is it bad that I use a chat program to talk to my friends throughout the workday?

A reader writes:

I work in an administrative position at a university, and I almost always have Google Chat open throughout the day, both to talk to coworkers and friends outside of work. Is this generally considered more “okay” than other forms of personal messaging? I’m a pretty productive worker – I very rarely make personal calls at work, and I would never dream of texting people from my phone or Facebook all day. Gchat feels different to me, but should it? Things are very casual where I work, and most people have their personal Gmail/Facebook up throughout the day. Does it all just come down to workplace culture? Is it the Millennial in me?

I’m pretty uptight about this compared to some people, but I think it’s a bad idea to have a chat program open throughout the day to talk to friends. It’s really not different than texting with your friends throughout the day; it’s a distraction that will keep you from really focusing on work as much as you otherwise would, and it can eat up more time than you realize.

I know that people who do it regularly tend to believe that it doesn’t affect their productivity, but in my experience from watching people who say that, it’s not true. It’s also the kind of thing that can be hard to self-assess, particularly when you have an incentive to believe that it’s not impacting you.

As for whether it’s considered more acceptable than texting or being on Facebok all day: I don’t think so, no. I wonder if it’s feeling more okay to you because it’s less noticeable (especially if you also use Gchat to talk to coworkers) — but you don’t want visibility to be the standard by which you judge this stuff.

Of course, it’s certainly possible that your office culture is one that doesn’t particularly care. But it’s also possible that your manager just hasn’t noticed and would care if she did, or that she does notice and files it away as information about your work ethic.

Ultimately though, I think the point is this: Chatting with friends throughout the work day keeps your head regularly out of work. And it’s not like there’s a need to remain in constant social communication while you’re supposed to be working, right? It’s a way of giving your job less than all of your attention, and over time that will impact your overall work. Maybe that will just mean that you’re merely good at your job when you could have been great at it, and maybe you’re willing to accept that trade-off — but if you could be great and you’re choosing not to just so that you can have idle chit-chat with friends, I’d argue it’s a pretty questionable trade. Being great at your job has massive long-term benefits, like getting you more money, better projects, better future jobs, and a better reputation, which all have a direct impact on your quality of life. I wouldn’t trade that away just to be able to shoot the breeze with friends during the workday. (And of course, for some people it’s not a question of good versus great, but instead is the difference between good and barely cutting it.)

If you’re having a slow day or working on a task that requires little focus or regular breaks, or if you’re in a job that requires nearly no concentration, then sure, Gchat away — but don’t do it as your normal M.O.

{ 241 comments… read them below }

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep — being deliberate about when you take a break is different than making yourself accessible for chatting and open to interruptions all day long. (Also, I don’t think many people are literally here all day; I assume they pop in when their day permits it. Even I’m not here all day!)

        1. Chrissy*

          I’m here all day, haha, but it keeps me sane. I have one of those slow, boring, limited workload jobs. I realize at times what a blessing that is, but sometimes I do feel like a zombie. This blog keeps my mind active and my skills sharpened.

          1. Chrissy*

            I will also add that I have gchat up all day and there are two friends who I will sporadically chat with every now and then, but again, it keeps my mind active and helps me to be a friendlier, more approachable coworker when there is work. I would lose my mind otherwise. For clarification, I’m stuck at this job for a while, a commitment I made to fix a spotty job history, so I play whatever mental tricks I need to tough it out. I’m on year 3 now. I’ll probably give it another 2 years.

    1. Mark in Cali*

      As people say on here: +1

      This site surely does interrupt my work. I know that’s my choice, but I’m absolutely sure this is a constant distraction.

      1. Argh!*

        No, you interrupt your work to view it. Chat programs usually have a pop-up window that will distract your attention.

        1. De Minimis*

          Things like AAM are more a grey area [though it can definitely veer way off into just plain interruption if you get into a protracted discussion or debate] Chat programs are more akin to texting on your phone at work.

          Of course, e-mail can be as bad a distraction as chat programs, but for me the e-mail is usually work related, and also I need to at least see what each e-mail is about as it comes in.

        2. Cat*

          Gchat doesn’t unless you want it to. It’s just open in a browser that you have to navigate to.

        3. bridget*

          I have gchat open all day, and I also read a lot of AAM at work (as well as other forums, news sources, and advice columns). I check FB and instagram on my phone periodically. All of those distract me and make me less productive, and I’m sure if I stopped them I would be a better worker. I am working getting better at this.

          BUT, the point I want to make is that none of these types of distractions is inherently more or less distracting than any other; it depends on your interest and context. In order, the things I spend most of my non-productive time on are: 1) a personal finance forum 2) AAM 3) other advice columns 4) a travel forum 5) gchat 6) phone distractions (FB, IG, texting) 7) online shopping.

          Most of this is because my acquaintances aren’t really available for a lot of texting/gchatting/FB messaging during the day, so I go to what’s always available: the internet. :) Alison gives me a lot more content to work with on a daily basis than all of my friends combined. I get notifications that remind me to check the website in my FB feed. I can subscribe to comments by email, which remind me to check for follow-ups to my comments. Also, with gchat, I can multi-task. I realize that’s way less productive than uni-tasking, but reading through a bunch of comments on AAM is an activity I must 100% focus on; no work tasks at all while I read it.

        4. Anna*

          I think this is splitting hairs, really. Anything that takes you away from your work is a distraction. The difference is how often you frequent those distractions. Ultimately I interrupt my work to check Ask a Manger or Gchat, so they can both be problems.

        5. SusanIvanova*

          I always turn those off, even for chatting at home with friends. Work IRC was set to the least distracting level of notification, and that only when I was explicitly mentioned.

    2. Audiophile*

      I was on the site so frequently at a previous job, that it got blocked by IT. (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was on there.)

      1. De Minimis*

        At my last job AAM technically should have been blocked [all blogs were technically against policy], but the site’s title and formatting didn’t set off the I.T. filter. The funny thing was that it did block her articles on US News.

        The main thing that would cause a site to be blocked would be having the word “blog” in the title or somewhere on the page.

        I don’t think ESPN was ever blocked, though, and it should have been….

        1. Audiophile*

          I know it wasn’t entirely my fault. Like your previous job, most blogs were blocked, job search engines, external emails were blocked (Gmail and Yahoo for security reasons, though they were eventually reinstated.)

        2. Windchime*

          Blogs were all blocked at my work when they put in a new firewall. I protested that this was a career website and got them to unblock it. (I think they eventually really loosened up on the firewall because now my SQL blog is also unblocked). Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are blocked for almost everyone at my workplace.

    3. Tau*

      Honestly? I don’t read AAM at work, only in the morning or evening. Not all of us are in the same time zone. :)

      I know myself well enough that I know I can’t trust myself to do non-work stuff during work hours, whether that’s reading AAM, chatting with friends, or browsing Facebook. The closest I get is reading Stackoverflow, and I keep a close eye even on that to make sure it’s only a minute here and there when I’m having trouble focusing or have a gap in my work. I know not everyone is as susceptible to getting distracted as I am, but I also suspect a lot of people think they’re less susceptible than they actually are.

      1. Moral panic*

        Always he careful with the minute here and there… I did that at my last job and always mentally tracked my downtime to never exceed the 2 15 minute breaks I was entitled to…. my boss seemed to always pop by during one of my minutes but I thought it was fine because it was only for a minute or two.

        Well one day I came in to work to find my boss on my computer with my browser listing open. I had a piece torn off me in his office because he assumed I was browsing all day long and attributed any problem I ever had to that.

        Sadly all it taught me was to exit my screens at the slightest noise and always use the private browsing so my history isn’t shown on my computer.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        I am completely bemused by the comments that keep coming up, whether directly or by implication, about how commenters are obviously wasting time at work because they’re on AAM all day, because surely everyone understands timezones, shiftwork, part-time and non-Mon-Fri-9-5 work patterns exist!

        1. TootsNYC*

          some of us are, actually, wasting time at work on AAM.

          I rationalize it by saying I’m a manager, so it’s research!, but that’s not really true.

          If my only digital time waster were Gchat, I’d probably be much more productive, because none of my friends would message me.

    4. Be the Change*

      I have actually had to set a site blocker for this site, along with Facebook, so I’m not on it all damn day.

  1. Bend & Snap*

    Also those chats aren’t private for you or your friends…your employer can access them, so be careful what you’re saying on the company network.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Please elaborate….how do you know this? Do you have IT corroboration of this? I ask because my employer doesn’t use Google chat but rather uses Microsoft Office Communicator and I have been specifically told by our IT people that the amount of space that would be required to save every instant messenger conversation would be astronomical and the storage is already near its limits with the requirements to maintain e-mails. Mind you, I work for a large organization with tens of thousands of employees so I don’t know if that’s the reason the storage is an issue or whether this would be an issue in a smaller org?

      Can any IT people chime in about this issue? If the convos can be accessed, have you ever had to do it in your capacity as an IT professional? I have had this discussion with several co-workers who seem to believe that these convos cannot be retained for any substantial length of time, if at all, and I’d love to know if anyone can lend any truth to either side?

