the fact that few people can work solidly for hours at a time and still be productive and focused. Taking breaks have been found to improve attention.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:13 AM on January 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


winterhill: What this means for the future is troubling - I would like to hope for a rebalancing of working hours and life, so that we can take advantage of the technology available to us these days. But I suspect we'll just find ourselves chained to our employers in new and exciting ways.

Higher productivity meant higher wages, at least until the 1970s. Now we get more done, thanks to technology, improved processes, etc., but the company reaps all the rewards and passes none of the gains back to the workers. Why the hell are we putting in 40 hour work weeks in the first place? Oh, "we" aren't working the same amount everywhere in the world, but "we" are all still getting the jobs done with thriving economies.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:19 AM on January 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Isn't that how the system is supposed to work, though? Otherwise you might as well let the workers own the means of production and get it over with.
posted by sneebler at 7:24 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's a good point, FLT, but most people who goof off at work aren't trying to make up for wage stagnation. Occasionally I'll meet or hear of a professional who writes a serious volume of words during work or studies for a new career or keeps a side business going, but it's rare. People have valid complaints about employers but employees can also just be...lazy, and in a meritless way.
posted by michaelh at 7:25 AM on January 12, 2015


Yeah, an awful lot of jobs require you to be there just waiting around for something to happen.

Welcome to print production/publishing, my job!

I can say that I probably only put in a good 10 hours of work for every 40 hour work week. Seriously. But I get every bit of work I need to get done, done. I just had my yearly review, and was deemed 'above average/exceeds expectations.'

Now, some people would say 'why not find a job that challenges you more?' But...why? I like my job. I like not stressing out. I like leaving it behind me when I go home. I get paid pretty well to do this job I've had for 8 years. We just had a restructuring (moving more into digital from print) and while a few people were laid off, I was safe as houses. So my work here is appreciated.

People who are excited about their jobs aren't piddling the work hours away on eBay.

Not necessarily true. I am excited about the work I do when the work is there to be done. I also quite enjoy piddling the extra time away. It's a good life.
posted by Windigo at 7:27 AM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm curious how many of the office workers who cannot, will not take a shit at the office (according to my husband, this is A Thing--I haven't worked in a proper office in years so YMMV) are perfectly capable of jacking it with the help of their smartphone at the office.

This bodes well for the success of my smartphone app, which allows people to view OTHER people pooping and talking about how enjoyable it is. Some of these clips even involve little fantasy backstories, like you're going to the neighbor's house to use their bathroom, or you're in detention and you use the bathroom there, or EVEN the fantasy of going to the bathroom at work!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:30 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also: there's a reason Grantland only updates during the week.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:32 AM on January 12, 2015


It's a good point, FLT, but most people who goof off at work aren't trying to make up for wage stagnation. Occasionally I'll meet or hear of a professional who writes a serious volume of words during work or studies for a new career or keeps a side business going, but it's rare. People have valid complaints about employers but employees can also just be...lazy, and in a meritless way.

This is me. I read metafilter and browse a couple of other sites but most of my slacking time at work is time spent learning and working towards a career that will pay better. The pay here is really bad for what I'm doing and there is no incentive to go beyond what I have to do. I get by by doing the mental calculation that sure it's not great pay but at least I can get some added benefit from it for future endevours.

It does suck, I don't hate the job and the people I work with are nice enough. Management just has a real blind spot in understanding how much their lack of paying people for their skills dampens what gets done in company.
posted by Jalliah at 7:32 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


michaelh: most people who goof off at work aren't trying to make up for wage stagnation

True. My comment was more to the notion technology providing some flexibility for the life of the workers, noting that technological gains have simply been a way to squeeze more out of workers while reaping financial gains for those at the top.


Jalliah: Management just has a real blind spot in understanding how much their lack of paying people for their skills dampens what gets done in company.

