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Why Employees Need a Break

Checking personal e-mail, the latest news headlines or making personal phone calls does not a slacker make.

Here's a news flash for all you employers (in case you didn't already know): We employees do not work a full eight hours a day. Between periods of doing our actual jobs, we're checking our personal e-mail, reading the latest news headlines, making personal phone calls, shopping online and even leaving the office to run errands. And no, that does not make us slackers.

Of course, there are those workers who seem to be all play and no work. But for the majority of workers who take short breaks from work throughout the day, it's not fair to be treated like criminals. I hate that guilty feeling I get every time I check my personal e-mail and my boss happens to walk by my desk. It's gotten to the point that every time I open a web browser window, I get paranoid that someone is looking over my shoulder. The bottom line should be that my work is complete by the end of the day.

Every company I've worked for has had a different approach for cracking down on employees. At one company, HR would periodically send out company-wide e-mails reminding us of the "no internet for personal use" policy. We'd be extra careful for about a week or two after the e-mail was sent, then eventually go back to web browsing as usual. At another company, we were told our internet usage was being tracked and reported to managers. This scared us a bit, but we never really heard of anyone getting reprimanded for it, so it didn't cross our minds too often.

I have a few friends whose internet access is partially blocked at work. That just seems way too Big Brother for my tastes. I would never accept a job if I knew that policy was in place. And with the popularity of smartphones, this restriction seems obsolete now.

Don't get me wrong: I understand why companies frown upon this behavior. Every minute spent doing personal business is a minute not working. However, I believe giving employees this freedom is actually a good thing as long as they don't abuse the privilege. A quick chat with a friend online or a short conversation with a significant other on the phone helps us feel as though we're not so separated from our loved ones. A scan of the news headlines makes us feel connected to the outside world. Doing some online browsing or shopping is a nice break from the stress of a busy workday. In essence, this all contributes to the feeling that we're not prisoners at work. As long as the job is getting done and the employee isn't spending too much time doing personal stuff on company time, a hands-off approach is best.

If you're an employee or know an employee who wants to vent about or praise an employer anonymously, e-mail us at employeex@entrepreneur.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Give us a Break.

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