Should I let my team watch tv at work?
August 18, 2011 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Am I being too nice by letting my team watch tv at work?

I manage a software team within a relaxed environment and I see some of them streaming tv while they are working. It's been like this for years, but recently I've been thinking about setting a new policy.

I want to keep the relaxed tone but I feel that allowing them to continue to watch tv is not beneficial for our projects, for their personal development, or for the work culture I want to cultivate.

I've considered the idea that 'as long as they get work done, let them do whatever they want' - but this just doesn't sit well with me. Of course they'll finish the work, it's just a matter of how much more focused and productive they would be without the tv.

What do you think? Is watching tv a sign of being a little bit too comfortable at work? I'd love to hear perspectives from both managers and engineers.
posted by zebraspots to Work & Money (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
it's just a matter of how much more focused and productive they would be without the tv.

Well, do you know this for sure? It's possible the TV-watching/listening is making them able to do their work more productively, especially if some of the work is of a monotonous nature.
posted by bearette at 7:15 PM on August 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Music and maybe podcasts, but TV? Will you be bringing them tasty snacks and maybe a footstool? It's the office, not their den. I think they can forgo Big Bang Theory and Portlandia til they get home. Breaking news, on the level of 9/11 and or favorite office sports team winning major event (should such exist) might be ok.

Workplace needs to have a different atmosphere from home or breaks.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:15 PM on August 18, 2011

A few questions:
-are they watching tv, as in sitting back and doing nothing with popcorn, or streaming it while they work?
- is it something like Entourage/regular tv, or live sport that is time-sensitive?
posted by jacalata at 7:17 PM on August 18, 2011

I'm self-employed and I won't even allow myself to do this. Music and podcasts are one thing, but the second I turn a TV on for "background noise" I get nothing done.
posted by bradbane at 7:18 PM on August 18, 2011

This problem existed at my old workplace. They ended up using the excuse of "need to conserve bandwidth" when asking everyone to stop streaming music and video all damn day long.
posted by gnutron at 7:20 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

We have a television in our office and it is set to CNBC/CNN/MSNBC depending on who turns it on. Do you know what I'd do without the television?

- Check
- Check the myriad of blogs out there.

This, to me at least, is more dangerous. Television is, "Well I'm stuck or I just finished a hard thing," and want to spend a minute just kind of digesting it and I can stare at it and there will most likely be something inane on it and I'll lose interest very quickly. If I visit a blog there's at least a dozen choices and one of them will surely interest me.

In today's world there's a million distractions worse than television. Arbitrarily taking something out they're used to will kill moral. It will also make me feel like less of a professional.

On preview: I get that people can be easily distracted by this. If you notice people being actually unproductive, like say geoff. isn't getting nearly as much work done as the guy next to him, you have the discussion about productivity with that person. You don't say stop watching television. That's the side effect, the problem is their productivity.

To be honest, I find much worse distractions in people coming up to me and small talking or getting into somewhat work related conversations that eat up 15 minutes.
posted by geoff. at 7:22 PM on August 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

Originally, I was going to say, "yes" because I thought this some new policy that you were thinking of rescinding. But the tv watching is years old and apparently you are new.

So, I changed my answer to, "Ah, man don't be a dick." Honestly, I don't think this is about productivity. I think its about you thinking it's unprofessional or whatever.

it's just a matter of how much more focused and productive they would be without the tv.

How do you know they are going to be more focused and productive without the tv? How productive are they now? Do you have any stats? Have you compared your teams stats to those of other teams in the company or in the industry?

Also, if you do this, your team will hate you. You may have some other qualities that can balance this out in the long term, but in the short term morale will go down and resentment will increase.

At my job, we used to have unfettered internet access. Then some busybody decided that was apparently too much freedom so they installed netnanny software and blocked some sites at the domain level. Didn't really make anyone more productive. Did result in a lot of bitching.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:24 PM on August 18, 2011 [15 favorites]

You could also talk to your team about your concerns. If you are all professionals, you should be able to discuss this.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:41 PM on August 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

I've worked at jobs where this was common, but always on the sly. Like people alt+tabbing the minute the boss was around. Which is a shame. I've always been really productive--most productive--while working with the TV on. Like, seriously, this is how I've worked since I was eleven or so.