It's worse when you're in a government job when this is the case. Private companies can do whatever they want, more or less, when it comes to paying their workers, but when the pay scale is set for the whole city, county or worse, state, you see people either sticking with the government job because it's reliable and safe, or hopping around to get promotions, then leaving for the private sector and draining the government of their skills and knowledge.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:35 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that the vast majority of workers don't have the privilege of being employed in a job doing something they find enjoyable or interesting. In addition, it seems to me that there is increasing pressure on workers to put in more hours (e.g., by staying late, by foregoing the ability to run mid-day errands, by taking lunch at one's desk, etc.). As a result, many things that previously might have been done during non-working hours now must be done at the office. This includes consuming media, online shopping, etc. Another way of saying "1 to 3 hours a day goofing off at work" would be, "1 to 3 hours per day doing things at the office that the hours demanded of them make impossible to do at any other time."
posted by slkinsey at 7:39 AM on January 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


Anyway, I've got one of those jobs where I don't seem to ever have anything to do. It's not that I slack off - I do everything I'm asked to and then some, but it takes up less than a quarter of the time I'm actually contracted to sit here. There are a lot of jobs like this nowadays; more and more so with technology making fewer people able to do more faster while employers still bind us to the old 40-hour work week.

My job is much like this. I recently started here, and it seems like there's a lot of "air" between my work. It's not as busy as my previous job.

And yet, I'm required to sit here at a desk, in case someone needs something. I'm a graphic designer for a corporation. We will be starting our annual price book soon, so my schedule will be more full. After that, I'll probably end up with more space between work.

I have also found that, in my career, I am more efficient at turning out work than the average person. Being more efficient in my particular tasks doesn't pay me any extra. I still have to be here in case someone needs something.

Fortunately, my current boss isn't a micromanager. I have worked for micromanagers who expected me to "look busy" all the time, and man that's hell.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:45 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't figure out if the article's illustration is supposed to connote slacking or connote porn, or both. The ukelele is a nice dig at the younger set.
posted by Miko at 8:02 AM on January 12, 2015


This research is sort of old news. Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord said in 1933:
I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent -- their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy -- they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent -- he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
This meshes well with my experience - 90% of the worlds problems are caused by stupid hard-working people.

I used to feel bad about being as lazy as I am, but then, as I got to know more people in the twilight of their lives, I have never ever heard any of them say that they wished they had spent more time at the office. Almost always it was "I wished I hadn't worked so much."
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:05 AM on January 12, 2015 [51 favorites]


I've had a few jobs where there was 8 hours of work, but if you could get it done in only 6, hooray for you, but you can't leave early. Whole lotta surfing news wires before the Internet was a thing.

Also: there's a reason Grantland only updates during the week.

It's because readers are watching events they want to read about later; and much of the editorial staff is attending the those sporting events they write about during the week.

But it's also that the business unit simply doesn't make enough money to support a 40 percent increase in content, if you're adding two full days to the calendar. They're being pretty spendy with their editors.

OTOH, a site like Cracked is getting a lot of good content for free, which is allowing them to go 7 days a week AND make some very good videos.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:08 AM on January 12, 2015


It's because readers are watching events they want to read about later; and much of the editorial staff is attending the those sporting events they write about during the week.

Well, certainly. Of course, sports events take place during the week (basketball, baseball, hockey) and the editorial staff find time to both attend and write about them. I'm sure that people wouldn't mind reading Barnwell's take of Saturday's playoff games on Sunday. I'd guess the editorial staff recognizes that the majority of their readers read Grantland articles during the week, when a large portion of them are at work. If they didn't, then Grantland would probably post less during the week and more on the weekend.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:28 AM on January 12, 2015


When a client wanted to put flying sanitary napkins on a company website, the team claimed it would take weeks, instead of the short time it would actually require.
I... eh... what? Can anyone explain this sentence to me?

I can think a few possibilities of what really happened:
  1. The web developers thought the idea was stupid* and vetoed it in politically savvy way, by making it seem a lot more expensive than it really was (most likely).
  2. There are technical/team reasons** that make the task more complicated than a non-technical person though it "should" be (also likely).
  3. They just wanted to slack off, period (implied in the article, but not very likely).
* Stupid here can mean a lot of different things: the idea is stupid on its face, it's stupid to prioritize it above other more necessary things, etc.
** e.g. the code's a mess and hard to change, no one's familiar with the necessary tools to make it work, the business is asking for something that sounds simple at a high level but really isn't when you get into the details, etc.

posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:35 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord said in 1933:

There's a trivia category for you: Who said it? A German General or a Unix Sysadmin?
posted by empath at 8:38 AM on January 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


When a client wanted to put flying sanitary napkins on a company website, the team claimed it would take weeks, instead of the short time it would actually require.