      1. NASA*

        I have also been told this by my IT insider at my previous office, although she did say that “[IT] could if they wanted to.” So it was more so of…if they suspected you were doing something, they could monitor your activity specifically and capture anything and everything. This was for a large, well known city department.
        I agree, to do this for all employees would probably require an astronomical amount of space.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, exactly. I’ve told the tale here before where unbeknownst to me, the coworker I was chatting away with about private things was on a pip and being watched…so yeah I found this out the hard way.

        2. Jeanne*

          I agree that it’s more they could read and save the chats not that they will. But if they want to prove you’re goofing off they’ll use the memory space.

      2. Bend & Snap*

        I’m sure it depends on the individual company, but it’s possible for IT to see anything going on over the corporate network, if they want to. You should never assume something you do on work equipment/networks can’t be discovered.

          1. Anna*

            But is it on internally run IM? I thought that since Gchat was over Google servers access would be different. I guess not, though.

            1. Green*

              Companies that retain IMs on a program they provide do it for a different reason (legal discovery); I don’t know the technology end of it, but a web-based chat that is not provided by your employer is different.

            2. MinB*

              It depends – are you using Google Apps for Work or your personal Gmail? Google Apps for Work does give admins at minimum access to user logs which would reveal email titles and possibly more. Google Apps for Work also allows admins to change user passwords and log in so unless you’re diligent about deleting your chat history, that’s right there in Gmail search. And that’s just what I know I can do as the Google Apps Domain Admin at a teeny nonprofit where IT is only a small sliver of my job. I’m sure there are more in-depth monitoring features that workplaces with dedicated IT staff would be aware of.

              Your person Gmail/G-Chat would be more difficult to monitor.

      3. BRR*

        Even if chats are not automatically saved, they likely can at any time. It’s a good move to act as though everything you do on company equipment is accessible. While not all employer do it, it’s possible for most.

      4. Jaguar*

        Well, IT could log everything and the storage would be huge but huge storage isn’t really a logistical hurdle any more.

        More important is setting up a way to monitor what you’re doing. They could monitor your web traffic (doable, but onerous and then picking through the data would be a pain), keylog your computer (easily doable, but picking through that data is even worse), video-capture your screen (easily doable, but the storage space ramps up huge in that case), etc.

        “We can monitor you if we want to” is typically an idle IT threat. They absolutely could, but you would have to push things pretty far to get to that point, IMO.

        1. Jaguar*

          I think it’s actually more common for people to be caught off-task on security cameras than any IT-solution.

          All that said, the trend is towards more capturing of usage data and more employer surveillence, so this could all change sooner rather than later. A monitor-and-report-employee-Internet-usage start-up could be a lucrative idea for a monsterous person to persue.

        2. ThatGirl*

          Yes, I’ve basically been told our IT *could* access anything they want to, but they won’t unless they have a reason to.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            One thing people never think about but should is that even if your company would never normally go digging through that stuff, if there’s a lawsuit involving your company, they’ll be required to save and possibly turn over all that stuff, and it could be read through by all sorts of people.

            1. Pwyll*

              100% this. I was involved with a pretty substantial investigation during a lawsuit once that had teams of attorneys reviewing every e-mail sent to a .edu address. At least 40 people saw that “adorable” photo of someone’s naked 2 year old niece, gross broken leg photos, the grand mal 21-person family feud e-mail chain, and steamy e-mail-sexting. Don’t send personal e-mails at work, folks!

            2. Jennifer M.*

              I went through that a few years ago. My company was sued and those of us who had worked on a particular project that had lasted 3 years (I only worked on it for 2 weeks!) were told by the general counsel not to delete any emails other than administrative minutiae (meeting moved to 3rd floor conference room/boss leaving at 2, X in charge/etc) for a good 6 month period.

              1. I think I'll use another name for this*

                Oh yes. I’d worked for the full length of the project on one of those that ended in a lawsuit, and I ended up having to turn over nearly 1.5 GB of files for the discovery. EVERY mention of the client had to be included. (Which means they got status emails for unrelated projects – such as “I will get back to you on this as soon as I’ve finished the lid spec reports for Awesome Teapots, Inc – probably Thursday or Friday.” – which were actually somewhat relevant since they showed focus, but again, 1.5 GB of files. Ooof.)

              2. Anna*

                Email isn’t the same, though, because it’s usually on an internally owned server. I was under the impression that if your IM program is on your actual server, that is easy to pull. But Gchat and Facebook messenger are run through their servers, so wouldn’t that be more difficult?

                1. Anonymous Educator*

                  Usually? I’m not so sure about that. You can certainly host your own in-house email server, but many places have cloud-based storage with Google Apps, Amazon S3, or hosted Exchange.

        3. TheLazyB*

          I heard last week that some IT bods at my work told a girl in my office that they could spy on her using the webcam built into her laptop. The IT bods are mean, but she was gullible enough to put something over the webcam….

          (I fell for the joke about gullible being taken out of the dictionary. Twice. I’m not judging)

          1. Andrea*

            Wow, I actually find it scary that these IT guys would say this to your coworker. That is sexual harassment and I don’t think your coworker is gullible for putting something over the webcam, I think she is reasonably unnerved and taking precautions just in case. Please speak up if you ever hear them “joke” about this again.

              1. 42*

                Because they told a “female” that they could “spy on her” maybe? (For the record I didn’t see that as sexual harassment, but my guess is that Andrea’s kneejerk thought was peephole-in-the-dressing-room type of thing.)

                1. Lily Evans*

                  Given the context, sexual harassment is probably an overshoot, but I can see that kind of comment reading as creepy. Especially if the laptop is ever used for WFH. Even if it’s used strictly for working, a co-worker being able to see into that woman’s house definitely seems like it would be an invasion of privacy.

                2. 42*

                  I’m sure that’s what they meant too. By no means do I want to speak for Andrea, but that was the only potential harassment scenario I could gather from TheLazyB’s post.

                3. Anna*

                  Webcam spying is something that has been done, mainly to women. Video of women naked or in various states of undress because they rightly assumed to be alone have been posted. It’s not too much of a stretch to see how this exchange could have creepy overtones.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Certainly possible, but based on what TheLazyB described, it’s not the case that “that is sexual harassment,” which was the original comment. (Unless there’s a lot more to the story, which of course there could be.)

                5. blink*

                  It’s not sexual harassment, it’s just a fun opportunity to remind a young woman that people want to watch her over a webcam when she thinks she’s in private. Sort of a meta-reference to sexual harassment with total deniability. Perfect. I wouldn’t complain, but I’d be vomiting on the inside.

                6. Moral panic*

                  I certainly would have a knee jerk reaction due to the severe resting-b-face I have when working on a computer… plus for when I am eating while working and repeatedly get it all over my chin.

                  I think that even men would instantly go and cover thr camera… it is generally creepy and uncomfortable to know someone could be watching your face.

                  Now that I think of it, how mortifying would it be to discover this when you know you do embarrassing stuff in front of the computer – like nose picking or pimple popping?

                7. TheLazyB*

                  Yes I’m presuming they meant see face while typing.

                  And Blink, that’s not fun, that’s hugely disturbing and I’m fairl sure not how they meant it.

                8. Kyrielle*

                  I wouldn’t assume it’s sexual harrassment, but it could be, and it’s definitely creepy. Even moreso if she travels for work or works from home and that laptop may be in a bedroom / hotel room with her. Ugh.

                9. paul*

                  It’s also a true statement; I don’t know about your link policy but Ars Technica covered a story where a school district got in hot water for using software to do just that with laptops that students checked out of school. So it could have been a friendly warning, or a creepy threat, but we need more context to tell.

              2. Andrea*

                Yeah, I read this as “we can take control over your webcam and watch you when you are vulnerable aka you have no control and should be worried about that.” To me, that sounds like they were implying they could watch her at home, maybe see her changing her clothes or some other situation. I can see your point that that wasn’t necessarily what the IT guys were implying, but that is definitely where my mind jumped.

                Regardless of whether or not that was what they were implying, I’d still encourage TheLazyB to speak up if they hear this kind of joke again. As a woman, if someone said this to me, I would not find this to be harmless teasing. I would find this to be threatening in a very gendered way, and not funny. It would make me feel a lot safer if a coworker spoke up for me in that situation.

            1. TootsNYC*

              The thing that would make me look askance at it from a sexual harassment point of view is that I don’t think these men would play that joke on another man–only on a woman.

              So, is that sexual harrassment? Maybe not technically. But it’s icky.

          2. LQ*

            They likely can, there have been some cases of this happening I believe. (I know one involved a school and students.) But taking 2 seconds to put a piece of tape or tape a piece of something over the webcam is perfectly reasonable. I do it even on my home computer in case I ever accidentally do something (click the wrong button, accept a call when you are trying to decline, etc) the webcam at work is pointed at a …I think purple folder? basically nothing. Just for the same eventuality, which has absolutely happened, people don’t know how to work Lync and call instead of chatting me and I’ve failed and accepted. So this isn’t gullible, this is basic precautions. (Plus everything Andrea said about ew.)