If there's a reason that they need to "look busy" besides for your own sense of satisfaction--they're interacting with clients--I'd let it go. If they don't watch TV, they'll find some other way to distract themselves (ever write a book during slow times at work? I have!). If their productivity is suffering, address that, but the truth is, people are genuinely productive in ways that don't always jive with the Western ideal of what work is supposed to look like.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:58 PM on August 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

Hi OP,

Since you asked for various perspectives... I'm an engineer, an ME but I do a lot of coding. I surf the web plenty at work - either while waiting for a compile, or doing tech support on the phone, or lunch, or just bored. It's probably a distraction, but I'm a productive guy and when something's on the burner I put my head down at 9am and don't look up until 7pm and that's fine.

I might stream TV during lunch, or during a break when I had some food and a soda on my desk - even then I'd make a effort to be conservative about it. But just during the day? Personally, I would find that to be a bit of an FU to my boss - who is a brilliant and snarky and cheerful and generous guy who just wants to see the company do well and wouldn't dream of micromanaging.

YMMV, and the fact that it's been the norm creates an inertia issue that I don't envy you having to deal with. But I will say again that I think streaming (non-job-related) TV during the normal workday would be a big "Hey! What're you going to do... fire me?! *snort*" to my CEO, in my particular situation.
posted by ftm at 7:58 PM on August 18, 2011

for their personal development

You do mean their professional development, right? Because their personal development is really none of your business.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:00 PM on August 18, 2011

Consider offering $1000 raises to whoever lets streaming be blocked on their pc.
posted by blargerz at 8:07 PM on August 18, 2011

Response by poster: Great thoughts so far.

To answer some questions - I've seen some people have it on in the background constantly as they work and I've seen some people actively watch. I tend to mostly have a hands-off approach. I don't monitor them to see how long they are actually just sitting and watching.

I'm not a new manager to the team. I'm just constantly tweaking the way we work. Culture needs to be cultivated, it's not static.

I'm fine with occasional distractions and think it's actually important to let the mind meander while you're working out hard problems. However, building software often requires long stretches of intense focus. I was a developer for a long time before management. Your best work is done without distractions and I make sure to protect my team from that. What does it say when you're not often in the zone? It feels like they're taking advantage of the casual atmosphere.
posted by zebraspots at 8:11 PM on August 18, 2011

So, there's somebody who I happen to know well, used to be better friends with than I am now, who I know is a developer who watches TV extensively at her desk. I also, honestly, don't know how much else she actually does. At any given time, talking to her, she was usually watching either a DVD or something on Netflix or Youtube, and also chatting on IM to at least 3-4 friends, and logging onto some text-based games that aren't too obvious, and she's pretty much like this all day long, every day, and has been for years now. I got kind of uncomfortable with the way she basically IMed me the moment she got to work in the morning and didn't stop all day; I stopped talking to her largely because my office wasn't going to be okay with that.

I asked her once how she managed this, and her only answer was that well, she did as much as anybody else in her department did.

Last I heard, she was still doing this.

It's one thing to be understanding to your employees, but I think at some point you have to wonder, what are these people being paid for?
posted by gracedissolved at 8:12 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

for their personal development, or for the work culture I want to cultivate.

This seems to be the real issue. You're concerned about productivity and the overall atmosphere of your workplace. This is not micromanaging: this is called doing your job well. I don't think that you can actually compare reading CNN/MetaFilter/NYTimes/Whatever online to watching television. Watching television while at work says very clearly: I'm not working.

You get props for being willing to address this workplace culture -- just be careful about how you begin to initiate change. Start very, very small. Remember that even though this is something that you've been thinking about, it may come as a big/unpleasant surprise to your staff (I've learned this the hard way!). Take care to explain your perspective clearly and to replace perceived negatives with positives.

Good luck!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 8:15 PM on August 18, 2011

I'm just constantly tweaking the way we work. Culture needs to be cultivated, it's not static.

This is a statement of managing for managing's sake, I think. If you have an identifiable productivity issue that can be addressed by the fact that TV is streaming, that's one thing. However, your question and follow-up sound like perfect middle-management over-tweaking because you have a well-functioning team and you feel somewhat superfluous. It's exactly the type of unnecessary over-supervising that makes employees distrust and get frustrated with management.
posted by xingcat at 8:17 PM on August 18, 2011 [30 favorites]

Maybe this'll add some context from someone who used to watch TV at work. I'd watch Netflix streaming while working, especially during overtime, on my second monitor while working on the first. It worked really well when I liked my work and helped me focus and tune out the noise in the room I sat in. It became terribly distracting only when I got burned out and hated my job. At home, I always have the TV on when doing my own projects to help me get into the zone. At work, I noticed a lot of crowding/interruption behavior from coworkers - I'd be perfectly focused only to find out someone was watching over my shoulder and narrating how "I love this show so much!!" and want to talk to me about it.

