walking in on a coworker who’s clearly procrastinating

A reader writes:

I work in an office where everyone has their door closed all the time and expects you to knock if you’d like to speak to them. The wall with the door is glass, so you can see inside their office before you knock. If someone’s clearly procrastinating (e.g. online shopping, checking a trashy news website, checking their personal banking), should I go away and come back later? I’m sort of the intern, which means that at least once a week, I have to knock around and ask for work, and this comes up a little more frequently than I expected.

On that note, if you’re procrastinating and someone comes into your office, how should you react?

I think the key is to take any judgment out of it — both in what you say/how you say it and in how you’re thinking of it in your own head. You used the word “procrastinating” (and I also used it in the subject line because I couldn’t think of a better one), but it’s not necessarily procrastinating — it could be taking a perfectly reasonable and necessary 10-minute break after working at a fast pace for the last few hours. Or it could be dealing with a personal chore that has to be done, which can be reasonable for many exempt employees to do at work; banking certainly falls in that category, as does a lot of other stuff.

I think you’re thinking of it as if there’s a certain element of shame at being caught redhanded playing online, but in a lot of jobs, this is actually totally okay to do in moderate amounts.

Thinking of it more like that probably makes the right thing to say more intuitive. Treat it matter-of-factly, and just knock and say, “Hey, do you have a minute or would you prefer I come back later?”

Similarly, if you’re the one being walked in on and you’re doing something non-work-related, in many office cultures it’s often best to be matter-of-fact about that too. If you act guilty (look like you’ve been caught, start frantically minimizing browser windows, etc.), you’re signaling that you probably were inappropriately slacking and now you’re trying to cover it up.

(Of course, there’s something of a delicate balance here; if you actually were inappropriately slacking and you’re conspicuously brazen about it, that’s not going to look good either. And some of this is about knowing your job and your context; you generally shouldn’t be seen goofing around on the internet when you’re new to your job, very junior, behind on a deadline, or struggling with performance issues.)

{ 116 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    Also, this is especially true if you’re the junior person. I may care if my boss catches me on Facebook (in practice, I don’t, much, since I get work done in a timely matter and it’s not a big deal in my office to do non-work things at work on occasion) but I really, really don’t care if an intern does.

  2. Apollo Warbucks*

    Just pretend youve haven’t seen the non work related things and ask for what you need. It’s not a big deal, no one will mind or think it’s a problem.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I’m actually more likely to interrupt someone who’s on Facebook or shopping online than someone who’s clearly engrossed in a work task. Honestly, though, I interrupt both on the regular.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I am so much happier when people interrupt during a mental break!

        What I hate is when I have my headphones in and I am hunched over the keyboard typing furiously, and someone chooses this as the time to interrupt!

        1. endishthingy*

          Yes, absolutely. When I am trying to block everything out so I can focus on something I go and sit at my coworker’s desk (she’s part time and usually works from home) which is more secluded than mine and put on headphones. My coworkers KNOW that when I’m wearing headphones and sitting at my “working desk” that I’m trying to concentrate. So WHY do they still come to ask me “one quick question”? I can’t sustain it all that long, ask me when I take my headphones off for a break in fifteen minutes! I guess I should put up a little sign. No headphones + snacking + looking at the weather forecast = interrupt away.

        2. BeenThere*

          I had someone do this do me after I’d finally gotten off a round of meetings. I had been on the phone all morning was having a quick snack and headphones were on, I was typing furiously at a program I’d been trying to get to all week and then the shoulder tap came…


          … I remove headphones, turn around. Puzzled, it’s a user I never deal with, who then proceeds to ask for screwdrivers to open up his personal phone….


          I politely respond that I’m not that kind of IT and user still insists that I would have these or know of the whereabouts in the helpdesk persons desk. I respond in the negative put headphones back on and try to return to the zone, which I failed to get back into because I was so furious I was interrupted.

          Yes please interupt when I’ve got Facebook or similar open, however not articles, I could be hunting for a solution.

  3. BRR*

    We have an open door office but are allowed to take short breaks as long as we get our work done.

    If I get walked in on I will try to close the window if I can discreetly or open another window on top of it to answer the question. But I stopped acting guilty because everybody does it (I’ve walked in on my boss with her personal email open many times).