You know how on some websites they have snow falling down the screen?
posted by dirigibleman at 8:48 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I hate locked down networks, because a lot seem to block LGBT sites along with porn. And I'm not talking about anything with NSFW ads, like some blogs, but the local Pride committees website and youth activism sites. The hospital I used to work at does this for their public wifi; I've complained several times publicly and they haven't changed it.
posted by jb at 9:04 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I assume people with smartphones and other devices that have cell data plans have contributed to a huge upswing in at-work porn viewing.

A previous employer was given the mandate by our parent company that There Will Be A Filter, and I ended up being the administrator of the filter. My group didn't really want to be the NETWORK NANNY but we did want to make a good-faith effort to preventing people from going to sketchy malware-ish sites etc. We used a filter that had a categorization list, and blocked a few categories - malware, spam, porn, extremist/hate stuff (eg stormfront). Interestingly, the filter was able to distinguish between craigslist "I'm looking to buy a new kayak" and craigslist "I'm looking to get laid right now". I made very sure that LGBT stuff wasn't blocked. Amusingly, I had to put an override permission in for Victoria's Secret, because our marketing folks had some advertising interactions with them, so they had to be able to check that the website looked as it should.

People are creative - we blocked streaming audio (nothing against it - we just didn't have the downstream bandwidth for it at the time) and then we discovered people were getting around it by queueing up youtube playlists, so we ended up blocking people who went to youtube more than X times within Y minutes.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:14 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: " Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord said in 1933: "

Metafilter: Verbrecherbande und Schweineigel
posted by symbioid at 9:14 AM on January 12, 2015


davros42: Yes, in my experience it's been because they're slacking too. Slacking isn't isolated to cubicle drones.
Agreed. I worked for a boss (of my boss) once who was ordered by upper management to not come in to work on Christmas day (he was Christian).

Despite being in the office 364 days a year, no one knew how he filled his hours as program manager, since he managed via delegation - including all reports and presentations. Sure, watching deadlines and checking progress and all that takes time - but not 70 hours a week, EVERY week.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:19 AM on January 12, 2015


He was obviously stupid and diligent. Did he cause trouble?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:22 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


octothorpe: Also surfing porn at work will get you sent home with all your stuff in a cardboard box a hell of a lot faster than just shopping a Amazon or browsing that weird blue website will. Seriously, who would be dumb enough to do that?
Millions. How many people are dumb enough to get drunk before driving in to work? How many are dumb enough to shoot up, when the drugs are already destroying their health and family life?

Human behavior is not bounded by "sensible" limits. In fact, "dumb enough" is the wrong wording; IQ is probably poorly correlated with this behavior. "Mentally ill" or "behaviorally impaired" are probably better descriptions.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2015


Relevant AskMe: Time Enough At Last?
What are some jobs that would allow for nearly unlimited downtime? . . . I have a weird workplace fantasy of having a job that would essentially pay me to do nothing . . . surfing the internet, watching TV, reading . . .

The post title is of course a reference to this Twilight Zone episode.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


No one complains when Shakespeare scholars have a sample of one.

Yes, but then your research is totally limited to "the shakespeare".

Using 43 swedish "friends of friends" and applying it to the workers of the world seems...not right.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2015


"The trick is to have a job where you can simultaneously work and slack."

Part of this I think is also highly skilled individuals being forced by the economy to take lower skilled jobs, or jobs that don't really understand the skillset of said individuals.

Let us, for hypothetical's sake, assume that I have a job where I need to produce X output. In fact, in a workday where I was working to my fullest potential, I could be doing 2x output. But I was only hired for x output. I am not going to get any bonuses if I perform 2x output. I'm not going to get paid a dime more for doing 2x output. So I have two choices. I can either work like a dog to do my very very best, which I will not be rewarded for in any way, or I can perform x output for, say, 4 hours of my job, and slack off for the other 4 hours relaxing and enjoying myself.
posted by corb at 9:24 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Despite being in the office 364 days a year, no one knew how he filled his hours as program manager, since he managed via delegation - including all reports and presentations. Sure, watching deadlines and checking progress and all that takes time - but not 70 hours a week, EVERY week.

My first guess would be that he spent his time embezzling and covering his tracks.
posted by jeather at 9:24 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined...

And THAT is how the Germans won the war!
posted by briank at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The "70% of all porn is viewed during work hours" stat seems just completely unbelievable to me.

I bet this is how they did it:

They took the Swedish Time Zone (or whatever), and established typical swedish work hours (0900-1700 STZ or whatever).

