A month or two ago we hired a new person at the company I work for and since we are small and haven’t hired anyone new in a while, it has been a bit of an adjustment.
Because we’re so tight knit, we’re pretty flexible when it comes to working hours. Before this new guy I was often the only person in the office because the others were working from home or traveling or leaving early to pick up kids. We have no restrictions on vacation time as long as we bring our devices to get work done on the side and if I end up needing to work until 9pm on a Tuesday then I’ll just leave a little early on Friday. I thrive in this type of environment because I like to set my own schedule, and while being on call 24/7 is annoying at times, I appreciate the ability to stay an extra day or two in Seattle when I’m visiting friends.
This format has also worked well for us because we’re all very independent workers. None of us is managed by someone, and it is rare that we have tasks that we don’t actively set for ourselves. We all help each other on projects as needed, but if we think we can take a few hours off then we usually can. They pay me to get certain things done and the rest of my time is my own to do whatever else I think needs doing. Sometimes that means working 60 hour weeks, sometimes that means leaving early.
I’m not perfect, I definitely surf the internet and have days when I don’t feel like doing much of anything. But in general I work hard to put in the time it takes to be great at my job. I know our finances, so I know we can’t afford to waste time or money. I know I’m valuable and they are definitely making money on me for all the work I accomplish. I hold myself accountable for our success.
Our new guy is a bit different. He is a 40 something, overweight, suburban dad who used to work for a large company but spent the last 6 months unemployed before we hired him to make sales calls. He is generally jovial and talkative so I appreciate getting to have friendly political debate every once in a while, but after 6 weeks of seeing him in the office I am convinced he only puts in about 5 hours of work per day. And what is worse, he is distracting me from my work.
When he first started I accepted that he wanted to get to know us and was grateful not to be cooped up at home anymore, so I indulged a bit of talking during work hours. I’m also the admin of our company so he had to come to me more often than not to get settled in and figure out how everything works, which again is an inefficiency that is understandable. But it has been six weeks and he still talks to me constantly, narrating his actions to me just because he can. He gets up to stretch/use the restroom/go on a walk/say hello to me at least every half hour, and always brings up some sort of news topic that he’s been reading about all morning trying to engage me in a debate. He takes hour long lunches and constantly complains how tired he is and how he can’t wait to leave at the end of the day. Yesterday he watched a live feed of a car chase in Texas for hours and gave me unwanted updates every 20 minutes. He watched the Comey testimony in full and then tried to ask me about it, NO I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT I AM WORKING.
All I can think is that he must be used to the large company mentality where workers gather around the water cooler and gossip at lunch and catch up on each other’s lives by the cubicles, spending the day complaining about how they’d rather be anywhere but here. But we don’t do that here, and for as much as I may complain about my boss or my work at home, there has never been once instance where I’ve whined to a coworker about how ready I am for this day to be over. We want to be here.
I don’t want this type of office environment where I have to constantly think of ways to avoid long interactions with him. I’ve learned to not say anything when he isn’t directly asking me a question and I’ve sort of taught him that when I look at my computer instead of at him I’m done talking to him, but he still wastes an incredible amount of my time and his. I get it, working isn’t fun, but we are paying him to make as many phone calls as he can per day and I don’t think watching the news while you research or call people is acceptable.
As I complained about this to my dad, he told me that he is having the same trouble with a few of the people he manages. Lately they’ve been blatantly working on side projects at work or listening to podcasts all day. They’re high level engineers, not mindless data entry drones, and in my dad’s words, “if you’re grinning ear to ear you can’t be working.”
I’m not advocating for a miserable work environment, I listen to music and love to laugh at a good joke or talk for a few minutes about the fun you had over the weekend. I’ve even gone out drinking with my boss at 3pm a few times to celebrate a win or get over a bad day, but in my opinion things that aren’t work should be short and rare. If I give this guy an inch, he takes a mile and I’m annoyed that my once peaceful and focused work environment has become a minefield of avoiding him and worrying that our money could be better spent else ware.
He is making some progress for us, and it is clear he is very grateful for the job, since he has told me all about how expensive his kid’s afterschool activities are and how lonely he was stuck at home the last months. I also understand that some people need more attention, or breaks, than others, and he is probably just as annoyed with me for not engaging him more.
I’m not sure what I’ll do, if anything, since I’d feel bad if we fired him and worse if I hurt his feelings. But I do know that if this was my company his behavior wouldn’t fly, and I’d easily find two 23 year olds instead who would quadruple his productivity and cost the same. Am I being too harsh? Do most people only produce 5 hours per day of real work?