I think the reasons people watch and the impact on their productivity - and those around them - will vary a lot.

If it was a new issue, I'd say nip it in the bud and tell them to keep TV watching to after hours, making notable exceptions for youtube breaks and sports broadcasts and encouraging people to use audio distractions (music, podcasts, audiobooks) rather than visual ones.

But since it's been around for a while, I'd say it's now entrenched in the company culture as a right rather than a privilege at this point. They'll resent you forever if you make the change... unless you do it in small, reasonable steps and have evidence that it's actually a net negative on the work environment to back you up.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 8:41 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've considered the idea that 'as long as they get work done, let them do whatever they want' - but this just doesn't sit well with me. Of course they'll finish the work, it's just a matter of how much more focused and productive they would be without the tv.

Why doesn't that sit well with you? As long as they are doing the work, why does it bother you, and what's wrong with being comfortable at work?

I'll tell you, I used to work at a job that had a TV in the office and I could put on whatever I wanted. I was so happy there. And I did all my work. I was super-efficient and always did a great job and was commended all the time. At my job after that, there was no TV, but at least I got to listen to music, so that was still nice. At my current job, there's no TV, AND there is no music. I have a really hard time focusing sometimes when I have a large, tedious task, because the office is often so quiet. I have no windows to look out of. I find myself distracting my brain just surfing the web because I have nothing else going on around me. I never had that problem at any of my other jobs. Occasionally I'll be able to sneak on some quiet music of my choosing, and instantly I can go back to focusing on the tedious tasks at hand without craving distraction. I do not have ADHD, and all of my coworkers do exactly the same thing.

The good thing about TV is that it's just there, on, providing reassuring background noise, you don't need to seek it out once you've got a program on that'll be cool for an hour or two, and if you want to look at it for a bit you don't have to go searching for it like you do when you read the internet. And if your employees understand they're allowed to have it on, they won't need to bother putting any energy into hiding whatever they're looking at from you whenever you walk by. Because trust me, they will. They will save their work in order to look busy whenever you look at them. Not allowing people distractions at work can be a huge distraction in and of itself and cause people to be less productive, especially in jobs where people are sitting around working on their own, as I imagine is the case on your software team.

As long as people are completing their work, let them have the TV on. Don't change the rules just for the sake of feeling managerial.
posted by wondermouse at 8:46 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

What does it say when you're not often in the zone? It feels like they're taking advantage of the casual atmosphere.

"Taking advantage" to do what? In what way? Are they getting the work done they get paid to do? Then they're not "taking advantage" of anything. People get paid a salary to do work- being somewhat comfortable or having fun while doing your work is not "cheating." And what is this "zone" you speak of? I'm kidding, I know what that expression means, but it's just one of those stereotypical geek stereotype things and I don't see how it's meaningful in relation to adults doing their jobs.

It seems like you're feeling personally put upon or disrespected by this. Maybe you need to think about why that is.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:49 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

But if it bothers you that much, implement a "paper bag policing" policy. Tell them you don't want to SEE them watching tv. Not that they can't do it, just that you shouldn't see them doing it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:51 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watching television while at work says very clearly: I'm not working.

That really depends, though. My job right now involves some very tedious work, and listening to a documentary in the background makes it possible for me to focus on it for longer stretches of time. My productivity is definitely better when I have Hulu or Netflix. At first, I felt kind of guilty streaming at work, but when I noticed I was getting nearly twice as much done, I stopped feeling guilty about it.

When I run into a problem, though--one that requires some thought--the documentary is just a distraction. I tune it out, or turn it off. I'm a responsible enough person to do that.

Are your employees?

It seems like you don't have any evidence that they're slacking off, and that your main problem is a vague feeling of disrespect and a vague suspicion that productivity would go up if people weren't streaming. What if you try to find out if the TV is affecting productivity negatively before you make a decision? And then, what if you address the problem as being the productivity, and not the TV? "Hey, Bob, I noticed that when you're streaming Lost, you're not really working on x. I need you to be working on x. If you finish x, we could use some help with y."

I have no doubt that there are people who will take advantage of a lax work environment to goof off, but working in an office where it's *assumed* by default that you're one of those people is a real bummer.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:59 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I basically can't work on anything that requires intense concentration without TV. Right now, I'm writing a giant, sprawling, complex document and watching TV. I've gotten more done in the last two hours at home with my Netflix than I did in 8 hours in my office without it. I often bring in a second computer on weekends when I can watch TV without bothering anyone, and I'll happily put in an extra 18 hours of productive work.