            1. Florida*

              You might be thinking of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers. That was a very sad situation.

              1. MarketingLadyPA*

                No, I think it’s the upper merion case in Pennsylvania. Was big news here in my neck of the woods.

          3. Gren*

            I keep a bit of a post-it note on my webcam on my work computer, and I’ve been in IT for fifteen years. It is absolutely possible for someone to hijack your webcam using specific tools. And on a company owned laptop, you have little to no control over what’s installed. Even if said IT arsehat was discovered and fired right away, it wouldn’t change that they’d taken pictures or accessed personal files if any were stored on the device.

            1. Rat Racer*

              QQ: If you have your laptop in a docking station and the webcam is covered (b/c the laptop has to be closed to fit in the docking station) how could anyone spy on you?

                1. Rat Racer*

                  This was a hypothetical – suddenly afraid that our IT department can see me while I am working from home in my pajamas.

              1. Honeybee*

                I use a docking station that does not require my laptop to be closed. It’s convenient, actually, because I can use my laptop as a third screen.

              2. Gren*

                If your webcam is covered, whether it’s because the lid is closed or there’s a physical barrier, someone using these methods can’t watch you. It’s worth keeping in mind that these types of tools let people browse files on your computer as well, which is one of many reasons I’m very strict about not keeping personal files on my work machine.

          4. TheLazyB*

            Wow, only just seen all this. They were teasing her. The place we work for is a government org and while it’s technically possible it would totally be against all our policies.

            I might ask her about it next time I see her.

            Btw I didn’t hear it from her or them, I heard it from one of her team.

      5. Menacia*

        I work in IT, and prior to our implementing Microsoft Lync, our CS reps were using Google Chat to chat with their friends. We now prevent users from using Google Chat (and it’s no longer an option to chat from GMail), and Lync only allows for internal communication. While we do capture every chat within Outlook email, unless a manager specifically asked us, we do not monitor any chats (or emails, for that matter). It’s not IT’s job to monitor what users are doing, that’s the job of their manager.

        1. Menacia*

          I also meant to add that since Google Chat was an Internet application, IT could not do any kind of monitoring (unless the chat history was being saved locally on the PC). Again, we never were asked to monitor this history and we certainly did not have the time to do so even if we wanted to! ;)

      6. Stan*

        The school district that I work for regularly audits email and chat throughout the year. Administration provides a list of names and we pull a random sample and provide the data to admin. I believe they’re mostly looking for egregious violations — inappropriate communication with students and/or parents, pornographic material, etc., but a high volume of off-task chatting in the sample would most likely raise eyebrows and may be looked at closer in the future.

      7. Anonymous Educator*

        I have been specifically told by our IT people that the amount of space that would be required to save every instant messenger conversation would be astronomical and the storage is already near its limits with the requirements to maintain e-mails.

        I think either your IT people are lying to you or don’t know what they’re talking about. Emails take up a lot of room, because (I’m assuming you’re using Exchange and not Google Apps, because Google Apps has virtually unlimited storage) of email attachments.

        Chat histories are just text files. Text does not take up a lot of space, and storage is cheap.

        Do they bother to store your chat histories? Probably not. I’ve worked in a variety of places doing tech support, and we just can’t be bothered to play Big Brother, because we’re busy making the business/organization/school work. If there is someone the higher-ups want to red flag to keep tabs on, we would totally do that, though.

        1. A Non E. Mouse*

          Exactly: chat files are very small. One caveat of the solution we use here is that it’s stored locally on the machine; however it’s easy to capture this file for storage elsewhere.

          We *don’t* bother, and rarely try to capture historical data – however if a manager requests we monitor an employee’s chat/files/usage, we can very, very easily and in such a way the user will not know until it’s too late.

          Most employers are probably not monitoring, but every single one of them CAN.

          1. Windchime*

            Exactly. Managers here can request a history of browsing, for example. You can set your workstation to private browsing, but (it seems to me) that your web request is still crossing the network on the way out to the Interwebs and that traffic can be recorded. They don’t record it all and comb through it routinely, but they absolutely will record activity if a manager requests it.

        1. SJPufendork*


          This is indeed how we do it. We don’t neccesarily record/save everything (unless there is a PIP). But, if you hit the keywords (competitors, certain types of profanity, etc), it will save and send anotification for someone to do a manual review.

          This is relevant as we did a termination today less than 30 minutes after someone hit a mega bad keyword and we reviewed to find confidential data going out the door.

      8. Bob*

        At a previous job we had a device in front of the firewall that would capture both sides of chat conversations for most popular programs – Google, Yahoo, etc. It was a combination of web content filter and a packet filter that can inspect all data. It was actually sort of creepy to see all of these conversations logged (though nobody really ever looked at them). That was maybe 8 years ago though so it might not be as possible now that almost everything is encrypted.

        For most companies, the difference is between knowing and caring. What some companies consider a firing offense we consider our own dumb fault for allowing you to have admin rights on your computer (which we’re changing). Trust me, we know that you installed a bittorrent program on your work computer and have a folder full of illegal movies. Like everyone else, we’re understaffed and have better things to do.

      9. E*

        If it’s activity on your work computer, they have the ability to track it. And you might check the new hire paperwork or handbook you got when you were hired, as often times it’s clearly stated in there what the expectations of the company are in regard to you having no privacy working on their computer.

    2. Anon for This*

      This has happened to me before – I was using gchat to talk to a friend at work and apparently the company had software on all the computers to monitor what people were doing at any given time (and they did!). I said something nasty about my boss and immediately got called into the boss’s office to answer to it. I was mortified and angry at the same time that they would do such a thing.

      Now I am very very careful of what I say to people on my work computer. Lesson learned.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I have two managers. One has told me they don’t have time to monitor people like that. The other told us just a few months ago after letting someone go, that she reads all our convos (in the dept) and named some things we had said about the coworker that was let go. So now I text coworkers anything sensitive. I was surprised she’d have the time to even do this, but who knows maybe it’s just an every once in while thing like when she’s watching someone or for something specific.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          This is our company chat program, which is archaic and not web based.

    3. Amelia*

      You should definitely be mindful of what you are using a work computer to do and at a minimum keep the conversations work appropriate. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a news story where people’s messages got hacked or leaked and they were doing something totally inappropriate. Here in Pennsylvania, we just had several top government officials and judges (including a PA Supreme Court Justice) that lost their jobs over obscene and offensive emails they were passing around. Assume your boss can see everything you’re doing even if it seems unlikely.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, any activity over company server can be accessed by IT. Whether they’re going to bother is a whole other question.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            And not just from your workplace, since cell phone transmissions can be picked up by anyone with the right equipment. How much of your voice and data is securely encrypted?

        1. Bend & Snap*

          People have been fired for sending inappropriate photos over company wifi on personal phones.

    5. KR*

      I’m in IT and our general attitude is that we can look if we want to but we won’t unless we have a reason. The whole thing about storage and whatnot depends on the organization – we have nearly unlimited storage and our email services are stored in some Google warehouse available whenever we need it.

    6. Fleur*

      Our workplace logs/monitors not only our web traffic and emails, but also any file transfer activity between USB, attachments, etc. All this gets saved in a server in Chicago somewhere.

      I doubt they save every single chat, but they very likely have heuristics running to track suspicious activity. Like transferring sensitive data off the work laptop, or communication with external people that could violate confidentiality. Once you trigger the suspicious pattern, they may look into it more.

      I personally do all my non work surfing on my phone with my own data plan. No reason to tempt fate IMO.

    7. Brett*

      For those worried about this particular question….
      Google chat using the google chat client is encrypted to the google chat server. Google can log your chats, but your employer would be locked out from doing simple intercepting in the middle. (They could still keylog or monitor your screen and see your chats as well as use certain types of main in the middle interception using the proxies.)

      If you use the gmail browser based chat client, there is no encryption and your chats are wide open for your employer to read.

    8. DCGirl*

      This may be industry specific, but at my company, the SEC requires that all communications be archived. Our chats are archived.

    9. Marvel*

      Okay, I need to clarify here for a friend’s sake:

      If someone is chatting on their personal gmail account, but on a work computer at the office, their work’s IT can access their chats?

      1. Brett*

        If they are on a work computer? Definitely.

        (Does not mean that IT _is_ access chats or even have the capability set up correctly to do it, but if it is a work computer it is definitely possible.)

        Since Google chat/drive/mail etc can be used for exfiltration hacks (where a hacker compromises your computer and uses other services to leak out sensitive documents), there is good reason for IT to monitor the use of those chat programs.

  2. Florida*

    I agree with Alison about distractions affecting your productivity. We like to pretend they don’t, but they do.

    Think about how annoying it is when a co-worker interrupts you every 5-10 minutes to ask you a question. Checking FB, GChat, or anything else is the same type of interruption except that it’s a self-inflicted interruption. You are interrupting yourself.

    You are spending a lot more brain energy to switch gears (from work to personal and back) than you realize. Just like it take a little bit of effort to switch gears in a car, it takes effort for your brain to switch gears.

