I'm looking for advice and feedback.

I have a direct who has trouble getting basic tasks done on time and for whom larger tasks always seem a bit out of control.

Last Friday, my outfit's IT head revealed that my direct has been web surfing 30 - 40 hours per month in the office (art sites and personal e-mail). I confronted my direct about this behavior and he said that it was an important stress relief for him.

I suggested that it was counter productive given his difficulties getting things done and that he should consider more effective approaches to stress control (I'm sure the guilt of this one adds stress rather than subtracts it.)

He said that he would stop -- and now that he knows he is monitored -- I believe him.

It *HAS* been a very stressful 6 months. But he has not been forthright with me about his concerns.

If it weren't for the economy (hard for him to get another job, hard to get approval to make a replacement hire) - I would get rid of him right now. Any suggestions?


HMac's picture

I'm not sure what you're asking for suggestions about...

You seem to have this in hand. The behavior was reported to you, you brought it to the employee's atention, he says he'll stop, and you will receive another report some time in the future.

Case closed.

The "stress relief" excuse is immaterial: he agreed to stop surfing, right? So it doesn't matter what he used as an excuse, by agreeing to stop, he's implicitly admitting that his behavior was wrong...

You say "he has not been forthright with me about his concerns" and "If it weren't for the economy...I would get rid of him right now".

Am I missing some part of the story? Or are you wishing you could get rid of him based solely on the fact that he was web surfing?


mauzenne's picture
Admin Role Badge

How much feedback have you given him about getting his work done? I suspect THAT is what you really care about.

Focus there. Unless you focus on the behavior of getting his tasks done in a timely manner, he'll simply find another (non-productive) outlet for stress reduction.


jhack's picture

Are you meeting with him one on one every week? Giving feedback? Coaching?

Please listen to the basics podcasts - they are very effective at helping you get the most out of your team.

John Hack

ashdenver's picture

Perhaps the much larger issue at stake is whether or not he's cut out for the work. If he's really saying he needs 20% downtime to cope with stress, this job is probably not the best fit for him or for your team.

If the performance is there, is the goof off stuff really that big a deal?

Since the performance ISN'T there, is the method of goofing off really an issue?

madmatt's picture

Look, put on the spot about wasting time on the Internet a good go-to excuse might be "stress relief."

Seriously, this is just someone saying anything to avoid penalty (loss of job). Forget the excuses--look at the behavior.

People do whatever gives them the most positives or escapes negatives. Clearly, surfing most of the day was way more positive for this person than doing their job. If surfer doesn't like his job, maybe it's time for a change.

On the other hand, many of us (especially in the beginning of our careers) need a push from our managers to do the difficult work of getting better at our jobs and developing confidence and a history of success. People will like to do things they have had success with.

This puts the responsibility on the manager to always be providing pushes to get people to do things out of their comfort zone, then follow up with feedback and positive encouragement.

People should have enough pushes from peers and managers and positive encouragement for tasks well done to not allow them time during the day to surf for 30+ hrs.

If those pushes and encouraging feedback are not there, don't blame people for spending their time elsewhere. Think about your behavior first and what you are doing to encourage performance. If you are at your encouragement limit, then start to think about firing.

Davis Staedtler's picture

Careful to let the economic climate determine whether or not you should keep a bad employee. You have a business to run and there are behaviors that either have a negative or positive influence on your business and your people. I'm not saying behaviors strictly by themselves determine termination. A greater part of the mix is also competency, character and chemistry.

I call this situation gangrene. I hate to loose my leg, but it'll kill me if I don't.


RobRedmond's picture

I think the answer here is a little different than some of the above. I don't know if my people surf the net at work, and I don't care. I give them goals, and they either make them or not. I focus on their results, not the process through which they arrive at them.

  • Telling people what not to do is not effective. Tell them what you want them to do. "Only do your work during work hours. I am paying you to get your tasks done."
  • Set numerical goals for performance that your employee has to meet to be considered succeeding. If he meets them, then you don't care if he surfs. If he does not, then you don't care if he surfs - just that he is missing his goals and not performing up to expectations. Focus on his results, not the process.
  • Set dated goals for his performance. If he easily makes these, you are giving too much time or too low of expectations numerically.
  • Measure performance
  • Use MT goals: A number + a verb + an object + by + a date (and time if short term)
  • Review his performance with him monthly, quarterly, and then annually as a pro forma "We both know how you did" repeat of the previous 11 runs.

Most likely, this employee has no real MT goals to aspire to make, and therefore feels his time is unstructured and pretty much just sitting around occupying a desk since he is bored with his job.

"I would just get rid of him anyway..." - I don't recommend you take that route just yet. I think you have a lot of work to do first.


HMac's picture

Rob - I'm in agreement.  I just want to point out that your two first examples may be read as contradictory.  The first is "Don't surf during work hours" and the second is "Meet your goals first; surf second".

I realize you didn't them offer up as examples to be used concurrently.



douglase's picture

I have encountered many people in Help Desks who end up surfing the web while managing them.

Recently I have seen one of the top performers in a service desk I am not managing (just sitting near) spend 4 hours of 8 a day surfing, and STILL out performing the next best performing.

And the reasons why?

This behaviour is a direct result in my mind of several things

Some staff do not feel competant at their job.  Some actually are, some aren't.

Some staff feel undervalued

Some staff feel undercommunicated to


Things to note about this place - no one on ones, not positive feedback, next to no coaching.  Lots of evalutation based on feelings and likes rather than on observed behaviours.



Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I think Rob is right, in that this calls for feedback about work done well and on time, and work done poorly and/or not on time.

I disagree, though about not caring about surfing the web...if he's not getting his job done.  When you surf the web and fail to accomplish objectives, it's unacceptable and I start thinking about how much I want someone in your role who works 40 hours a week.

I don't recommend you fire this person.  But I do recommend one on ones and feedback, and clear goals (as Rob mentioned).  I suspect he won't make it, but if he doesn't, you'll have a case.  If he does, you'll be the reason.


calangst's picture

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions. 

I think Madmat's observations are most on point here.  We do do one-on-ones and coaching, but I think this guy is still not over the hump of having received enough positive feedback to find the reinforcement in the work. 

Really clear, important sMarT goals are really tough to set.  The direct is a more junior manager himself and setting goals to do the right things *IS* the essence of his job.  If I have to set them for him, *I* am doing his job.




dan west's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Hi Chris,

Just one comment on your last statement.

Really clear, important sMarT goals are really tough to set.  The direct is a more junior manager himself and setting goals to do the right things *IS* the essence of his job.  If I have to set them for him, *I* am doing his job.

I agree that MT goals are tough. But if they are tough for you imagine a new manager trying to do this. I'm willing to be he'll need a lot of hand-holding around these basics the first couple of times he does the work.

My personal experience has always been that the more time you spend with new managers up front the faster they ramp and the sooner you can begin delegating work to them.

jhack's picture

Claim:  moderate surfing at work is correlated with higher productivity

Of course, your mileage may vary. 

John Hack