Tom Austin blogged about some of the implications of a Pew report on the mingling of private and work email. As well as his points, it occurs to me that many of the discussions I have with clients are missing the point. The issue of allowing access to private email in work time (not to mention access to private social networking sites) often sparks heated debate. Why should employees be taking care of their private business on company time?
The results of this report show that the issue of tending to company business on their own time is just as big of an “issue.” While 54% of US workers with private email accounts check them from work at least occasionally, 50% check their work email on weekends regularly. Half of all Blackberry and PDA users feel required to respond to business messages after working hours.
Still, more corporations seem to be exclusively concerned about employees “wasting” time on private issues at work, but almost never think about how much employees are working when, strictly speaking, they shouldn’t be.
While I’m sure that there is not complete overlap between the private-in-work-time and work-in-private-time groups, it is striking that the numbers are roughly equal, which tends to confirm what I have instinctively felt about this issue: it more or less equals out. If you can trust employees to do important work, you can trust them to not goof off too much. I suspect that in many cases, it more than equals out with Crackberry addicts spending much more time on work stuff off-hours than the other way around. In fact, that is why I have held off getting an email-capable mobile device. I might give in soon, but I am afraid that my private time would dwindle to nothing.
The days of punching a time clock are gone for most industries, so why are we still worried about this strict time allocation anyway? The work style in most organizations is much more task and objective-oriented than time-spent-at-the-desk-oriented, as it should be. Fixating on controlling and measuring employees’ time is more a reflection on management shortcomings than a worthwhile technique. If you can’t measure what is valuable, you come to value what you can measure. It is easy to fall into that trap. The simple message: Don’t.