Then they probably went and found porn site stats and the site said "70% of the hits we get are between 0900 and 1700", which correlates to american free time or chinese free time or russian free time, or whatever. So they went ahead and said "see, 70% of porn is viewed at that time. these fucking perverted workers"

And then it was published.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: Using 43 swedish "friends of friends" and applying it to the workers of the world seems...not right.
I'll buy this version of the criticism. This is a well-researched piece of investigative journalism, not bona fide social science. It's not even enough to be representative of the Swedish workforce. Student's t-test? Not a chance.

But that doesn't mean it's worthless or baseless.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:34 AM on January 12, 2015


> I'm curious how many of the office workers who cannot, will not take a shit at the office (according to my husband, this is A Thing--I haven't worked in a proper office in years so YMMV)...

At some places I've worked the bathroom was the place of last resort to drop a load. Either the toilet paper was gritty and tore easily, or the facilities were never maintained well. The women always suffered worse than the men at those places. Or in one building I worked in, there were a couple employees from another office whose personal habits and flagrant dependence on the toilets every morning ruined the facilities for everybody else for most of the day.

You either held it in until lunch break or had an excuse handy for taking a midmorning break.

Jerking off in the bathroom, though? No idea. It's not my kink.
posted by at by at 9:36 AM on January 12, 2015


Some people see nothing wrong with watching porn at work. A couple companies ago, we had a dude who would look at sites during work hours, with his back to the room and where everybody could see his screen. I also vaguely recall some anecdote about how phone sex lines peak around 10 am when executives are bored at work.

Fully prepared to believe that people without net nannies will look at whatever they want. But remember, without porn, there really would be no modern internet--breakthroughs in ecommerce, privacy, video, audio, can all be attributed to them. As a friend of mine used to say, "The internet is a porn delivery system that we found a couple of other uses for."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:37 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Since going freelance full time I learned the actual value of all those things that filled my work day when someone else signed my paycheck.

In practice, I nearly eliminated meetings, dinking around with proposals and presentations, system updates, manual backups, and all but the most rudimentary forms of project management. That stuff — especially the meetings — might have been 75% of my day when I worked in-house.

I cut back a little on websurfing, but do a lot more drinking coffee, taking walks, going to the gym. The right kind of "shirking" makes the actual brainwork more productive.

I probably do more personal brain enrichment — learning new tech, reading news, side projects.

I do a LOT more networking. Lunch with friends. That kind of thing.
posted by axoplasm at 9:41 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit: I also vaguely recall some anecdote about how phone sex lines peak around 10 am when executives are bored at work.
OK, that reminded me of another motivator for people jerking it at work: their intolerant SOs won't know. I know of sex workers who only work during "normal business hours".
posted by IAmBroom at 9:42 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Keeping flying sanitary napkins off the internet isn't slacking. It's public service.
posted by ckape at 9:43 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Lisa, if you don't like your job you don't strike, you just go in every day and do it really half-assed.

-Not Doing Better Than Our Parents and Loving It (Or, Why Keynes Was Right)
-Hey Keynes, whatever happened to our 15-hour work week?
-Is Work More Like Leisure or is Leisure More Like Work?
-Prospects of a Keynesian utopia

fwiw, re: the changing nature of 'work' posted by kliuless at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


I googled "snowball sampling", and now the porn-at-work stat's up to 71 percent.
posted by Devonian at 9:50 AM on January 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


And THAT is how the Germans won the war!

If you read the wiki article, the guy who said that was fervently anti-nazi, tried to kill hitler (as did his sons), and was fired by Hitler for not being sufficiently supportive of National Socialism, and then joined the resistance. So I think his management technique probably didn't matter much to the outcome.
posted by empath at 9:53 AM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hee,

I'm now laughing, that this thread about slacking is now leading to some extra intense slacking here, as I now have to read all of kliuless great links.

I have a meeting in 10mins, then maybe 45mins of actual work to do in 4 hours. I would have had more to do today but three people that were supposed to be here aren't and I can't do what I have on schedule to do without them. Such is the nature of my job. My CEO is finally understanding that when she agrees to do something most of the time it means I have to practice twiddling my thumbs until it's done. One of the redeeming features of this job is that I regularly get to tell my bosses what to do and act all perturbed when they don't do the task or at least inform me that there is a time issue with it.
posted by Jalliah at 9:58 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, if you have time to lean, you have time to clean!