    Most people think they can can stay focus and manage distractions simultaneously, but they can’t. If it bothers you to have a co-worker interrupt you every 5 minutes to ask a question, you probably can’t deal with distractions as well as you think you can. I say don’t chat with your friends all day at work.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      This. Context switching has a huge overhead, and it is bigger than most think.
      Many people think that they can multitask. Yet psychological studies show that most of these people are wrong. Their efficiency drops with every additional task. And chatting with friends is a task, even if you think of it otherwise.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      So true. I fully admit when I check AAM, it’s taking away from my work. I tell myself it’s mini breaks from my reports. But I don’t chat unless I’m at a slow point, because it is indeed distracting.

  3. Sunshine*

    100% agree with Alison. You don’t realize how much time it really does eat up. We used to use chat programs as an easy way to communicate with each other while “multi-tasking”. It very quickly goes from “Hey I have a call on hold for you” to “What are you doing this weekend?” then to “Ugh I hate this place and did you hear what she said to me she can get her own files.” The “safety net” created by illusion of privacy was breeding A LOT of negativity in the team. I was so happy when we finally shut it down.

    1. OP*

      OP here! This is also something I experience. Most of the time a coworker messages me, it is also non-work related and is usually to complain about something. I really need to be better about not engaging in these sorts of conversations, as they can get really negative, really fast…

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Chatting aside, people who think negatively work slower, period. They are also more apt to make more mistakes. In this example, there are two problems, the non-work convos and the negativity.

        1. Kate the Little Teapot*

          I’m really interested in evidence for this – maybe this could be a future AAM post, even, if there are some interesting articles.

      2. A Bug!*

        You already recognize the risk of using IMs to vent, but if you need any additional motivation to actually avoid doing it, I’ll share my experience as someone who had coworkers who got into that habit when we got an internal IM system. Their attitudes absolutely did suffer, and I think it affected the attitudes of the rest of us as well. The department lost the sense of solidarity and it never quite recovered.

        Furthermore, they were not as discreet as they thought they were at all. They weren’t blatant about it, but they just didn’t really understand how many little signs they were putting out that there was something going on.

        Venting can have a place in a healthy stress management routine. That place, however, should not be anything that’s available to you during the workday.

  4. MK*

    Honest question: What do people find to chat about every single day? If it’s mundane stuff of the “I ‘m having tuna for lunch”, doesn’t it get boring? If it’s more interesting topics, surely it doess distract you from your work? And if you are in constant communication, what do you talk about when you actually meet them?

    1. BRR*

      I work in an open office and someone literally talks about lunch for 3 hours every morning. Apparently it doesn’t get boring for some.

      1. Florida*

        I am amazed at how much people talk about food. People will talk about what they made for dinner last night, and describe every ingredient they used to make it. Or they will talk about the restaurant they went to, and talk very specifically about the appetizer that was so delicious.
        I’m not into talking about food (I’m more into eating it), so I notice it a lot when people do it.
        I wonder if this is an American thing, or if other cultures like talking about food as much as we do.

        1. Jennifer*

          I get interrogated about what I made for lunch and dinner, and I don’t even like cooking and they know it.

        2. Julia*

          I work with Japanese people and they talk about food ALL.THE.TIME. Even when they’re eating something else. Japanese TV is full of shows about food. Travel report? What to eat and where. Food, Food, Food. How most of them stay so slim is beyond me, I’d be hungry all the time if all I did was talk about Food.

    2. Koko*

      Keeping in mind that chatting at work was something I engaged in when I was a good bit younger: Boys. We talked about boys.

      Also current events, sharing news articles/blog posts with each other and discussing them.

      And I absolutely agree that it’s a distraction. In fact, that’s why this problem solved itself for me. I used to be on chat all the live-long day with friends at work. I think it was something of a carry-over from college, where we were all idly on our computers all day, we were used to having friends immediately at hand for whatever random thing we wanted to share.

      I remember at some point a couple years ago, Google pushed out an update to Hangouts that tried to roll Google Voice and Google Chat messages all into one app…and in the inbox there, I saw the last lines of the last few gChats I had ever had – which had been a couple of years before this update. And I realized I couldn’t remember exactly when I had turned off chat, but what I did know was that I couldn’t imagine turning it back on. I would never get anything done!

      Ultimately I stopped using gchat as a direct result of being given more responsibility and more complex work, and I think my friends went through the same sort of thing around the same timeframe. I never made a firm decision to stop chatting, it just eventually receded into the background as something I didn’t have time for.

    3. Mike C.*

      The same sort of stuff you talk about face to face? If it does distract, maybe that distraction is needed or you’re waiting for a compiler or data update to finish or you got dragged into a phone conference you don’t actually have to be in?

      1. MK*

        But you are not face to face with a bunch of your friends all day every day; if you were, you probably would run out of things to talk about.

        The impression I got was that this was a constant thing for the OP, not something she does when she has downtime at work.

        1. Lissa*

          I don’t think this is always bad — as others have said it depends on the job. But, I also find that many many people believe themselves to be better at multi-tasking than they are. It’s one of those statements like “I’m really good at reading people”…sure some people are, but a lot of people who believe they are aren’t, and often will never realize it. I have several friends who claim that being on their phone/portable game system etc helps them pay attention “better” and it becomes really obvious that it’s not pretty fast.

    4. Rat Racer*

      Before my company blocked Gmail from all of our work computers, I would use GChat to plan logistics of the day w my partner: who is picking up which kid from which activity; I forgot to get eggs and we need them for tonight’s dinner, can you pick them up on your way home; did you already order more dog shampoo from Amazon, because if not I will do it. Etc. Now we have to text, which is much less convenient. Plus every time my phone buzzes unexpectedly I jump about a foot.

      1. many bells down*

        My husband uses Slack at work, so he made a family Slack channel as well. He’ll often message me just to ask how my day is going. But, he is a programmer so he ends up with lots of time when stuff is compiling.

    5. Liz Ludgate*

      My team is split up between two different offices. We use Lync to talk between offices. Sometimes it’s useful and prevents a lot of walking back and forth. Other times it’s more like, “you should heard what so & so just said to a client!”

    6. simonthegrey*

      My best friend and I have a small business (though that isn’t where we *work*, i.e. our day jobs). So if we have the time during the day, we use FB chat or email to discuss occasional business decisions. For example, whether or not we should do this event, did we book a hotel room, etc.

  5. ThatGirl*

    I have to admit to keeping a tab with Twitter open basically all day. But I still often go for long stretches without checking it, and I have error logs to keep track of and metrics for keeping track of my work and I will notice if I’m slacking – thankfully before other people do :)

  6. MechE31*

    I had the hangouts desktop app (gchat + google voice texting combined) installed at my last job and used it throughout the day. I was salaried and my boss only cared about output. If I didn’t get my work done in the workday, I stayed late or worked weekends.

    If I was hourly, I think my boss would have had an issue with it. It does depend on the job, and even though I was on the other side, I tend to agree with Alison unless you have a concrete reason as to why it doesn’t apply.

    1. Argh!*

      I haven’t so far supervised someone who uses work time for trivial personal pursuits who doesn’t also miss deadlines, make a lot of mistakes, and fail to respond in a timely fashion to workplace e-mails or calls. It seems to be a package deal.

    2. Green*

      I agree with your distinction. I can go work out during the day, or take a nap when I work from home, or GChat throughout the day for a minute here or there. I also work from home as needed. I worked on Memorial Day until midnight. It’s my time and workload to manage as needed.

  7. Roscoe*

    I think it depends on your role. In my role doing sales, its fine. I usually have my calls scheduled, so if one ends early, I can chat with people. If you are in a job where you are more required to be customer facing or people pop over rarely, its going to be a bit different. Even still, I don’t think its as big a deal as being on facebook all day.

    1. Jeanne*

      I can’t tell if OP has a really busy job or a job with lots of down time. Administrative jobs can be either. If it’s got lots of down time and your boss says that’s the workload, then go ahead and chat with your friends. I would use phone texts though. If you’re really busy, don’t do it.

      1. Green*

        A few of the admins in my office are on the phone all day with their friends (we have open space), so I would vastly prefer it if they used GChat. Then it wouldn’t be so obvious that we’re overstaffed and wouldn’t be distracting to everyone else.

  8. ShellBell*

    I am coming down on the aide of hard ass bosses. This is really not acceptable to me. I expect people to focus on work. I understand an emegency contact from family if someone is sick, etc. I also think planned mental breaks to surf the net or something for 15 minutes are fine. I even understand reaching out to a friend if you are really upset and need to vent for a minute or get perspective. That can be a healthy coping mechanism. You really shouldn’t be 100% available to your friends while at work. On the other hand, I don’t expect people to be on email after hours or on the weekend. It goes both ways.

    1. Journal Entries*

      My clerks think I’m a big meanie foe not letting them text all day like other departments.

    2. alice*


      And I’m not a manager. I use the pomodoro technique, and I have to admit, I’m amazingly productive. My co-worker gives me grief for taking frequent breaks. Apparently sitting on Facebook all day and sleeping regularly during work hours makes him more productive.

