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If there’s any Legitimate Nonemergency Excuse for doing Personal Things on Shift, it’s Downtime

Blog by Pepperdine University student Andy Zhang

This week I will post five blogs from students at Pepperdine University. Professor Carolyn Galantine assigned students to choose a blog and post comments. I appreciate students' inclusion of my blog in their responses. This is Blog #1.

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that work can often be daunting and stressful, yet occasionally we have those random slow days. We all count the hours until our lunch break or the end of our shift to attend to personal matters that don’t pertain to work. However, some of us just can’t resist the temptation to do personal things during our paid time such as checking our phone, surfing the web, or even buying stuff online. An employee sees that no one is watching them and all of a sudden, they’re playing Candy Crush on their iPhone, watching YouTube videos on their work computer, or even taking selfies and posting them on Instagram. Then, the second they hear their supervisor coming, they instantly go back to work, making it look like they never goofed off in the first place. Steven Mintz, a professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, wrote a blog about this ethical dilemma in which he talks about when it’s ok to do personal things while on shift and when it isn’t. Cell phone

        First, Mintz mentions that using personal devices can become a distraction, which I agree on because even if someone browses Facebook, for instance, for a few seconds, those few seconds can escalate to several minutes if they find an interesting article and decide to read further on it. They then become so immersed into the article that they suddenly lose track of time. Additionally, someone might try to do something important on their personal computer that requires focus, thus drawing their attention away from their work and wasting precious time. According to Mintz, the average employee spends about 42 minutes a day doing personal things during their shift, which equates to about 3.5 hours per week. Those 3.5 hours could be well spent on various things like helping a supervisor or coworker with a task or doing certain tasks ahead of time to avoid future hassle.

        Next, Mintz mentions that personal emergencies are acceptable reasons to do personal things on company time, such as if an employee’s child gets sick and they need to make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. I agree with that because it’s not right for someone to just leave their child to suffer. Plus, their boss will understand their concern and let it slide. An example of an illegitimate reason for doing personal things on shift, however, as pointed out by Mintz, is selling a stock, whether online or by calling a broker. He also points out that the best way to go about doing such personal tasks is to wait until break or let the boss know and offer to make up for the lost time by staying a few minutes late. I agree with that as well because such tasks like selling one’s stocks isn’t urgent unlike an emergency, therefore the employee is better off waiting. Plus, if it is urgent, they can always make up for it by working longer or taking shorter breaks later.

        There is, however, one particular exception where doing personal things on company time is acceptable even if it’s not an emergency. And that is downtime, which some people might have at times even though it’s usually quite rare. Many people spend their downtime chatting with their friends, going on their phone, or even taking a nap, which is something that my fellow coworkers and I usually did on our downtime when I worked a summer job at Pepperdine University. The reason a lot of us do these things on our downtime is because we often don’t have anything else to do and just waiting to start a time sensitive task while doing nothing is a waste of time. So, we just do those fun things knowing that they benefit us while doing no harm to the company. Nevertheless, there are better things that we can spend our downtime doing rather than sticking to our screens or just killing time. According to Forbes, some of the numerous things that we should do on our down time include getting organized, planning, networking, learning, and exercising.[1] It makes sense because organizing, planning, and learning can help us work more efficiently later and networking can help us keep up with the trends and learn new tricks. Moreover, exercising helps keep us active, which can boost our thinking and thus increase our productivity. By doing these activities on our downtime, not only will we enjoy ourselves, but we’ll also become better employees in the long run.

        Deciding when you can do personal things during your shift shouldn’t be a hard decision. It all depends on whether or not it’s an emergency or if your action does any harm to your company. Mintz pointed out that personal devices can become a distraction at work and that personal emergencies are the only reasons for doing personal things on shift. In addition, I think downtime is also a legitimate reason for doing personal things on shift, during which employees can do helpful activities where they can grow. Overall, I agree with most of what Mintz says in his blog regarding situations where doing personal things is ok. What’s most important, nonetheless, is that no matter what we choose to do, whether at work or outside of work, we must always exercise responsibility and due care.

[1] Jacquelyn Smith, “14 Things To Do On A Slow Day At Work,” Forbes, January 9, 2014,, accessed November 9, 2018.

Student blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 26, 2018. Visit Steve's website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and Like his page.