    If I walk in on someone and they seem embarrassed I will pretend my phone vibrated, saw something that distracted me, fix my shoe etc and make look away so they can close the window.

    There was one time someone was buying tickets for something and I knocked on her open office door with a question and she freaked out like I saw her in the shower. I left quickly and apologized many times at the moment but not later (so as to not bring it up again).

    1. SL*

      Your ticket story made me laugh a little compared to my old office (I worked in tech). We delayed the start of a team meeting by 10 minutes so that half the team could grab tickets for a local music festival that always sold out in 5 minutes. Most of the office was on the site at the same time as well.

    2. Stephanie*

      Ha, your shower line made me laugh. I always feel that way if someone sees non-work stuff on my computer!

    3. The Other Dawn*

      I love the ticket story. If I need to order concert tickets I set an appointment on my calendar that starts five minutes before the hour and ends ten minutes after the hour. Then I shut the door. That way I don’t get interrupted since people think I’m in a meeting or on a conference call. I’m very, very protective of my ticket purchasing time.

      1. SL*

        Ha, me too! If it’s a show I know won’t sell out immediately, I’m more than happy to wait until I get home, but if it’s a show I know will go fast, I’m marking the on-sale window as “busy” time on my calendar.

  4. Jerzy*

    I used to work with a woman who always seemed to be shopping on Amazon when I walked past her cubicle. I never thought of her as a slacker though, because she successfully ran a very busy section of a very busy unit. She was great at her job and a pleasure to work with, so if she wanted to take some time to do some online shopping during the day, who cares? Just like if I, who am generally very busy at work, want to take a few minutes to keep updated on my favorite workplace-related blog, I shouldn’t feel any shame in that. I get my work done on time and regularly receive praise for its quality.

    Of course, in that same former workplace, there was a woman known for slacking, and she was also pretty often doing online shopping from her desk. I rolled my eyes at her because she needed to be doing more and wasn’t. I liked her very much personally, but professionally… if I had been her manager, she wouldn’t have lasted long.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I walk around at the same time every day, and I notice sometimes that people are online, but I figure they’re taking brain breaks at the same times I do. I’m pretty predictable.

    2. Kate*

      I used to have a coworker who was constantly chatting with other coworkers and I wondered how she got any work done. But she did, in fact her program was very successful under her leadership, so I never minded it.

      1. MashaKasha*

        See, this one I might have issues with. I get it that she recharges by chatting with coworkers, and I’m sure she gets her work done, but what about the coworkers that are being constantly chatted at? Or the ones who cannot concentrate because of all the yakking going on in the next cubicle? I’ve been on the other side of that equation way too many times. I’d have much preferred my chatty coworkers to watch Youtube cat videos all day, but no, they needed to talk.

  5. Bostonian*

    Did anyone else think the last word of the headline was going to be something else when they first read it? Or am I the only one who was worried we were headed back into duck club territory for a second there?

      1. Liza*

        Oh dear. I’m the third to admit thinking the last word was going to be something else, and I’m in Cambridge…

        1. schnapps*

          I’m on the other side of the continent and a bit north. I thought that too. In fact my inner 12 year old boy is chortling.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Side note: rumor has it out office doors are all glass because some people were caught fooling around many years ago so they switched them all to glass

  6. Ad Astra*

    It’s impossible to tell just by glancing at the screen whether someone is procrastinating or simply taking a break. You don’t know how long this person’s been doing this non-work task, and you probably don’t know what, exactly, they’re supposed to be doing at the moment anyway.

    It makes sense that this question is coming from an intern, who may not have much white collar/office-y work experience. And in college, it seemed like everyone talked about how much they procrastinated. Each class has a specific, finite list of tasks to complete, and each semester has a finite list of courses to complete, and each degree program has a finite list of requirements to meet. Eventually, it ends, and procrastinating is delaying that end.

    In most full-time jobs, though, the work doesn’t end. You may have deadlines to meet, which means opportunities to procrastinate, but finishing the work just means you get more work to do. It’s not like taking a 5 minutes to check your bank balance will keep you at the office 5 minutes later in the same way it might have kept you at the library 5 minutes later. That might be a new thing for this OP to consider.

