I frequently see my reports surfing the web, chatting on Facebook, AIM and google talk and watching youtube videos.  I don't see anything wrong with occasionally checking personal email, but the number of distractions have become excessive.  

How can I best communicate that feedback to the team and reduce the amount of time spent on non-work surfing?

jbancroftconnors's picture

Well the standard feedback model is pretty much going to apply here. "When you do X, it does Y" 

The first question though, is what does it do? What is "Y". Is it affecting their performance? Are they inhibiting other's performance. You need to speak to the impacts on the team/company.

If it isn't impacting then be careful as curtailing something may have a negative impact and reduce team effectiveness.

Strictly my opinion. I have seen developers that can't function unless they are surrounded by distractions, others who work best in ten minutes spurts followed by a mental change then another ten minute spurt where as working an hour straight they do less.


flexiblefine's picture

Would other people be able to see this kind of activity as well? There's your Y from JBancroftConnors's question: "It makes us look like we're slackers." That would probably work best on the DISC high-I types in your group, if you have them, but it's a place to start.

Even if your directs' work styles tend to the quicker-switching example JBancroftConnors gives, if the activity looks excessive to you, you should encourage other ways to take those breaks. 

Houston, Texas, USA
DISC: 1476

altadel's picture
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Are the deliverables being met on time and with sufficient (pre-defined) quality? If so, I'd think the problem is only for those who need to be producing 150% because they've expressed an interest in moving up. I've seen people work 10-hour lower-intensity days happily for months or years on end but who developed ulcers when they tried to work the paid 7-hour standard- or higher-intensity days and then left work 'on time'.

Scott Delinger

DiSC: 5137

naraa's picture
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Wow.  Interesting discussion. 

I don´t know if it is the business environment I am in (engineering) or the region (South America), but my first impression was: "reduce the amount of time spent on non-work surfing"??, can they actually spend time surfing on the internet and on facebook at work?  Here any time surfing on the internet, facebook other than at lunch hour is seen as bad, from managers and from peers.

I tend to prefer to be focus on results and as long as people deliver and are kept busy by their managers they don´t really have time to surf the net, and when they do have time they were really in a non-productive day and sort of needed it.  Perhaps analise whether you are giving them enough to do and making them accountable for it.  Ask for more from your directs and check more often on the progress.  That should keep them out of surfing, facebook, etc,...  I am in favor of people having some freedom and flexibility on how they do their work, but in my experience there has been a direct correlation between surfing on the web and bad performance.  The people I have caught on chat and surfing the web too much were also not performing and above all not motivated.

You may have just written it give the feedback to the team, but really mean give the feedback to each one in your team caught surfing or on facebook.  You cannot give that feedback to the team.  You have to give it each one you caught surfing too much.  You can say something like this: "Can I give you some feedback?  You know when you don´t meet deadlines or you deliver work which is bellow standards (be specific on what has happened if indeed it has) and I see you surfing the web often I ask myself how concentrated and how committed are you really to the job you are doing.  What can you do differently to meet deadlines?"


robin_s's picture
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I too was a bit surprised by the responses to this question, because I believe I am being paid, and my employees are being paid, to work for the company.  This doesn't mean that one can never check a personal email or take a phone call, but to surf and chat on the web?  I would most definitely be giving feedback about that.  If the employee is managing his time well, there is almost always a productive task that can fill whatever amount of "free" time he finds himself with. 

Most of my directs manage others, so for me the "y" or consequence of their actions, would be that they are setting a bad example for their employees. 

I am curious whether this is an industry (or generation) specific behavior?  I hope I'm not sounding judgemental.  I truly am curious about this.

flexiblefine's picture

If they've got time to surf excessively, the cure may be a healthy dose of delegation. :)

Houston, Texas, USA
DiSC: 1476

mttim's picture


Thank you all for the great discussion here.

My reports are hourly workers who do somewhat repetitive tasks at their desk, mainly involving data entry and phone calls.  I see this as different from developers who occasionally need some distractions to stay productive.  

Most of the team sits in the same room and their monitors are clearly visible to each other.  One report mentioned that they were surprised by how often people are distracted and mentioned that she is concerned that she is being influenced that way too - she is particularly motivated and wants to maintain a high level of productivity.

The workload varies day-to-day and on some days there is much less work than on others.  Naturally, if there's less work to do, people try to fill their time with other activities.  I'm particularly concerned that when the workload picks up, the number of distractions will stay the same and we will not be able to keep up.  This is something that I've observed in the past.

JBancroftConnors: Thanks for bringing this back to the feedback model :).  I'd like to start providing feedback whenever I notice an excessive amount of distractions.  

I've never specified that they are expected not to watch youtube or do those other things at work, as it seemed obvious.  Should I announce this to the team first so that we're all on the same page regarding expectations before providing direct feedback or would it be better to just start providing quick feedback whenever a distraction is noticed?


AspirationM's picture

Everywhere I've worked in my adult life has just had those sites blocked.  I'm a little surprised there are still workplaces where you CAN access facebook.  Haha.

PS - Developers are people last I checked, and repetitive work can be just as break-worthy as troubleshooting code... the great hunt for the semi-colon or whatever else.  It's not any different.  Why do you think it is?

TomW's picture
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Would the Manager Tools forums count as a distraction? Most of these posts seem to be during the work day... ;-)

AspirationM's picture

^MT?  That's just collaborative problem solving and professional research. :P



mttim's picture

You're right that developers are people too :)   When our developers take "breaks", they're context-switch to other tasks which are not directly related to the project - reviewing recent code submissions, reading up on the technology stack that they're using, ....   

I misspoke when I made that previous point about developers and lumped those types of "break" activities with the ones I'd like to address.  The expectation is the same - I would consider it a problem if I saw the same level of facebook-related distractions from developers too.