  9. SystemsLady*

    Unless you’re in a field where [doing something that’s not work] “What are you doing!?” “Compiling/installing Big Software/long processing task that’s also a dependency for everything else X.” “Oh, OK.” is a memetic conversation (as the last paragraph alludes to) yup.

    Doing this regularly wastes a lot more time than you think, and there’s a reason work appropriate chatting with friends often fills the blank for the thing the person in the memetic conversation is doing – it passes time quickly!

    There’s also getting paid simply to be somewhere that isn’t home or the office and available when called upon. But I doubt too many other people here run into that, or too many people would question you doing something work appropriate to pass the time in that case.

  10. Berry*

    I wonder if this is changing in more tech-oriented workplaces – Slack is certainly growing as a popular program nowadays, though it’ll be intraoffice it lends itself to offtopic chats.

    1. SL #2*

      We used Slack a lot at my old job; the first thing every one of us learned was how to mute certain chat groups so you wouldn’t get notifications.

      Overall, though, Slack was great for our morale and team cohesiveness. We had a lot of satellite offices and workers (I worked out of central) and the remote employees agreed that Slack helped them feel more connected to coworkers that they normally would only see once or twice a year and “in-the-know” about what’s coming out of the central office.

  11. Macedon*

    Kind of think this assumes people who do chat at work – disclaimer: one here! – are constantly engrossed in their conversations, versus letting replies trickle in every few hours or during downtime. Chatting, like taking calls or texting or going on break, is a matter of time management. If you’re moderately responsible, you’re always going to prioritise your labour over your leisure during company time.

    1. Roscoe*

      Exactly. My gchat is always on, it doesn’t mean that I always respond right away

    2. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Yes, I have gmail and chat open in a tab on my browser (as well as feedly). I will check them while I’m waiting for a report to run or when I have some downtime. I’m not constantly chatting with anyone. Generally the only person I chat with is my husband and it’s more like, “How’s your day going?” “Did you remember to call the exterminator?” Nothing urgent, we are both busy with work and answer whenever we get around to it.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, but depends on how much restraint one has to let it trickle in and not check every time.

      1. Macedon*

        Sure – but in that case, it’s much more efficient to call out individuals who abuse a privilege than to create a blanket policy that punishes everyone.

    4. Katniss*

      Yup. I chat occasionally with exactly one friend on gchat, and he and I are both aware that we shouldn’t expect immediate replies or long, involved conversations. It takes up exactly as much time and concentration as occasionally checking here or checking my RSS feeds does.

    5. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I can pick up the conversation at any time, as can they. If someone gets busy they stop talking.

    6. Florida*

      The phone ringing (or email beeping or chat room beeping or the UPS person walking in) is a distraction. Obviously, it is more of a distraction if you actually answer the phone/email/chat, but don’t kid yourself thinking that it is not a distraction. You then have to refocus on what you were doing.
      Let’s say it takes 100 brain cells to do the activity you are doing. It probably takes 200 to get started on it – just like it takes a car more energy to start than to drive. So every interruption makes you use 200 brain cells to refocus instead of the 100 that it would take to just continue the task. Multiply that times hundreds of interruptions a day and that’s a lot of brain energy we’re talking about.
      Yes, we are interrupted hundreds of times a day. Sometimes they are self-interruptions. It might be “Oh crap, I just remembered that I need to get milk.” It might be a phone call. It might be a bathroom break. It might be thunder. It is anything other than focusing on the task at hand.

    7. Liz*

      Exactly. I also work in a university, and have done for over 10 years, and I stay logged in to both the work and a personal IM client (mostly to exchange occasional messages or interesting articles with my husband). As long as I get my work done, it’s not an issue. Some people here use Tweetdeck, others use Gchat or are regularly checking their phones. We’re all considered responsible adults who don’t share/exchange confidential information or misuse company resources. (I will add that I’m often waiting for some code to run, or a large file to load, so I also get the time to check out a number of news sites and AAM each day.)

  12. edj3*

    My team is scattered around the world. We use a chat program all day long and I expect my direct reports to be available on that chat program. It’s the easiest and cheapest way to get questions answered or find out quick updates without the overhead or actual cost of a phone call.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      But that’s quite different from chatting with friends outside of work.

    2. Argh!*

      It’s a useful tool, but there’s no reason that personal friends have to use that account. Workers can set up a separate account for their personal business.

  13. PizzaSquared*

    Maybe it’s different because I’m in tech, but I don’t know a single person who DOESN’T do this in some form (lately mostly Slack channels devoted to various groups of friends).

    1. Triangle Pose*

      Not in tech, I’m a lawyer but we are on gchat a lot here.

      At the firm all we cared about was billable hours. Of course, we care that you’re not gchatting about confidential information, but mainly it’s just gchatting with your spouse about random things, your friends about where to meet up for lunch, etc. If you’re billing enough hours, no one cares if you’re on gchat.

      In my job now, it’s similar, it’s getting your work done that matters, no one cares if you spend time on gchat to send someone an interesting article you ran across in short break you took from work.

      Also, I think it’s a fallacy that being on AskaManager/commenting on threads is SO DIFFERENT from having Google Hangouts. Having the Google Hangout extension does not mean you check/reply to chats all day – you might chat a few people and then do work and then check in again to see if they responded a little bit later.

      1. Macedon*

        Yeah, frowning on chat/texts/calls seems more indicative of a bums-on-seats culture than a target-oriented one for me. As long as you achieve A at standard B during time interval C, can’t say I care if you spend 90% of your time juggling Cheerios. Maybe your cereal escapades are part of the mental detox you need to do your work amazingly for me during that other 10% of your time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If you’re an outstanding performer, sure. But if you’re more at the “decent but not great” level, I’m going to want you to actually spend your time at work focusing on work.

          1. Macedon*

            But if someone who’s decent, but not great, manages to do what I tell him to do in the time frame I tell him to do it and to the standard I want — what does it matter to me if he used some of the time I gave him to chat merrily? I gave him an hour, he did the task well in an hour, of which 5, or 10, or 20 min were chat-time. It doesn’t affect me. Should I have had him spend those 5, 10 or 20 min sitting in his chair, repenting for not being a better performer on other tasks?

            If it’s repeat issue that my employees have too much time on their hands, it falls on me, their manager, to distribute tasks better.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I suppose it depends on the nature of the job, but in many jobs there’s lots of room between “doing what I ask in the time frame needed” and “truly excelling.” I want people who will truly excel. Not everyone will, by definition, but if someone isn’t even striving to use their time to excel, I’ll have an issue with that.

              1. Macedon*

                But that operates on the premise that ‘truly excelling’ depends on how much time you put into a task. Which more often than not isn’t true.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think that’s the premise though — you could spend lots of time on work and not excel, or spend less time than other people and still excel. But if you’re not excelling, you should be striving to, which means not spending your work time talking to friends.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                I was always told and I agree that when you have an hour to do a task, if you finish early you get on to the next task. Anything less, is similar to stealing time from the company.
                A manager is supposed to get the most value for the company. This can be done at the same time with helping employees to work efficiently. But to just allow an employee to get by would not be in the interest of the company and reflect poorly on a manager who allowed it.
                There are plenty of companies that operate this way, though. And I should say that I am biased, so I am kind of amused. There are too many jobs out there where chatting with friends on company time cannot even be thought of, never mind actually done. I think that it’s important for each person reading here to know their company. Just because so many people here are talking about chatting at work, does not mean it’s automatically okay at your workplace. Know your workplace. I know I am well monitored at work so this would be outside the lines for me. It’s okay, I have way too much to do anyway.

                1. Macedon*

                  I cannot disagree more with the ‘stealing time from the company’ bit. You have to consider that if you somehow beat the average time it takes someone of your skill level to complete a task (assuming said average was well calculated), you are probably exerting yourself a little more than the fellow who’d need the full X minutes. So you’ll also need a bit more time to unwind. If I don’t give you that time, you’ll likely be more tired and less productive on your next task. An employee who performs tasks well is not ‘getting by’.

                  Meanwhile, burning out a (human) resource – whether over the course of a day or a period – is not ‘getting the most value for the company’, it’s prioritising short vs long term. It’s inefficient.

                2. simonthegrey*

                  I agree that for some jobs, a person absolutely can’t do this. For others, it is the opposite. As a professional tutor, my position is grant funded; I have to be butt-in-chair when the semester stars in either August or January. However, no one has papers or longer work assigned for the first month (on average) so for the first month of the semester, I am online a lot. By the end of the semester, however, I am booked solid from when I show up to when I leave, and often I will stay late or arrange to come in on an off-day in order to help students finish the semester successfully. From about mid-October in fall semester and through April-May in spring, I rarely even have 5 minutes to trek all the way down to the bathroom.

                3. Xanadu*

                  “I was always told and I agree that when you have an hour to do a task, if you finish early you get on to the next task. Anything less, is similar to stealing time from the company.”