    1. Kyrielle*

      And it’s also not guaranteed that you could have done anything productive with that 5 minutes. Sometimes, you are waiting on the computer and have the system you need to use for work tied up with the last request, and trying to pile more on top of it will slow everything down more than waiting for it to finish. In which case, as long as what you’re doing with the down time doesn’t slow the process down (or not significantly), why not?

      1. OfficePrincess*

        My biggest times to be, well, here are when I have just a few minutes before a conference call or meeting. If I wrap up X 5-10 minutes before I have to get on a call, I’m not going to start something new. I’ll skim my inbox real quick and then take a breather. My other thought is, if work can interrupt my chill on the couch time, I can take sanity breaks during the day as long as it all gets done.

        1. Koko*

          Yes – I do a lot of quick breaks during those awkward times between calls/meetings. I also actually try to do a little break while I’m waiting for a report to run, even though technically I could turn my attention to something else to work on in the meantime. In practice I found that the inevitable result of trying to multitask while reports are running was eventually having a moment where I realize I have 12 browser tabs, 3 spreadsheets, and 2 Word docs open for 4 different projects because I kept turning to a new project every time I hit a pause/wait moment on the previous project, and then would forget that I meant to return to the previous project. I do have ADHD, and I prefer not to take stimulants to control it. Instead I have to be vigilant about my behavior and what that can mean is that it’s actually better for my productivity to read blogs for 5-10 minutes while waiting for a response to an email or a report to finish running than to start and get swamped by a new project in the same time. It means as soon as the report finishes or the response comes in I easily disengage from scrolling through my Facebook feed and return right back to the place I left off and at the end of the day I actually finished a couple of projects instead of making uneven progress on 5 or 6 projects and finishing none of them.

        2. Cactus*

          YES. In Current Job, there are times when I have finished everything that was sitting on my proverbial plate. There will be stuff to do…later, after [coworker] finishes [task], so that I can then do my part of the process. Or I’ll be waiting for a spreadsheet that someone else has locked to become available for data-entry. Or waiting for a certain time to arrive, because [task] can’t be done until then. Etc. Brief online browsing then seems totally reasonable.

          At an old job, my boss expected me to constantly be “on,” even when it made no sense. I was at a health clinic, and had to wear a lot of personal protective equipment there…but I wasn’t allowed to wear that around patients. So if I was to leave the pathology room and help with patients, I would have to remove my garments…and then before going back to my assigned tasks, I’d either have to redress or be seriously unsafe. (The way things happened vis-a-vis my actual duties were sometimes unpredictable.)

    2. Bostonian*

      >> Eventually, it ends, and procrastinating is delaying that end.

      Thank you for the kick in the pants I needed to stop goofing off and get back to work. My thesis right now is essentially one giant work task that’s not due for 4 months. I’m a pretty motivated, productive person in general, but this setup is a recipe for procrastination and lack of focus.

        1. simonthegrey*

          I used to work on mine in CD blocks. Start up Writing CD 1 (which happened to be the Moulin Rouge soundtrack), write till it was done, then take a break. Then go back and start up Writing CD 2 (don’t remember, just a general mix) and write till it was done. It worked pretty well.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Hah, I do that for novels. I make playlists. Though for Tunerville, it was almost exclusively Hans Zimmer’s Angels and Demons soundtrack. For Rose’s Hostage, it was a playlist of various music, stuff from Black Hawk Down, and The Dark Knight. For Secret Book, it’s all Ludovico Einaudi. He has a new album coming out and I’m dying. I can. not. wait.

            For editing at work, I use Chopin, Vivaldi, and the Vault Archives soundtrack from the Fallout games.

            1. Cactus*

              I make soundtracks to the stories I write. When I was in college and working on papers, I would listen to music from the right nation, era, or theme to correspond with the paper’s topic.

    3. Three Thousand*

      I agree that “procrastinating” is a strange word to use unless they happen to know people have specific deadlines they’re failing to meet. “Slacking” or “screwing around” might be more what they’re thinking of, not that those terms are any less judgmental or inappropriate.