I have not achieved nearly all I thought I would in my life, but I count as one of my main successes my progression from busywork jobs to a profession that give me clear goals to complete during a specific period of time. I no longer sit at my desk waiting for it to be 5pm (oh god, that 2:30 energy crash!). The trade-off is that I'm often working at midnight because I spent too much of the daylight distracted, but I know what I need to get done, and even better, I know when I've done it. That certainty allows me to feel ok about my slack periods because I only need to answer for what I did, not what I was doing when I did it. Not having to spent 8 hours at a desk or counter is the best thing that has ever happened to my mental health.
posted by bibliowench at 9:59 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now also seems like a good time to link to one of my favorite King Missile songs, Take Stuff From Work. "It's your duty as an oppressed worker to steal from your exploiters."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:47 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


...fervently anti-nazi...tried to kill hitler...[joined the resistance]...was fired by Hitler for not being sufficiently supportive of National Socialism...

That's the understatement of the year.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:02 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love this categorization, but then, I'm clever + lazy.

My immediate boss: clever and diligent
Her boss: same
Their boss: Diligent and Stupid.

Thus, our department was told this week that the metrics we know should count (productivity, profitability), both of which are up in the last year, aren't important to D&S; he wants us to work more overtime. He is upset that we are clever enough to do our work well and get done by 5, he wants to see people at their desks after 5.

We at least get paid for our overtime, but at some point, you want your life back.

I am getting a lot of personal projects worked on, though.
posted by emjaybee at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I always presumed everyone on Metafilter had one of these jobs? If it wasn't for slacking Metafilter would be dead.

Speaking for myself, I hardly spent any time on here until yes, I got one of those jobs. One of those glorious glorious jobs.
posted by wyndham at 11:20 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Let us, for hypothetical's sake, assume that I have a job where I need to produce X output. In fact, in a workday where I was working to my fullest potential, I could be doing 2x output. But I was only hired for x output. I am not going to get any bonuses if I perform 2x output. I'm not going to get paid a dime more for doing 2x output. So I have two choices. I can either work like a dog to do my very very best, which I will not be rewarded for in any way, or I can perform x output for, say, 4 hours of my job, and slack off for the other 4 hours relaxing and enjoying myself.


Not only that, but if I do 2x the work, it's possible that I'll work myself out of a job, or even worse, one of my other co-workers.
posted by mayonnaises at 11:32 AM on January 12, 2015




I'm actually at work right now and actually busy, but I had to log in to tell this quick, timely story.

A very old friend of mine just just confessed this over a few beers last weekend: He's had the same Government/State job for 25+ years. He works in an office. I won't stay which state or what kind of job to protect the uh.. not so innocent, only to say that it's not MY state he works for. For the first 10 years on the job or so he was very busy and had lots to do. Then, through a series of departmental reorganizations and ever changing bosses, he basically fell through the cracks. He said he has less than 1 hour of actual work each week to accomplish and the rest is pure slack time. He said he can get it done in 20 minutes on a good week, 40 on a bad. He told me he'd ask for more to do from time to time, but it never really materialized so he stopped asking. Now he's just coasting the last couple years until retirement.

He's actually kept really busy in that slack time, recently earning another degree which he got by attending mostly online courses & studying during work hours. He writes short stories and yes, he surfs a lot, but only via his iPad & never the work computer.

With his multiple degrees he could certainly go and do something he loves now, but he's so close to retirement he doesn't want to screw up his pension.

Personally, I would go a bit crazy - being busy makes the day go faster -- but I half-way admire him for it.
posted by crayon at 11:55 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


The whole lazy and clever thing explains my entire life... and my recent promotion I just made up and they went with. I expect the good times to suddenly crash to an alarming halt, and I frequently ask for more work, but I'm extremely good at automating and streamlining things.

I took something over from our VP of Finance and what took him a half day I can do in about an hour. He's a CPA, and I'm not. It's an extremely vital and time sensitive part of our monthly closing too... basically the last part before final review. I don't have the heart to tell them how easy I made it because they're always giving me pep talks and 'you can do it!' and weird looks when I turn it in early.

And when I do actually go out and bring them five figures of savings or a proven, simple idea to restructure slightly for savings, it almost always gets lost in committee. Which if you've ever seen a business decide for no reason but sheer lack of willpower that they'll keep paying day-to-day rates at a location for energy instead of just signing a contract for a vastly lower rate ... it makes you wonder why you even wake up some mornings.

