Moi je dis Merci Lucy

J’aurais pu vous faire croire que je lis le FT mais non, c’est une bonne âme m’a fait parvenir cette petite perle déculpabilisante : ENJOY !

Employers have little to fear from a spot of cyber-skiving

By Lucy Kellaway

Published: September 24 2006 17:43 | Last updated: September 24 2006 17:43

I want to tell you two true stories. They are about sex and money and what the masters (and mistresses) of the universe get up to at work when they think no one is looking.

The first is about a derivatives trader who works at one of the big City of London banks. He is in his mid-40s, unhappily married, with a couple of children at one of the most famous schools in the country. He is pretty successful, leads a flash life and is entertaining in a wide-boy sort of a way: long on one-liners if a little short on grammar and syntax.

I know about this man because a friend of mine talks to him most weekday afternoons on the internet. She found him a couple of months ago on a dating site, and they have been chatting a lot since. Maybe they will meet, maybe they will not. I think the existence of a wife is a slight drawback from my friend’s point of view. Still, that is not relevant for the purposes of this column.

The second story is about a shirt, a high-flying lawyer and a journalist.

The shirt, purple with a thin red stripe, started life in an Agnès B store some time ago. It then went to an Oxfam shop where it was bought by a City lawyer. She never wore it, so decided to sell it on Ebay. One Wednesday afternoon not long ago the journalist bought the shirt for £4 ($7.60). The two exchanged e-mails, and the lawyer, surprised to recognise the journalist’s name at the bottom of her e-mail, offered the shirt for nothing. The journalist was equally surprised to find the seller was the head of the legal department at a big City bank.

These two stories tell us something about top-level cyber-skiving. The protagonists are not bored clerical workers whiling away the tedious hours until home time. They are senior people who hold down big jobs in workaholic organisations. Yet one is spending his afternoons chatting up my friend online. The other, in spite of what must be a monumental salary, is spending hers trying to recoup on Ebay the tiny outlay of buying an unsuccessful shirt from Oxfam.

As for the journalist (whom you might have correctly identified as me), she is wasting her time trawling for cheap second-hand shirts that she does not need, when she should be writing columns instead.

What interests me is not just the endless weakness of human nature but how technology now allows these foibles to be indulged at work.

Never mind firewalls and company policies blocking access to dodgy websites. Cyber-skiving is a fact of life at all levels in all companies. According to a recent survey in the US, 87 per cent of US office workers go on the internet at work for personal things, and half do so many times a day. Far from feeling remorse, the majority of these skivers said that what they were up to had no adverse effect on productivity at all.

Surely this cannot be true? If people spend hours online, it follows that there are fewer hours left in which to work.

So what did we get up to in those long ago, pre-internet days? Did we just work harder? If I try to cast my mind back, I find the answer is no. I think the amount of work that gets done is a fairly fixed quantity, and in most managerial jobs is pitifully low. It depends on the type of company we work for, how ambitious we are and how much pressure we are under.

Before the internet we simply wasted time in different ways. I remember doing something on a regular basis that hardly anyone does any more. It was called having lunch, and with lunch came the ultimate productivity no-no: alcohol.

When I worked in the City in the early 1980s we routinely used to have two or three-hour largely liquid lunches and return to the office with just enough time left to make a few mistakes before rolling off home.

The other thing that has all but gone is aimless chatting. In the old days one could chat for hours. While I still manage to squeeze a certain amount of chatting into the working day, I feel I have to chat fast and furiously as people need to get back to work. Or rather, get back to their computers to chat by e-mail.

The amount of time we spend at our desks is much longer: the day has been stretched out at both ends, there is no lunch, and very little chatter. We have to do something to fill the hours, so what we do is cyber-skive.

Most workers do this horribly badly. Frightened of being caught skiving, and with the puritanical idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with it, they skive away all day on things that could just about pass for work, only they are neither productive nor especially enjoyable. People spend hours reading and writing aimless, tedious blogs. They trawl newspapers online and draft very long e-mails to the journalists who wrote them.

I hope that some of the readers who send me 1,000-word e-mails are paying attention. To skive like this is a terrible waste. They would be much better advised to spend their non-productive time more pleasurably.

The first rule of skiving is to do chores you would otherwise have to do at home. So doing supermarket shopping and booking holidays in office hours is surely a good thing for everyone. When all those necessary things have been done, you can limit yourself to things that are enjoyable (so long as they are legal, and involve neither porn nor gambling). You could do Ebay, or dating or indulge another foible of choice.

As for employers, they should pretend to disapprove but continue to turn a blind eye. After all, a bit of outrageous cyber-skiving leaves one feeling a bit cheerful and a bit guilty. Which is the perfect frame of mind in which to tackle a bit of proper work.

Comme j’ADORE ce genre d’articles… le pire c’est que j’ai pu le constater moi même, le jour où je me suis rendue compte que ma vieille paire de free lance que je venais de vendre sur e bay (quelle nouille j’avais pas du tout senti le retour de la semelle compensée rhaaaaaaa) et bien je venais de la vendre à une gérante de ma boîte… La nana qui brasse des milliards, juste comme dans l’article… et qui achète ses pompes sur e bay, et sur son temps de travail… trop bizarre la remise en main propre devant les ascenceurs A du 4ème étage…

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