    4. Koko*

      You also might be surprised what websites people visit as part of their job that don’t at first seem work related. I think as a marketer this is especially common in my line of work, but I imagine it probably comes up for other jobs too in unexpected ways.

      Today, I’ve:
      -Visited Amazon product pages to locate book cover images and publisher’s descriptions for books we’re promoting on our own website
      -Visited Facebook to set up new ad campaigns and view the comments on existing ads
      -Read at least half a dozen articles/essays on news sites to stay abreast of current events (and not all Washington Post and NY Times either, sometimes trashy news sites get a scoop)
      -Searched my personal email for examples of marketing automation done by other companies to get a feel for what other successful companies are doing

      And probably other things that might look like lunchtime web surfing to someone who just casually happened by my desk, but were directly related to a work task on my list.

      1. Marzipan*

        Mmm, I was going to say much the same thing. My work-related internet use today has included Facebook, YouTube and several forums. A passer-by might think I was just faffing about online, but I happened to be working on things that needed me to use those resources. OK, there are some jobs where that’s never the case, but it’s certainly not impossible.

      2. Ad Astra*

        Marketing is one of the few departments in my company who have access to social media and other potential goof-off sites. I’m always a bit wary when someone from a different department walks by my desk because it might not seem so obvious to them that I’m working.

      3. AnotherFed*

        Exactly – an intern might not know what’s actually slacking. Even in my work today, I’ve been to Wikipedia, a couple of forums/Q&A places trying to track down the answer to a (probably) Java issue, a whole lot of vendor websites looking up specs and quotes on pretty common electronics, and a bunch of google searches on how to translate stardates into dd/mm/yyyy format.

    5. Lily in NYC*

      Yes, this. OP, the answer to this is simple: Mind Your Own Business. I come in an hour earlier than I need to due to a horrific commute. I never leave on time. I give this place tons of free overtime. If I want to spend 10 minutes on Amazon or Ask A Manger, I’m not going to feel guilty – and if an intern or someone junior to me gave me shit about it I would be very annoyed and would definitely let her know she was out of line.

  7. Turanga Leela*

    On Alison’s point about being brazen: I work in an office where it’s understood that we take occasional breaks, but I’ve seen new hires hurt their reputations by looking like they’re slacking—when the boss comes in, they’re listening to NPR; when the boss walks by, they’re reading the news; when the boss walks by again, they’re on Facebook; and so on. It’s entirely possible that they’re not taking excessive breaks, but if that’s what people see, that creates an early bad impression. When you’re new somewhere, it’s helpful not only to get your work done, but also to look like you’re not messing around.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Looking back at the post, Alison basically said this already in her last sentence. Oh well.

    2. Koko*

      Yeah, it’s important that junior employees not take ALL their cues from senior employees. A couple years ago our team, which consisted only of very senior individual contributors and managers, hired an hourly assistant to help out with the stuff that was way below our own pay grades. The assistant’s manager ended up having to sit her down a couple months in and have a slightly uncomfortable but necessary conversation that even though she sees everyone around her taking 1.5-hour lunches, coming in late, leaving early, and taking 2-week summer vacations, that wasn’t something that she could do as an hourly assistant.

      The thing was, the folks she saw keeping fast and loose hours and taking long vacations were all exempt with project-driven deadlines, and what she wasn’t seeing was that we were all putting in additional hours at home when needed to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks. Because she was hourly, she wasn’t allowed to work from home or work overtime, so she couldn’t frontload/backload work before and after a vacation or put in a couple of hours at home one night to make up for running errands during lunch the way the rest of us routinely did.

      (The assistant didn’t get in trouble for this, btw – she was new to the workforce and her manager understood why she had gotten the impression it was OK to do what she saw everyone around her doing, but I think the assistant was still pretty mortified that she had to be spoken to about attendance/appropriate vacation.)

    3. Alternative*

      Can you clarify – do you consider listening to the radio or music (at a quiet volume of course), equivalent to surfing the internet? To me, those are completely different things. Listening to something in the background can be done while working or not working. It has nothing to do with a taking a break or slacking off.

  8. TootsNYC*

    This brings up an important concept: What is on your coworkers’ screens is not your business. Pretend you never saw it. (Unless it’s outrageous, like porn of any kind.)

