The Candy Apple
Let’s Talk About Work Ethic
What is it? What does it mean?
It means different things to different people, which must be at the heart of the problem I want to discuss this month: workers who abuse Internet access.
To me, the formula is very simple: I’m paid for eight hours of work on a particular day, so I make sure that I perform eight hours of work that day. If there’s not enough to keep me busy that day, I make sure to put in the time somewhere else. That’s how we explain capitalism, I think: a company pays for my services and I deliver them. They owe me a paycheck and nothing else. Anything else I get is gravy. If I don’t like the arrangement where I work, I can go somewhere else. That’s the free market, as I understand it.
Here’s the thing that’s been bugging me lately: why do employees think they have the right to access company equipment for their own personal use? I understand that most of us do it, and many of us do it in appropriate ways. What I don’t understand is someone believing that he or she has a right to a physical object like this.
Rights are not things. Rights are relationships among people. I’m borrowing this concept from Iris Marion Young, who also theorizes that justice is not a thing but a relationship. I’m not so sure about her characterization of justice, but I strongly agree that we should not think of rights as something God-given. We have granted them to ourselves. Think back, to before the days when we paraphrased John Locke and John Stuart Mill. Even before anyone wrote down anything saying that slavery was wrong, there were always people who spoke out against it. There were always people who intuitively knew what Ought To Be.
Those are the sorts of people who understand that rights are conferred by human beings on all human beings. Rights are not “things” handed out like candy.
So that’s a long way around to say that the company you work for does not owe you Internet access. It certainly does not owe you Internet access on company time. You are paid to provide a service to that company, and unless the service you provide is that of hanging out in chat rooms and playing games online, when you do those things, you are cheating the company.
The company where I work has a technology policy that acknowledges that many of us require Internet access to perform our jobs. The policy allows for “incidental personal use.” It does not define “incidental,” so I will do so here, using Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary: incidental means “being likely to ensue as a chance or unlikely consequence.” My interpretation of that is that an incidental event does not affect the Big Picture; it does not slow me from completing my work.
I’m writing this at home and not on company time, so accessing Merriam-Webster online is okay!
More to the point, if handled judiciously, incidental personal use at work can increase my effectiveness. Most of us can only concentrate on a particular topic for about an hour and a half at a time. After that we’re just spinning our wheels. That’s why we take breaks.
So we ought to take a break from sitting at our desks and stand up and stretch. If we instead spend two minutes checking a game score or sending a personal e-mail, as long as it has the necessary diversion from work, that should be okay.
I don’t want to be all self-righteous about other people’s work habits. I’m just saying what works for me. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much time I’ve spent online, as long as I’ve done the job I was paid to do. I never want to leave work feeling like I’ve won and they’ve lost. I’m a stockholder; if I cheat the company, I’m cheating myself.
Besides, even if I’m not a stockholder, if I tried to take more than I give, I’d still be cheating. And that would be a Bad Thing.
Also in This Series
- On Temptation · July 2010
- Beyond Pen Pals · July 2007
- Just Because We Can Do a Thing, Does Not Mean We Should Do a Thing · March 2006
- Google Tells Big Brother to Take a Hike · February 2006
- Wikipedia Is Not the Lovefest We Thought · January 2006
- Star Trek Gadgets Have Arrived · December 2005
- The Silver Screen Keeps Shrinking · October 2005
- It’s Just Business · July 2005
- Age Has Its Advantages · June 2005
- Complete Archive