                  This is also punishing your more productive employees. Oh, you can finish this project and three more in the time it takes someone else to do one? Guess what, you just got four projects dumped on you! Are you paying that person 4x as much as the slower person? Pretty unlikely.

        2. VivaL*

          Also – if someone can complete their job in 10% of their scheduled work time, it’s time to rebalance the workflow.

          1. Macedon*

            Yes and no. You traditionally don’t assign a task based exclusively on the absolute time it takes to get done — you factor in some leeway for the human element ( breaks, a worker’s productivity going down with fatigue, etc. ) If I think the average person can get this task done well in 100 minutes, I’m not going to punish someone for accomplishing it to my standard in 10 minutes, then needing the other 90 minutes to unwind. Same as I’m not going to punish another worker for needing the full 100 minutes.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              There’s a lot of factors to consider. After years of timing people doing tasks, I’d say that I would have to figure out what is wrong here, there should not be that great a disparity (10 mins vs 100 mins) for one given task under normal circumstances. Most people should be able to complete a 10 minute task within a few minutes of each other. This assumes that they have learned the task and do it routinely. For the most part, I would want a word with someone who takes an hour and forty minutes to do a ten minute task.

              1. Macedon*

                I agree completely – there shouldn’t be that huge of a time disparity. Realistically, what usually ends up happening is, I give you a task I think someone of your level can wrap up in 100 minutes, you do it in 96, you can play around and chat or cruise online or whatever for those remaining four minutes. Again – I don’t think responsible people who do chat at work really dedicate full hours to nonstop chatting, but that they slip in a few replies here and there in this kind of pattern.

                If we’re talking someone who spends hours chatting and neglecting work, that’s different – and even then, it’s something you should discuss with the person who abuses the privilege. You shouldn’t take one man’s abuse as a sign that the privilege should be revoked for everyone.

    2. Jodi*

      Same. As a social media manager, I’m on Facebook and Twitter all day, and go in and out of Instagram and LinkedIn. I use Slack to communicate with members of my team, and people around the university in a similar role as me – we use it to mind share all the time. I think this is very field/office culture dependent.

    3. Ellen Ripley*

      I was going to say the exact same thing. I chatted with friends on a text-based MUD (telnet!) while working at my first job out of college (I did get chastised for it by my uptight boss, but all the engineers I worked with thought it was totally fine and did similarly). All my friends who are still in tech/coding jobs still do the same kind of thing, and have done over the years and through the various technologies – IRC, AIM, gchat, HipChat, Slack, etc. I think it’s common because there can be a lot of sitting and waiting – waiting for code to compile, waiting for tests to run, waiting for servers to reboot – and and also because you’re used to having to coordinate efforts with people who are physically not nearby so you’re used to communicating at a distance using those tools.

      I think there’s a work/life balance issue with it too, which may not be to the worker’s benefit, actually. Kinda like the great perks that Google has at its campus: great cafeteria, dry cleaning pickup, nap pods, a gym, child care, whatever – if you don’t need to leave work to do stuff, then you tend to stay at work, which benefits the employer, even if they have to pay a bit to have all those things. Same with communicating with your friends and family – if you feel like you can do that while you’re at work, you won’t make as much of a point to leave work and connect with them in person (even though it’s not really quite the same). So maybe just working at work and not bringing work home is an ideal, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon given tech culture and the always-on expectation.

      1. Tau*

        Interesting – I’m in a coding job where I’d say that’s definitely not the case (pretty sure I’d get told off if I began chatting with friends on the company dime)… and we also have a very strict <40-hour work week, no overtime. You may be right that it's another manifestation of the "your work is your life!" thing, and as a result companies with a firmer work-life division frown on it.

        1. PizzaSquared*

          What kind of company is this? I’m guessing that it’s a fairly old school (“traditional”) company, not a tech company? I ask because I’ve worked at a significant number of the big name tech companies as well as a startup, and I have friends in literally dozens of other tech companies, and I’ve never seen one with a strict work week, or where you’re expected to be coding all day long without any downtime. You can quibble about how the downtime is used, but it’s ridiculous to expect developers to be productively writing code 8 hours a day.

    4. esra*

      Tech-adjacent graphic designer here. Pretty much every company I’ve worked at, people are always on hangouts or skype or something. I don’t know anyone who can actually do pure creative output for 8 hours a day.

    5. PizzaSquared*

      I should add, there’s actually a job-related function here for me as well. It’s pretty common for someone to throw out a question on our friend group Slack channel like “hey, does anyone have a contact at Company X?” or “we’re seeing some weird problems with Service Y right now, is anyone else having trouble?” A live network of trusted people who do similar work but are in different companies (so they have an outside perspective) is super, super helpful.

  14. Amber Rose*

    Definitely job specific! My job requires multi tasking. I must answer every phone call, and check my emails for time sensitive orders/requests, while also running the website, doing my admin work and any projects. Since I literally can’t be max efficiency when I’m switching gears all the time I don’t even try, and I Facebook or text or whatever whenever I get the urge.

    But that kind of thing is also expressly acceptable in our company, to an extent. And I have to really watch what I say and how I say it. One dude already got fired for chatting inappropriate content at work, and it was fairly minor. Is it worth it to chat with friends when you have to be that mindful of your words?

  15. Ameriquia*

    I have never worked at a job where people didn’t do this. It was fine. I like to pop in to send people articles, or respond to a question. I also have used it for work purposes, such as if a friend is applying to another department. It’s not constant, and most people filter it out or turn it off if they really need to focus.

    1. SG*

      Totally agree with this- I use FB chat fairly regularly at work to talk to friends, but if my work actually gets to a point where it takes my full focus then I’ll stop whatever I’m doing without wrapping it up and give work my full focus.

    2. Act*

      Same. Everyone in my office keeps our work gmail open and we all talk by gchat all day. We’re spread across the US and three floors of a buliding. It doesn’t make sense to *not* use the tool available to us that lets us send quick notes without having to hunt people down. I also ping my husband about dinner and such every now and then.

      I think there’s a culture gap where people whose jobs don’t involve chats can’t see it as anything but a distraction, but to us it’s a tool like any other. The *internet* is distracting, but it’s also what I need to do mt job, so I just need to be an adult and handle my own time. I’m a bit surprised Alison is so against it just because it has the potential to be abused but irresponsible people.

  16. Jubilance*

    This is a “know your business” thing to me. Some jobs require periods of concentration, and I can see IMing all day being a distraction in that environment. In my career, I’ve worked in laboratory testing, with a ton of downtime when your equipment is running and you don’t have results yet to write reports or other tasks. In that environment, everyone found something to occupy their time, whether it was IMing a colleague or chatting by the coffee pot.

  17. Isben Takes Tea*

    On top of the privacy and focus issues, I’d caution against it especially because you’re using the same chat application for friends and for coworkers . . . you don’t want to accidently send confidential info outside of the company, or something you wanted to keep outside of the office from working its way inside.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      Yes, hasn’t everyone had an “oops sent that to the wrong person” moment of some kind? When I’m in offices, I keep a barrier between work and non-work, partly because I use the non-work as a way to reward myself for finishing things, but mostly because even if it’s just once in 10 years, sending a message to the wrong person is too great a risk.

    2. Kelly F*

      Additionally, don’t project from a computer where you’re logged into gchat (mainly an issue for teachers but I could see it happening for other people). When I taught, I had a dedicated projecting computer at the front, and my laptop was for everything else. Other teachers took less precautions and it came back to bite them.

      We used gchat a lot since it was the school’s email system and it functioned as a more urgent email since we’re not at our desks most of the time anyways.

  18. Bigglesworth*

    Another university admin here. My school does use Gmail and Google chat. I usually use the chat function to ask admins in others departments for assistance on a certain issue -much in the same way that I would call them. Usually short, sweet, and professional. Other admins in my department are on Facebook, Pinterest, or shopping online most of the day and my boss has let me know she really appreciates that I work at work.

    We’re also in a money crunch and potentially looking at laying off some people if we can’t get our revenue to go up. Same boss has told me I would be the last admin they’d let go because I don’t do what my coworkers are doing. Even if you think they don’t notice or aren’t watching, your supervisors will most likely find out sooner or later if you are spending too much time on chat or doing other computer time sink activities.

    1. Argh!*

      I can tell from body language! I don’t even have to see the screen, but then if I do it confirms my suspicions. The things my supervisees do have a different rhythm from recreational screentime.

      1. Bigglesworth*

        Exactly! What’s interesting to me is when I walk over to one of the other admins and I can see that they rapidly change screens or pull up something work related because they hear my footsteps. Even if they weren’t doing anything bad, the action just looks guilty.

        1. Argh!*

          Yes, and when I call certain people on it “Oh I was just switching from Important Thing 1 to Important Thing 2” when you walked up, but it always seems they are switching just when I show up.

          “I didn’t get Thing You Asked For done in time because I was doing “other things”” I am too professional to respond “Do you think I was born yesterday?” but I’m not above asking for a list of those things and watching them twist in the wind.