    1. SL*


      Even when I have to go to a coworker’s cubicle, I deliberately place myself so that I won’t see their screen at all until they tell me to take a look at this or that on their computer.

    2. This is not me*

      We do a version of content moderating and tell the new people if they haven’t seen something pornographic by the end of their first day, it must be a slow day. Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen more porn than Charlie Sheen.

    1. Colorado*

      haha, I was thinking the same thing! And I have a meeting in 45 minutes I still need to prepare for! :-D

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Ha, I just told a coworker that the other day when she gave me a look about being on my phone (which was on this site)

  9. The IT Manager*

    If I had a legitimate reason to speak with someone, I would knock on their door unless I saw them on the phone. The question is worded like if the intern saw someone working they’d knock but not if they saw them goofing off. Like Alison said, this could be perfectly legitimate break, but either way if you need to talk to them knock whether they’re working or procrastinating.

  10. Laurel Gray*

    Sorry, OP. “clearly procrastinating” made me roll my eyes. By your definition (going off your letter) anyone reading AAM while at work would be “clearly procrastinating” and I just don’t think that is true. I think procrastinating is a bit dramatic in this context makes one wonder “Exactly what is said coworker being slow or late about doing that needs to be done?” The term procrastinate also implies laziness and may not be fair to use this generally. Then again, I am of the belief that if Fergus can get all his work done satisfactory in his regular work day and still has time to read the news online, post on AAM, buy some socks from Amazon, text his girlfriend a funny meme and get car insurance quotes then there is nothing wrong here.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Actually, “procrastinating” has never seemed like a lazy thing, to me. It feels “stalled,” or “resistant,” but not lazy. Maybe it’s because I do procrastinate, and it’s seldom because I’m lazy.

      1. T3k*

        It’s more of a school/college definition. When a student in college said they were procrastinating it usually meant they were putting off doing their school work to the very last minute in favor of activities they wanted to do (like go to a concert, movie night, etc) so in college culture, procrastination became synonymous with being lazy as, more often than not, they’d put together something at the last minute to scrape by in a class.

        1. endishthingy*

          I’ve always been very prone to procrastination.There’s definitely a piece of it that’s just laziness/lack of motivation, but at least for me it has more to do with executive function issues and anxiety. I have difficulty breaking down a big task into small manageable ones and figuring out the best order to accomplish those little tasks. I get hung up on little details that may not be too important. I try to attack one little piece of the puzzle and it reminds me of the 50 other pieces I haven’t gotten to yet. And if I’m not working at ALL on Important Project then I know I’m not doing Important Project WRONG. After 30 years I’m slooowly getting better at dealing with all of this, and for the most part I’ve always been able to produce decent work by the deadline (even though it’s generally JUST before the deadline), but it’s a constant struggle. I don’t think my workplace procrastination differs all that much from my college procrastination either. I spent too much time today talking/looking at AaM/making lists of due dates so I’m going to have to do more tomorrow so I can turn a report in on time and bill enough hours for the month. Just like I would have had to work all night on a paper in college if I’d spent the weekend sleeping and playing Snood.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Ha. I thought that you either purposely modified your name in tribute to some sort of major ending in your life, or someone else adopted a send-up of your name.

          1. Tau*

            +1, from another person with major executive function issues and resulting problems with procrastination. Thankfully, I’ve managed to keep them separate from my work so far (crossing my fingers that I can keep that up), but getting stuff done in my personal life can be a bear.

            The clearest sign for me that it’s not a matter of laziness is that one of the things that has surprisingly little impact on whether or not I manage to do something is whether or not I want to do it. :/

    2. SL*

      Part of the phrasing may be because the OP is an intern and probably in school, where procrastination is… well, it’s essentially what you do when you have that paper you don’t want to start yet. You go online and you avoid doing That Task, which means you’re not being as productive as you should be. The OP probably doesn’t have the work experience to know that there are different standards in the office re: Internet browsing than there are in the classroom or on campus.

      1. fposte*

        But it’s not that different for school–if the student had gotten it done early, she could have surfed later, and instead she’s surfing now and getting it done later. It’s just a self-imposed “should,” and in work terms, the productivity is the same either way.