You're welcome to prefer any sort of work environment you like, and since you're the boss, you can enforce your own rules. However, be careful not to extrapolate from your own beliefs about what makes you more productive to an assumption that everyone works best the same way you do. For people like me, lack of visual and auditory stimulation will decrease productivity. You need to decide whether your aesthetic sense of what an office should be like trumps the fact that people have huge differences in the work styles that allow them to maintain peak productivity.

If I had a job where I could watch TV at work and my boss took it away, I'd really hate that guy, and I can't say that I wouldn't work less hard on purpose just to spite him.
posted by decathecting at 9:04 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to work in a newsroom with, like, 40 TV's going at any moment. But that was necessary for the job. It was a relief years later when I moved overseas and didn't have a TV. Nice to unplug!

I listen to podcasts now when I work. Most of the time, I find the voices soothing and notice and hour or two has gone by and I haven't really heard a word I've been listening to.

The thing about TV (do you mean broadcast? movies? a series on Hulu? or work relevant How To videos or documentaries on YouTube?) is that it is designed to hypnotize the viewer. A podcast or music I can tune out and use as a tool. Visual imput? Not so much!

Be aware it is a kinda an addiction, the visual input.

Go slowly with the change. But yeah, I think you are right here.
posted by jbenben at 9:28 PM on August 18, 2011

Is there an actual productivity loss or do you just think they'd work better?

Because if productivity is an issue, then fine, maybe it needs to be looked at. But if you start changing things for the sake of changing things because you think they'll work better, that's going to make you that guy and honestly, they probably won't work as well, partly because you're shaking them out of their routine and partly because they have a reason to dislike you. And honestly, if you came to me and told me to stop doing the things I've been doing for years because it'll make my productivity better, I won't thank you for the tip, I'll wonder who you think you are unless you actually know my work style and how I operate.

On the other hand, maybe talk to them about what would actually make them work better if you want to be proactive but maybe not be That Guy That Ruined All Our Fun? Me personally, the baseball game I have on during baseball season isn't a productivity drain compared to endless meetings I don't really need to be in, people popping in to chat about minor things when they could send me an email/IM, people not reading their email so I have to go hunt them down and make them answer me, and the other minutiae of office life.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:38 PM on August 18, 2011

Be as nice and generous and flexible as you can. If you have a functional, productive team with low turnover and good communication (do people gripe to you about stuff? that's a good sign) I'd let them have, maybe not a herd of goats, but whatever they wanted within reason.

Especially if it's been going on forever. It's kind of an escalation of war to take things away from people. Depending on how else things are going about those jobs and that company, that might be the biggest thing they value about their jobs; the way some people value bringing their dogs to work or having a pool table in the break room or free Snickers bars or whatever.

It's a sign of respect you've let them do it up to now, and to take it away kind of means you don't respect them anymore.

They could probably be 'more productive' if you turned the room down ten degrees or something too, but you really shouldn't. People could always be more productive -- or they should always have that capacity, otherwise they're at the edge of max productivity all the time and that is the road to burnout.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:42 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

My super-awesome developer team and I sometimes take a break for a few minutes to watch things that are awesome or newsworthy. Today we ate lunch watching a Google dev talk. We occasionally have bad movie night. There's a big-screen television for watching that sort of thing, and comfy couches.

At our desks, we work - and sometimes surf the web, and IM, and listen to music. I would not feel comfortable with my team watching television or movies while working, and it helps that we have another dedicated time & place for that.
posted by judith at 10:07 PM on August 18, 2011

I actually think this is (kind of) a generational thing. My students are generally more productive when they're listening to their iPods. Most of my colleagues and I feel the same way (we're in our mid to late 20's), and TV/movies can serve that function too. It's background noise for the most part - it allows that "OMG SILENCE I CAN'T THINK" part of my brain to chill and settle in. I'm not usually watching it with anything more than peripheral vision and aboue 5% attention. Now, if I'm really engaged in something and it's literally taking every iota of attention I have, the episode will end and I won't even notice for ages.

When I've talked to older colleagues and friends though, they believe that TV/music in the background is more of a distraction than I do - some cannot work unless they have total silence. Many of my colleagues ban iPods in their classrooms for that reason, and it actually makes many kids less comfortable and productive.

I'm sure we'll now get a lot of young people saying music is distracting, and older people saying it isn't to disprove my totally unscientific theory. But I'd keep that in mind, especially if the problems are mostly with younger workers.