I should take a nap.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:47 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


They took the Swedish Time Zone (or whatever), and established typical swedish work hours (0900-1700 STZ or whatever).

Sweden uses Central European Time which is 6-9 hours ahead of US, so yeah, your work day tends to ramp up when Swedes leave work.

Paulsen's no bozo, though, so I doubt he'd make that mistake.

(btw, he claims he got most of his sociology studies done while working the night shift as a fare collector for the Stockholm subway, and recommends all students to find similar jobs...)
posted by effbot at 12:49 PM on January 12, 2015


Here's where I interject my standard "We all work too much, a lot of the work we do is pointless, the really awful jobs should be done by robots and so should a lot of the other ones, and if we just got our shit together we could feed, shelter and house everyone without anyone having to ever sit in a cubicle or dig a ditch for 40 hours ever again," speech.
posted by emjaybee at 12:50 PM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


And when I do actually go out and bring them five figures of savings or a proven, simple idea to restructure slightly for savings, it almost always gets lost in committee. Which if you've ever seen a business decide for no reason but sheer lack of willpower that they'll keep paying day-to-day rates at a location for energy instead of just signing a contract for a vastly lower rate ... it makes you wonder why you even wake up some mornings.

I should take a nap.


Sounds like my work!

One example. Me: spend 21 bucks a month for this piece of software which will greatly help do X and help keep the system in question in proactive mode, which will save money.

Boss: 21 bucks? Oh gosh, money is tight.

Me: More information, potential money savings, if we don't spend 21 bucks I have to create a paper system, this will take X amount of time, it will take approximately X amount of time in admin vs auto system.... Just the wage to pay me to create it pays for a year.....

Boss: I dunno, I need to investigate more, lets wait......wanders off into some other world

Me: Well I need to have this program done. Gah this is annoying. I don't want to waste my time creating from scratch when 21bucks is all it takes to have it done. Screw it. I'll show by example. I PAY 21 BUCKS because if I don't I will go insane at the sheer stupidity of not paying 21bucks to save potentially thousands of bucks.

2 months later. OMG this is amazing. Being proactive saved us from potentially getting a major repair bill. Upwards of a couple grand. All the bosses love it and I get reimbursed 42 bucks. Boss that was hemming and hawing seems to totally forget the hemming and hawing.

Me: Okay thanks. I know my job. Now if you'll excuse me I'm just going to go slack off and write about it on Metafilter.
posted by Jalliah at 1:02 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, man. So glad to hear I'm not an asshole for furtively glancing at MetaFilter and Facebook throughout the day. I also kind of internally justify it by thinking "boooo, wage labor is eating my life" but that just ends up making me feel empty because damn, I wish I could spend those extra hours outside climbing or hiking instead of on Facebook. Or playing with a puppy.
posted by Mooseli at 2:09 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I have had work from home situations, and I found that even when I was goofing off doing exactly the same thing I would have done had I not been working, I generally didn't enjoy it as much even though I should have really enjoyed it more because I was getting paid to do it. Such is the nagging, overbearing pressure of our culture of work and its obsession with people being "productive".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:19 PM on January 12, 2015


Remember the drinking statistics that were discussed here a while back, where a minority of the drinkers do the vast majority of the drinking? Porn viewing might be the same way, with a lot of people having the smut equivalent of an occasional drink with dinner, and a small set of very dedicated users driving most of the traffic.

This may or may not have made waves outside DC at the time, but in 2008 the District fired nine employees for excessive porn viewing at work. The threshold? 10,000 visits to pornographic sites in a year, or an average of 40 a day. (There were 32 other employees who were reprimanded for exceeding 2,000 visits each.)
posted by psoas at 2:56 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


"It's your duty as an oppressed worker to steal from your exploiters."