  19. CA Admin*

    As an EA in finance, this is really really common. Most people are signed in constantly, but only check during a few breaks throughout the day (similar to AAM breaks) or when things are slow.

    Here’s the thing about administrative work–there’s a lot of feast or famine. There are days that I’m too busy to use the restroom or get lunch. Then there are days where nothing new comes in and I spend all my time on longer-term projects and watching the phone. On the former, having gchat open is a distraction and I’ll usually keep it closed. On the latter, it’s what saves me, since most of my long-term, not urgent projects are really really dull.

    1. Just a Thought*

      I have to agree here. I used to be an admin at a University and there were days where I had literally nothing to do. I mean I sat at the front desk and greeted guests as they came in, but if it was over the summer and folks weren’t teaching/were away doing research sometimes I really was a human answering machine. If the OP’s admin job is similar to that, then I think it is fine to gchat. But it is important to turn it off as soon as work comes in and leave it off until the task is done.

      1. Jennifer*


        Eh, I used to chat at work and didn’t have a problem getting everything done. Especially when work is intermittent. I quit doing it when both a friend and a boyfriend dumped me over chat at work though. For @$@$’s sake.

    2. Chickaletta*

      My jobs were like this too. Honestly, I’d prefer to be busy enough to have enough to do without chatting online and browsing the webs, but for years, literally years, I had jobs where there was enough downtime that I got used to it. Now I can’t go two hours without checking email/FB/blog rolls/chat rooms. Sometimes I look back at my younger college self (before these things existed) and wonder how the hell I was able to stay focused on one thing for hours on end. Thanks, internet, for the adult ADD!

    3. Ellen Ripley*

      I think of the occasional personal chat during work hours as similar to flex time when you’re exempt – sure, a company can require you to track all your hours compulsively and make up that extra hour you spent at lunch going to the dentist within the same 40-hour work week, or they can acknowledge that some weeks you work 50 hours and some you work 35, and as long as you’re completing your work and communicating with your coworkers that giving you some leeway to conduct yourself like a professional is to everyone’s benefit. Same thing with slow periods and busy periods and using some downtime to check in with friends. Obviously not every job can run that way, but I think more can than employers believe.

  20. Anna No Mouse*

    I am guilty of keeping Hangouts open throughout my workday as well, though it is limited to keeping in touch with my husband, and normally our chat is about who is picking up our son from day care, and more recently, discussing requests from our realtor and attorney concerning selling our house and purchasing a new one. These are things that often cannot wait until the end of the business day.

    I admit that this also means the occasional shared joke or brief vent about something at work.

    1. Pontoon Pirate*

      Same; I check Hangouts periodically, but it’s a more seamless and less wasteful transition than digging out my phone and texting the same message. I’m a much faster typist than texter.

  21. gnarlington*

    I guess I’m more relaxed about this than Alison (though I’ve never been a manager). I don’t see anything wrong with chatting throughout the day. It *is* the same as texting, though. I text/IM/Snapchat throughout the day at work, but I’m not doing it during all moments of the day. If I’m doing light work, like research, sending some IMs isn’t all that counterproductive. But there are times where I’m in full-on project mode and don’t check my phone for 90 minutes or more at a time. There’s a balancing that needs to be done, I think. All people work differently, however.

    1. KR*

      I agree. I snap/text/check AAM throughout the workday but I can focus when I need to. Everyone is different and e every manager is different – if my manager felt I shouldn’t do this I would need to stop because it’s not imperative to my job.

    2. Argh!*

      As an experiment, turn your phone off for 2 weeks (and all other social media) and see if you get more done. I’d be interested to know what happens.

      1. esra*

        I actually did try this! I found that I ended up looking for other breaks/distractions. I read more articles, went for more kitchen breaks. At least for my line of work (design and illustration), I find the breaks necessary for my workflow. For times when I forbade all distractions, I ended up just looking at a blank page/screen and getting frustrated.

        1. LQ*

          Getting frustrated yes! I absolutely need those moments to clear my head or think about something else. Because bashing my brain against a problem for hours straight often isn’t helpful. Heck some of my best revelations have come when I stop to go for a walk or come to AAM and suddenly OH! The solution hits me and I get to get back to work. I do spend more time on work, but I get frustrated with what I’m doing because I feel like I’m getting nowhere. Taking a break and checking on AAM or shooting an email to a friend isn’t productive, but it shifts my brain which seems to be surprisingly valuable in a lot of the work I do.

          1. Liz*

            Yes! I often find that taking a brain break when I’m stuck on a problem helps me switch to a different path and consider a completely different solution. A few years ago I’d never have thought that reading blogs would help with SQL, but strangely it does…

        2. Amadeo*

          Basically this. I am guilty of keeping a tab open with Facebook and really the only person I chat with through the day workday is my sister. But if I’m getting frustrated with a problem I’m having difficulty solving (Also design/illustration/web) and need to stop bashing my head against it, Facebook is the sort of break I’ll take, or just…wander away from my desk. Facebook turned out to be easier than being totally absent from my chair.

          Forcing me to turn it all off for two weeks would not make my productivity go up unless you’re cool with me working on NotWork projects with the office Adobe Suite.

      2. gnarlington*

        But I enjoy those breaks or light work times where I can message. Not for nothing, but I’m pretty light with my phone usage for my peer group in general, and I have no problem not checking my phone or social media if I need to hunker down. Turning off my phone or forbidding myself from usage in some way when there isn’t really any hard work to get done won’t really help me. But as I said, everyone works differently.

      3. Swoop*

        I have done this and I do not get more done nor is what I get done of higher quality. I have a feeling that this depends very much on the sort of work you do though.
        I need the times of light distraction so my brain can work in the background when I’m stuck on something – switching to another work thing actually wastes more time as I have to switch out of one brain space into another.

      4. Marcela*

        I have done this when traveling, since I could justify the connection to internet but not a new phone, and my phone didn’t work at all in the mobile network of the other country. And no, I didn’t do more. Probably because I work programming and there is a limit in the number of hours I can program or focus non-stop. After that, no matter if I am alone floating in empty space or in the middle of my mom’s house, I just can’t do more.

      5. E*

        Or uninstall an app for a week or so. Removing Facebook from my phone for a little while reset my awareness of how much time I spent on it, just scrolling through posts. It’s a huge time suck, which can be nice at rare moments but I don’t want to look back and see how much of my life could have been spent doing things instead of reading about them.

  22. TakeMeToAtlanta*

    IIRC, there was a court case that basically ruled any communication you send while at work is your employer’s property? Might coincide with some of the comments above about people being asked not to delete emails for periods of time.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      My understanding is that can only apply to communications sent with *company resources,* but even so, it would apply here.

  23. Argh!*

    If this program is essential to workplace communication, you can make up a different username for your personal contacts and then check in on it during breaks, lunch, after work, or when you really have nothing else to do.

    It’s become kind of expected for people to be available to each other 24/7 but you don’t have to jump every time a friend goes “beep.”

  24. Milton Waddams*

    It’s a company culture thing, definitely.

    I think it depends on what sort of technology the founder is comfortable with — for instance, many workplaces don’t see listening to the radio to be a distraction, despite the fact that one could easily make a similar sort of argument, “How can you listen to customers when you’re listening to Sinatra on that radio?”

    I predict that as company management shifts generations, the types of technology that are considered harmless in a workplace setting will also change.

  25. Laura*

    Higher ed here. In my office, we are ALL doing this. We use chat features on Gmail and Skype to communicate with one another, and almost every supervisor I know has a chat going with their SO/friends. I am salaried and the workload is low much of the time, so I don’t feel bad about doing it at all.

    Of course, I know the hourly employees and student workers would NOT get away with this, and it may be different in other departments… but I understand my department’s culture, which is essential so you can make good decisions about your workplace behavior.

  26. Lora*

    Chat serves a different function where I work: in an open office, with bad acoustics, if you want to have a conversation with a colleague two cubes down, even speaking quietly will be heard clear across the room – so we use chat to speak to each other about work things where in old-fashioned offices with doors we would have just stopped in someone’s office and closed the door. That way you don’t have eavesdroppers interrupting your conversation, you’re not disturbing your co-workers with what would be the equivalent of shouting in a regular office, and our chat program (Skype for Business) shows when you are busy, in a meeting, do not disturb, etc. so people won’t interrupt you while you’re doing something important.

    Plus, I like being able to stopper up my ears with music so I don’t hear the colleagues who insist on using speakerphone for teleconferences, and the chat icon blinking at me gives me a nice visual notification instead of people sneaking up and tapping me on the shoulder. The tapping on the shoulder thing usually makes me jump half out of my seat.

    1. Milton Waddams*

      All good points, although if this is the norm at your office, an open office plan is probably the wrong choice, since it is designed to prevent all of those things. Sometimes management simply thinks of the cost savings and don’t think about whether it is the right tool for the job, sadly.

      In an open office, you’re supposed to hear everything everybody says, like an open classroom; it’s supposed to discourage closed-door office politics and information hoarding, since it becomes very difficult to ignore what everyone else is doing (for better and worse).