      2. Rita*

        I also wonder if a career center at the school hammers the idea of “never surf the internet while at the office!!!” to its students when they go out into their careers.

        1. SL*

          Some of it might be the career center, some of it might be parents/well-meaning relatives/other general sources of job advice, and some of it is probably from making the transition from retail to office work.

          I remember at my first internship, my supervisor had to tell me explicitly that it was okay to have a couple minutes to take care of personal business if need be, and that in my downtime (I was an intern 4 days a week, there was LOTS of it), it was fine if I wanted to read the news or do other professional-looking things on the web.

    3. the gold digger*

      The thing is, it doesn’t matter if I procrastinate or not. I still have to do my work. I still have to meet my deadlines. If I procrastinate now, that just means I work later. I don’t get paid by the hour – I get paid to get the job done.

  11. afiendishthingy*

    This is hilarious because I generally feel like I’ve been “caught procrastinating” when I’m looking at AaM and someone walks behind me. Thanks for the reminder that moderate amounts really are ok! I never feel like I’m “catching” my coworkers if they’re online shopping or reading the news but I have weird double standards for myself.

  12. gnarlington*

    Just last week a co-worker came into my office while I was on Facebook, and I felt incredibly guilty—until I realized that posting on Facebook is part of my job…

    1. Colette*

      That’s what I was thinking. Yes, breaks are usually ok, but it’s also important to remember that a large number of people use Facebook/Twitter/YouTube etc. as part of their job, and it may not be obvious from their title.

    2. Marketing Girl*

      Totally there with you. Happens to me all. the. time. not sure why I still feel a bit guilty about it…but for some reason I do…kinda…
      It’s like the persona’s perception is more important than the job….which isn’t true at all

  13. MashaKasha*

    This is an interesting one. I do need to take frequent breaks. Also, I do need to take a pause and think about what I’m doing, instead of just banging randomly on my keyboard until the right solution magically appears. If I had, say, a window facing the mountains and a valley where woodland creatures frolic and play, I’d probably be looking at that during my breaks/thinking time. Since I don’t have a window like that in my office, I look at places like this page. Some people take issue with it. I don’t know what to tell them other than I get things done on time and they know it. I did get in major trouble for this twice. One time, it was my second week on a job, so yes being new does mean you need to be cautious. Other time, it was a combination of office politics and my boss trying to create a distraction as he himself wasn’t being terribly productive. He was let go a few years later.

    I do think that, between being available 24×7 by cell and text, being connected 24×7 via wifi and work laptop, crazy work hours, insane deadlines etc., our expectations of what we should be delivering in our workplace have already reached the “insanely needy controlling boyfriend” level. If on top of it we start policing each other, peeking at each other’s monitor to make sure no non-work play is happening during our 24×7 workweeks, that’s not going to end well imo. Something’s got to give.

    1. Allison*

      Exactly. I think managers are allowed to take issue with someone’s browsing activity, especially if they’re also not producing the results they’re expected to produce, but we can’t be spying on each other and tattling to each other’s managers whenever we see so-and-so on Facebook or Amazon.

      I think I’d only take issue with a peer’s browsing activity if I saw them on, say, a porn site or something. But in an open office like ours, you’d need to be pants-on-head stupid to look at porn while at work.

      1. JessaB*

        Yes, but I think the issue needs to be specifically on the “x is not getting done, what needs to change for x to get done?” type thing. And especially about the individual not about the entire department. A friend’s department just got one of those passive aggressive emails about “Don’t do this,” when possibly 2 people out of maybe 70 were doing “this.” It’s not the way to handle that. Actually friend gets along well enough with boss that he told him that it was kind of insulting to the rest of the room, and boss apologised and said he’d take it up with the people doing wrong next time.

    2. Shortie*

      “If I had, say, a window facing the mountains and a valley where woodland creatures frolic and play, I’d probably be looking at that during my breaks/thinking time. Since I don’t have a window like that in my office, I look at places like this page.”