Nah, why bother. Once a customer stole $500+ worth of truck parts right off the loading dock while I was inside writing up his invoice (I don't even think we had a real cash register). The sales manager shook his head sadly and said something like, "Well, I guess we'll have to eat that one. I sure hope we learn something from this." After that, stealing from an employer became very difficult.
posted by sneebler at 3:07 PM on January 12, 2015


Higher productivity meant higher wages, at least until the 1970s. Now we get more done, thanks to technology, improved processes, etc., but the company reaps all the rewards and passes none of the gains back to the workers. Why the hell are we putting in 40 hour work weeks in the first place? Oh, "we" aren't working the same amount everywhere in the world, but "we" are all still getting the jobs done with thriving economies.
Actually, I don't agree that the company reaps the rewards in many cases - they could reap those rewards if they noticed they are paying people they don't need to ;-)

The core of this issue, I think, is that organisations refuse to move away from the model that everyone must be sitting at a desk to do their work. For vast numbers of people, organisations could save vast amounts of money by giving them a laptop, letting them stay in their pyjamas most days and providing pooled office facilities for those rare times when people actually do need to be there. The primary reason telecommuting hasn't taken off more is a simple lack of trust from decision-makers - if I can't see them, how do I know they're working? The joke is on them really - because so much of work (not for everyone, true) is done via computer, even when you can see them, there's no way to know if they are actually working.

The other side of this is the insistence that people have to be at work for x number of hours. There's absolutely no downside to saying 'if you're done, bugger off home for the day' except that nagging cultural belief that a work day is 8 hours. There's no real benefit for workers in pointing out that they can do all the work they are paid to do in half that, because those same decision-makers will simply say 'awesome, we only need to pay you half as much then!' The whole concept of 'work' being things you do between specific times of day is gradually disappearing due to increased connectivity, but the idea that 'work' is simply achieving x, y and/or z within certain parameters and how long it takes you or when you do it is immaterial really hasn't caught up with that yet.
posted by dg at 3:07 PM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Well, I assure you that the world will grind to a halt if everyone isn't sitting at their desks at 8:05am. Even if you factor in all the energy and time we could save by having staggered start times and a lot more telework, it'll never happen because principles are more important than reasons*. I think the end result will be a lot like the office scenes in Brazil, if it isn't already.
posted by sneebler at 3:14 PM on January 12, 2015


My last job was like this. I asked for more work several times, since I felt guilty about how much time I had on my hands. My office mate finished an entire online MBA at work -- she did about 30-60 minutes of actual work a day. But we met our given goals and nobody ever knew or really cared what we did all day. I suspect a lage percentage of office work is like this.
posted by statolith at 3:15 PM on January 12, 2015


"It's your duty as an oppressed worker to steal from your exploiters."

Nah, why bother. Once a customer stole $500+ worth of truck parts right off the loading dock while I was inside writing up his invoice (I don't even think we had a real cash register). The sales manager shook his head sadly and said something like, "Well, I guess we'll have to eat that one. I sure hope we learn something from this." After that, stealing from an employer became very difficult.


The customer in this case was hardly the one being exploited.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:15 PM on January 12, 2015


pracowity: "Have you ever seen some of that National Institute of Standards and Technology porn? That stuff is exact"
.
and gives a whole new meaning to the NSA backdooring NIST
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:39 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I must be doing this wrong. I never have time to slack. Part of it is because I am in a public library, so anything could happen at any minute. I think the biggest factor is that I only work 27 hours a week, but the public expects a normal amount of library services, so I work hard. If I was full time maybe I could relax a bit.
posted by Biblio at 8:31 PM on January 12, 2015


When I used to write and edit for a living I used to be able to get my work done in no time and slack to my heart's content. Now I'm doing graphic design for a living and it never stops. I'm reduced to internet goofing off over my lunch time only. I'm much less productive, as a result, and actually pretty resentful of co-workers who can legitimately surf news and culture sites all day long and count it as work.

I can't imagine surfing porn at work, though, at all. My work place makes me feel all dead inside my pants.
posted by looli at 9:11 PM on January 12, 2015


I always think about pit orchestras, where maybe your trumpet player spends an hour reading his book, picks up his trumpet to play six notes, goes back to reading, and does a big song at the end.

As famously illustrated in the famous H.M. Bateman cartoon "The One Note Man".
posted by rongorongo at 11:08 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


he wants us to work more overtime. He is upset that we are clever enough to do our work well and get done by 5, he wants to see people at their desks after 5.

Sometimes that's a strategic feint to support an imminent request for more manning. It looks dumb if you're whining for more people, but running at 0% OT.

I don't have the heart to tell them how easy I made it because they're always giving me pep talks and 'you can do it!' and weird looks when I turn it in early.