      1. Lora*

        Supposed to…The most recent “we’re gonna change your office space” scheme is to have Hoteling and anyone who is on site less than 50% of the time has to go sit in the cafeteria. I’m going with cost savings as their motivation. That said, they pitched it to us as, “our other office has an open office space and it is sooooo productive!” When we went to visit the famous open office, it turned out the building was divided up into much smaller rooms, and each room had anywhere from 2-5 people in it at most, all in the same department, with high partitions between them, and lots of carpet and acoustical tile so they could have a conversation in a normal tone of voice. In contrast, we have a giant room of about 30-40 people, depending on how many visitors from other sites are in town, all attempting to have conversations with clients, vendors, other departments, etc. over the din of the espresso maker and warehouse/inventory department’s forklifts.

        Most of us work from home whenever we can.

  27. June*

    At OldJob gchat was the office method of communicating, we HAD to have it up to use at work. In the beginning we were all just using our personal g-chat’s so it was pretty easy to get off into chatting with friends/family during the day because of it. It wasn’t frowned upon at all, however, I know there were days when I just didn’t feel like giving work 50%, 75% or 100% of my attention and having the chat up with friends at work made it very easy to find a distraction for those days. Eventually my office switched us over to work emails on the gmail platform and we were using the work gchat interoffice and it felt weird for me to add personal contacts to that chat so I didn’t. Occasionally i would switch out to have a chat here and there but it wasn’t up all day on my computer like before. Just the co-workers.

    We were also allowed to be on our phones during the day (texting/surfing) without problems and just expected to manage ourselves about these things, so gchat was on my phone and if a friend or family member had a pressing issue, just as with text, I would see it.

    But yeah it CAN become a distraction if you allow it and dont even realize it. Tapering back a bit you might find youre far more productive than before and didn’t even realize it.

  28. newlyhr*

    All these anecdotes from people stating that ‘chatting’ doesn’t affect their work might be interesting, but I personally would like to see some data on this topic. I keep thinking about how almost everyone who texts while driving underestimates how poorly they are actually driving, or how people who are drinking think they are “fine” to drive. Anyone know of any studies on this topic?

  29. Jan*

    “If someone is chatting on their personal gmail account, but on a work computer at the office, their work’s IT can access their chats?” I’ve been told at my last two companies (one private sector and one government) that YES, even if you’re on a personal email account, if you’re using their computer/server, they can read it.

    Not sure how this IMing is any different than people texting all day every day, which is what I see. People can’t even go to the restroom without their phones, for heaven’s sake!!

  30. techfool*

    My workload is so heavy that if I spend ten minutes talking/chatting/on the internet that’s ten minutes of unpaid overtime for me at the end of the day. There is no breathing space a all. I’ve decided to keep my head down and work like a machine, and I’ve found it makes a HUGE difference. I can leave on time or close to on time, and even take a lunch break.
    Don’t knock it til you try it.
    Disclaimer: I used to chat and be on the internet a lot more in previous jobs but my workload was not as heavy as it is now. I guess it depends on the individual circumstance.

  31. Jules the First*

    What’s the perspective on recreational chatting with people at work?

    I’ll often have a chat conversation with people who work in different parts of the building, which is usually purely social (what are you reading/what did you do this weekend/how’s your grumpy toddler/etc) – some days I have a bunch of these chats, other days there are just a few, but there’s rarely a day without anything.

    Technically, I’m not working since we’re not talking about anything remotely work related, but part of my job is building relationships with staff elsewhere in the office (thereby raising the profile of my department and making us more approachable) so I’ve always thought of it as work-related. Am I wrong?

    1. techfool*

      I think that’s fine. The real time suck is complaining, venting and gossip.
      Despite what I posted earlier, I do take time for friendly chats to build relationships. I count it as productive as there are now a number of people in the office I can call on for help. Which means I get more done.

  32. GreenTeaPot*

    At my last job before deciding to work as a consultant, I had a wonderful assistant, perfect in every way: Efficient, professional, resourceful. But her cellphone was always at hand, ready for a text from her daughter. By my baby-boomer standards, it was too much. But she was so superior to previous assistants that I tolerated it.

    I would not tolerate online chatting from anyone.

    1. CA Admin*

      Really? I find chatting online to be a lot less disruptive than texting. I’m faster at typing on a computer than on my phone and I can alt-tab seamlessly from program to program. That seems like an odd place to draw a line.

      1. GreenTeaPot*

        I didn’t like texting either. But your are probably correct. I’m an odd duck anyway…

      2. mander*

        Yeah I could definitely send a message much faster from the computer. My typing is much faster than using my phone keyboard.

  33. Chriama*

    I think responses to this might depend on the kind of work you traditionally do as well as how you personally work. For me, I come down on the side of no. I know how I work, and stuff like this is a major distraction. But some jobs lend themselves to stretches of downtime, and some people are better at focusing and regaining attention than others. I think talking to people outside of work tips the balance in favour of ‘no’ overall though, unless you’re really careful to only do it during break times.

  34. Umvue*

    I used to be on Gchat a lot, then quit cold turkey when I needed a break from a friend who was always on there. To my mild surprise, my life actually got better when I quit – constantly being interrupted was stressful in and of itself even when the conversations themselves were not.

    The big challenge for me is that the culture at MPOW is extremely isolating, to an absurd and career-limiting degree, and Gchat was a way to put a bandaid on that problem while I wait out the “decency period” before I can reasonably start applying for new jobs. The problem no longer has a bandaid on it, so instead I’m seeing a therapist, but I don’t miss Gchat.

    As a side note, I did all this chatting on my phone, not on work infrastructure (not even work wifi), and the phone still has other distractions (AAM among them). I’ve tried the experiment noted above – leaving my phone at home for the day so all distractions are gone – and my loneliness is no better on those days, but my productivity is, so on balance I do feel less low. It’d be nice to just ditch the phone, honestly, but because of the extreme content restrictions on our machines, there are times when I actually need nanny-free access for work purposes (example: github is blocked, and I do a lot of programming, and some important documentation lives there) or for de minimis personal communication that most workplaces would permit, but mine strongly frowns upon (e.g. calls to spouse or daycare). In fact, I never had a smartphone before this job, and I bought it entirely because of these restrictions. IT policy setters, beware the law of unintended consequences!

  35. CMT*

    “Being great at your job has massive long-term benefits, like getting you more money, better projects, better future jobs, and a better reputation, which all have a direct impact on your quality of life.”

    I wish this were true 100% of the time :( It’s really not, which is why I do sometimes use Gchat and I read AAM during the work day.

  36. Drink the Juice Shelby*

    We use Lync at work but you can only contact other employees. I admit that I even use it for general chit chatting with work friends, but if I’m busy I can easily ignore that. I don’t think the amount I use it for non-work stuff would be any different if my friend worked at my site.

  37. Jack K*

    I keep FB open all day in the background of what I’m doing so customers and remote coworkers can get a hold of me and so I can privately communicate with coworkers in front of customers. It’s an important tool for my job. One of my coworkers said, “It looks bad to see your Facebook open. Couldn’t you just use a cell phone?” But checking your cell phone frequently or having it ring is even worse optics, in my opinion.

    I wish we had a proprietary messaging system, because I don’t see a way to win this one.

  38. WIncredulous*

    Is the work getting done in a timely fashion?

    Yes = Who cares, chat away!

    No = Fix the issues.

  39. (Another) B*

    Hmm usually I agree with Allison but I disagree on this one; at least for me. Everyone works differently, and I am someone who has 15 tabs open and toggles a bunch of stuff at the same time. Also my job requires multitasking. So I use fbook messenger with a few friends and my husband randomly throughout the day. Pretty much when I give myself a 5 minute break. But that may not work for everyone and could end up being a huge distraction.

  40. ValleyGal*

    I recently changed my work habits so that I have 10 minutes at the end of each hour to stretch, move, and do any personal email/social media. I thought I was a great multitasker until I saw the difference in productivity it made to work without interruption for long periods.

  41. Anon Moose*

    I manage our company’s social media accounts. Some are separate from my personal accounts but others are linked, so I need to be logged into my personal account to manage the company page. I also follow our peer companies’ pages/ feeds in order to see best practices/ reshare content relevant to our page. For accounts that are shared with my personal account, notifications are on my personal page along with other notifications. So.. I’m on social media at work.
    I do get how chat could be a distraction, but I personally don’t see it as that different than the occasional personal email, personal phone call, or personal face to face conversation with coworkers about non-work stuff. Not to excess and police yourself.

  42. mander*

    I message people while at work on a fairly regular basis, but it’s almost always via WhatsApp on my own phone. It’s rare that I have access to company Wi-Fi anyway. But if I were in a normal office I’d probably keep using my phone for those random comments and jokes and whatnot. It’s just safer that way.

  43. SenatorMeathooks*

    I would have completely agreed with Alison on this had the LW not mentioned that they worked for a public university. I know a lot about that work culture and I would gladly bet $20 that they do not give any amount of shit that she’s on Gchat all day as long as she does her job.

    Even if she does her job okay.

Comments are closed.