      If you have a laptop, you could go out on the patio for inspiration like the person from Alison’s intern column. :)

  14. Shan*

    I’m so glad you answered this question! When I started at my first job out of college, I had the same issue even though we keep our doors open. I always pretended I didn’t see what they were doing and got on with my question, and it worked fine.

    It took me a while to realize that it’s okay – expected, even, since we’re exempt – to take a quick break to check your personal email or bank account, or even just surf the web for a few minutes. I didn’t start doing this until I was established in my job so I wouldn’t appear to be slacking, but it’s really not a big deal to take a break if you work hard and don’t abuse the privilege.

  15. Anonicorn*

    It’s scientifically proven that nobody will come into your office until the moment that you’re doing something non-work related.

    1. Shortie*

      Isn’t that the truth. At one particular job in my past, I hardly ever did anything non-work-related because I was just too busy. On the rare occasion when I had a short breather, my supervisor would inevitably pick *that moment* to pop by my desk for a quick conversation. At one point, I actually started to wonder whether she had a camera or keylogger software on me so she could drop by at the right moment.

    2. LJL*

      On the other hand, if you really really need to talk to the boss, a quick web surf will ensure she walks in quickly. Making Murphy’s Law work for you!

  16. Busted Browser*

    I’m a manager with my own office, and have a lot of people come to me with questions throughout the day. One of my staff will cruise into my office at top speed, come around behind my desk, and ask me questions from an awkward side/rear angle rather than standing in front of my desk. I’m convinced it’s because she saw me watching a YouTube video ONCE and is trying to catch me doing it again. I’ve thought about asking her to stand in front of me when she has a question so I don’t have crane my neck or swivel my chair around to look at her, but then she’ll just think I’m trying to hide my illicit internet activity from her. Sigh.

    1. Koko*

      If she reports to you then you should put the kibosh on this. You have a staff member apparently trying to trap you in an unseemly position – that’s a form of undermining you. It’s not her business to worry about what you’re doing on your computer.

      Do you have a guest chair in your office? If you do, I would make sure it’s on the front/other side of your desk, and then the next time this employee comes in, say, “Lavinia, please have a seat.” If she refuses or says she prefers to stand, “Lavinia, I’m often dealing with sensitive or confidential information on my computer. When you have a question, I need you to stay on the other side of my desk unless I invite you to look at the screen.” It doesn’t matter if she thinks you’re trying to hide something. You’re her manager. If she’s especially stubborn you could try Alison’s direct approach, “Lavinia, I’ve asked you to remain on the other side of the desk. Looking at my screen when it might have confidential information on it is not OK. Do you have some concern about what I’m doing that’s making you feel the need to snoop on me?” And then hear what, if anything, she says. And if she has the audacity to say she thinks you’ve been surfing for fun, you shut that down immediately: “I see. You don’t need to be concerned with that. I have goals and performance targets that I’m responsible for meeting, and you have your own, as does everyone here. I need you to remain focused on your own work and be less concerned with others’ work habits.”

  17. Rebecca*

    We log on to a remote desktop environment, and sometimes there is lag time and it won’t respond for a few minutes. Rather than being idle, and staring at a screen that’s not moving, I will check personal things or take a break for a minute. It doesn’t mean I’m procrastinating, I’m just waiting for the system to catch up.

    1. Windchime*

      This is me. I’m reading here right now because I just put something on to run and it’ll take about 15 minutes. I don’t really have time to start something else, so I’m watching it on screen 1 while I read here on screen 2.

  18. Rae*

    In the adult world, with serious issues from clients, sometimes “procrastination” is really the only thing to save your sanity. I read AAM, I look at facebook, I will read blogs or go on forums because my brain simply cannot handle one more serious issue in the next 5 minutes.

    That said, sometimes this purely brain break often has merits and I find information that can be utilized. (the number of AAM articles that I’ve shared is enormous.)

  19. Mary B.*

    I haven’t seen anyone else mention this in the comments before, so I just want to add that you might want to see if there’s a policy for computer/Internet usage where you work. I work for a town department, and the rules of personal use of the computers – and even the phones – are pretty stringent because they’re government property (as in, a few years ago when it was put into place, I had to tell my family to call my cell phone and not the work number unless it was an emergency). I think this is the exception rather than the rule, but it’s worth finding out.