Ha, that's how I'm getting the reputation for being the miracle fixer. Most people hate taking over a job from someone who sucked at it because of the immediate headache of unfucking everything, but I love it. You can hardly mess it up worse, 'competent' looks like 'superstar', and nobody even notices if you have an 'off' day once in a while.
posted by ctmf at 11:15 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


If I was full time maybe I could relax a bit.

But you get 13 hours to slack!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:46 AM on January 13, 2015


Eyebrows McGee: "If you ever watch a professional pit orchestra in action, the lesser-used instrumentalists are doing ALL KINDS OF THINGS to kill time between their cues (often involving elaborate pranks). "

This deserves its own FPP.
posted by scrump at 10:46 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This deserves its own FPP.

It's also the set-up for my favorite joke from a recent Ask-Me thread (as told by Mayor West).
posted by bibliowench at 12:51 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's also the set-up for my favorite joke from a recent Ask-Me thread (as told by Mayor West).

As noted in that post, it's copied from an earlier ask-me which says "I've tried to explain this joke to people who have no knowledge of baseball, and it always falls flat." I can confirm that's still the case.

(And while on the topic of professional orchestras, here's one of my many favourite scenes from swedish/french movie Sound of Noise, about a bunch of guerrilla percussionists: Fuck Haydn (sorry, no English subtitles but it's probably pretty clear what's going on anyway)).
posted by effbot at 2:53 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


crayon: "I'm actually at work right now and actually busy, but I had to log in to tell this quick, timely story."

There's an old piece of internet lore that's reminiscent of this. Guy gets shuffled around between departments and company mergers and ends up technically reporting to no one, but still getting a salary. Ring a bell for anyone?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:57 PM on January 13, 2015


There's no real benefit for workers in pointing out that they can do all the work they are paid to do in half that, because those same decision-makers will simply say 'awesome, we only need to pay you half as much then!'

Yeah, I'm afraid of the day the general work world figures this out, and then a lot of people won't be able to pay rent any more.

In my case, I think of myself as being "on call" for 8 hours since the workload ebbs and flows for part of the year--of course 5 months of the year it's neverending load, but the rest of the time it's more intermittent. I used to have to really work slow for 7 months of the year, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:29 PM on January 13, 2015


Here's where I interject my standard "We all work too much, a lot of the work we do is pointless, the really awful jobs should be done by robots and so should a lot of the other ones, and if we just got our shit together we could feed, shelter and house everyone without anyone having to ever sit in a cubicle or dig a ditch for 40 hours ever again," speech.

speech :P
-World in Transition
-World in Transition II
-Humans Need Not Apply

also btw!
-Secular Stagnation: GDP is the Wrong KPI
-Vice on Universal Basic Income: A Response
-Abundance: Why Digital is Disruptive
-Lump of Labor: Certainly a Red Herring (And Possibly not a Fallacy)
-The Next Big Thing? (Techonomy Detroit)
-The Coming Information Age (Possible Book Outline)
-Japan's cash helicopter may be first to take off: "Quantitative easing is reaching its limits, but 2 percent inflation remains a distant goal. The Bank of Japan's next step might be the ultimate stimulus: a cash gift to households. A 'helicopter drop' would open a new front in the global fight against deflationary stagnation."
The mechanics would be relatively straightforward. Assume each of Japan's 52 million households received a debit card with, say, 200,000 yen ($1,700) loaded onto it by the central bank. Any remaining balance on the cards would disappear after a year, ensuring that recipients spent the windfall. The move would inject an extra 10 trillion yen, or 2 percent of GDP, of private purchasing power into the economy. This in turn would encourage companies to invest and pay higher wages. The net effect would resemble a tax cut, but one financed by newly printed money rather than government debt...

Adair Turner, former chairman of Britain's Financial Services Authority, has suggested converting the central bank's government bonds into perpetual, zero-coupon securities. With one stroke of its pen, the government would be free of its obligation to repay the debt. The pressing need for Japan to raise taxes would vanish. The fragile consumer economy, which buckled under the burden of a modest increase in the sales tax last April, would breathe a sigh of relief. This too will be a money-financed tax cut by the back door, without the need for helicopters or debit cards.
-The Paperless Economy: "The rewards at the end of that path—the taming of the business cycle and the end of inflation—insure that some nation will blaze that trail. (My bet is on the United Kingdom.) Then the rest of the advanced nations will follow."
posted by kliuless at 10:50 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older The ethics tutorials end when dissent quiets   |   "...remember, you're not in Lahore, you're in... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments