Peanut Butter Cups and Professionalism

Work life and personal life aren’t always “two great tastes that taste great together.”  But in today’s workplace, it is inevitable that they will mix.  A recent post on Management Issues asked how much personal time was allowable during the workday, as many workers confessed to spending up to two hours a day on maintaining their personal lives.

The gut reaction you seem to get from that is surprise at people spending 25% of their work day on personal distractions.  But I think it’s important to challenge that reaction, for a number of reasons.

  1. 25% is misleading. Our work days are no longer 9-5, and haven’t been for some time.
  2. This isn’t the world of a half-century ago, with rigid roles for family members.  When both spouses work, one of them is going to have to take time out of the work day to deal with life events that require maintenance during business hours.
  3. How much of that time is made up by decreased availability in what was once sacred personal time?  We carry our Blackberries to our kids’ little league games, we answer emails before our commutes and after our dinners.
  4. The lines between personal and professional “maintenance” can get very blurry these days.  As I write this post, am I working late on a Sunday night, or choosing an odd form of recreation?  My boss might think this activity is not work-related, but I bet my wife (currently feeding the baby in the other room) would feel differently.  Similarly, when I drafted my Atmos post on company time, was I goofing off or working?

All this fades in importance to my most important factor, however.  I believe in professionalism. I believe in trusting professionals to perform their jobs, and I want my management to trust me to as a professional as well.  I tell my team members this, explicitly.  I don’t require someone to take personal time if they have to come in late because of a doctor’s appointment, but I also know that when a hot customer issue comes in on a Friday I can expect that same person to babysit the problem over the weekend.

I don’t know if this world is better or worse than the world where the company owned you from 9 to 5 and you owned your time the remainder of the day.  But I do know that the end result is the same — talented and professional individuals will rise to the top and become known as productive team members.  If they happen to spend 2 hours a day emailing their family members and paying their credit card bills online, and still shine bright, I’m more than happy to enable that success.

(Some of my faithful readers may think I’m contradicting myself.  In the past I’ve spoken about defining clear lines between personal time and work time.  I still believe this is important, but not every day.  I still leave my Blackberry at home when I go on a dinner date, just like I’ll ask my wife not to call when I’m locked in my office working on performance reviews.  Part of being a professional is knowing when the boundaries need to be rigid, and knowing when they are flexible.)