    And if I were bending the rules and using the computer for something more personal rather than work, I’d be doing it on my ten minute break and not mind the interruption at all.

    1. Shannon*

      Even if there is a stringent policy, it’s not the intern’s place to enforce it, just follow it.

      1. Mary B.*

        Oh, definitely. But it’s a good thing just to be aware of.

        And I didn’t really think of it as I was first commenting, but as others have said, what someone’s doing may be a part of their job… when I sign in to Facebook from work, it’s to post something on our page rather than my own, for instance.

    2. Koko*

      If I was using my 10-minute break to take care of personal matters, that is the time I would most mind an interruption! If I only get 10 minutes to take care of me-things, I’m not going to stop and talk to an intern about work things during those minutes. I’d tell her to come back when my break is over.

  20. Marketing Girl*

    As a Marketing Manager/Director I’m always on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress, etc for work related things, but since I am an army of one (and no one here really gets what digital marketing is) I KNOW some people think I goof off. I tried to overcompensate for a long time by providing analytics, data, screenshots, etc. to “prove” I’m not…but it does me no good really. So I decided to stop feeling bad/guilty when I actually do take a break to read AAM or check personal email.

  21. Sunflower*

    The other thing is unless you know all functions of this person’s job, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily procrastinating just because they are on a social media or shopping website. If they are in marketing, it could be their job to be on Twitter or Facebook. Our IT guy is on Amazon all the time because he buys a lot of equipment from there. I spent all day on hotel and restaurant review sites because I’m a meeting planner.

    But yeah 1. Just knock and ask if they have a minute and 2. If you are junior to this person, they probably don’t care if see them online shopping

  22. MashaKasha*

    Hey, I just had a thought for OP – OP says “at least once a week, I have to knock around and ask for work” – can you do this asking around via IM? Aside from the possibility of catching people red-handed (whatever that means), I just think it’s more intrusive to come ask in person than via instant message. You can even IM to ask “do you have a minute?” and if the person says yes, then you stop by in person a few minutes later. Even when I’m legitimately working (probably especially so), it startles the living hell out of me when someone just walks into my cube from behind, where I can’t see them, and asks me a question. And then it takes me a couple minutes to switch from the work problem I was thinking about to the question they have, and to figure out where to look for an answer to whatever they’re asking. If you give the person a heads-up via IM, then, when you do come see them in their office, they will already be in the right frame of mind to give you the information you came for.

  23. AcidMeFlux*

    Mind your own business. Nowadays, a lot of people use various pathways to get to the information they need to complete work tasks. I live and work in Europe in English language training so I use Google Translate as well as dictionaries and thesauruses, a number of glossaries for professional English (medicine, engineering, etc.) an app for metric conversion, I check in on Blackboard and Quizlet – and all of this activity, on my phone, while my students are working on exercises. I let them know this the first day of class, and they know it’s true because I can call up information in a second on my phone. However, I have had supervisors look askance because “it seems” I’m texting in class.

  24. Margaret*

    I agree with the don’t judge crowd, which seems to be dominant. No telling what each individual does during their workday.

    Side story – I once worked for a small, family owned company with an office of about 10 people. Our offices were much like the ones described: closed off, but with a window into the hallway. Our boss made us face our backs – and computer monitors – toward the window so he could walk by and see what was on our computer screens. It was really weird. But made you think twice about cruising Amazon on your break. Might as well get up and walk around instead!

  25. Buttonhole*

    I like to read news online to get my mind of work. Once I was ready the Daily Mail at a time when I didn’t have much to do. The Director’s PA walked behind my back and saw it. She then went to my manager who was sitting in the same row and told him audibly “that one (pointing at me) is not doing any work, I caught her looking at all sort of websites”. I was upset and later told my manager “I heard what she said, can I just say that I do occasionally visit non-work related sites to get my mind off work, and always when I have not much to do”. This was when there was very little projects in my division and my manager should therefore not have been surprised that I didn’t have much to do. He didn’t sympathise at all and responded by sending me a reminder about the company’s internet use policy. I have never used their internet for Facebook or Linkedin. Since then I am too afraid to look at non-work sites at work, I’d rather pretend to work.

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