If they're getting their work done, I say no harm no foul. If that's not the case, tell them that streaming is taking up too much bandwidth; our school district banned Netflix streaming because apparently they not only use a lot of bandwidth to stream, but they eat up any remaining space in an attempt to secure a connection. That means that they could fill up an entire T-1 connection from just one teacher streaming on one computer. Our whole system got shut down last year when one department all showed the same movie on the same day. That's a valid excuse, should you need one.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:33 PM on August 18, 2011

I suggest starting with the one person who has the most trouble with it and talking to him privately until he or she is performing. Then, go to the new least productive person and repeat. You will quickly see whether TV is the culprit or just the nearest available distraction.
posted by michaelh at 10:52 PM on August 18, 2011

I watch TV all the time while working at home. Well, it's more on in the background and I frequently put on things that I know won't distract. And the more you have stuff like this on, the more it just becomes background noise, like music playing. Maybe you'll pay attention at certain moments, but they're few and far between. And, strangely, it makes me less prone to waste time in other ways like surfing the web or posting to various blogs and sites, so I think maybe it satisfies that need to relax for a wee bit from time to time impulse.

But basically, if people are still getting their work done, I don't see an issue. If they're not, maybe a discussion will be useful before bringing the hammer down.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:31 PM on August 18, 2011

Oh man! This reminds me so much of my workplace situation right now. I work in a creative, artistic environment, and due to a recent company-wide security lapse half of my production has had internet access removed from their computers. This has created quite a bit a resentment, and part of the reason is that they can no longer stream videos. A lot of them just like watching some stuff during quick breaks, or checking out a video during their lunch break. They're all great at what they do and they love their jobs, and they would never watch tv if it would affect their productivity. They value their jobs too much. A lot of them actually felt that lack of access hampered their productivity. If your workers are getting the work done, does it really matter if they have some tv on in the back?

Almost all the artists I work with watch tv while they draw, and they consistently produce quality work in a timely manner. I can personally say that if I'm streaming TV while I work, it's because I need the white noise. I've tried music, but I just end up checking different websites while my internet radio keeps right on playing. I think having that visual distraction onscreen, even if I'm not really looking at it, actually helps. It's almost like my eyes are already "engaged", so I can't be distracted by looking at other things. Also, much of the stuff I'm watching is stuff I've already watched. I just keep running reruns, so I get that visual "noise" and I'm definitely not distracted with some new show or content. Maybe some of your workers are doing that?
posted by sprezzy at 11:36 PM on August 18, 2011

I'm a developer that needs background noise to focus. I prefer TV because it gives me something to focus on when I need to take a break (also literally - changing focal distance is good for your eyes and I use an actual TV). Most of the work I do, isn't exactly a stretch, intellectually and having the TV on diverts some of that excess brain power so its not babbling away thinking irrelevant, distracting thoughts...
posted by missmagenta at 12:13 AM on August 19, 2011

1) Taking something away is almost always going to be interpreted as a punishment. You're going to get a lot of resentment from your team if you do this.

2) "Your best work is done without distractions"

That isn't universally true. Check out a lot of the Ask responses here from adults who deal with ADD, and also check out some of the literature on learning styles and multiple intelligences. Many, many people are more productive with something on in the background than it a "non-distracting" atmosphere of total silence.

You way you want your team to be "more productive" but you don't mention - at all - any productivity issues you're actually seeing. Are they missing deadlines? Failing to produce quality work? Producing work that has many errors? If so, then distractions in the workplace might be an issue that needs to be addressed.

On the other hand, if none of these things are true, you're basically taking something (a perk) away from them for no good reason except that you want to cultivate a less relaxed culture. It would not surprise me at all if this drives some of your employees to look for other work, because it's an indicator, to the employee, that the culture is changing in a direction that is less comfortable and, frankly, less respectful of the employees as adults.

I'll add, just for the record, that I stream TV at work all the time - typically Netflix of movies or TV that I've already watched dozens of times and am comfortable with - and that it's no different from music or an audiobook for me. It helps occupy that part of my mind that is thinking about gettting shoes for my kid, or what I'm going to have for dinner, and it actually also helps to mask or block out distractions like people talking in the hallway, and the whub-whub-whub-whub of the ceiling fan (that drives me insane).
posted by anastasiav at 4:28 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

A benefit, once granted, is hard to un-grant.

You aren't been too nice. You are establishing a "quality of work life". I suspect the net effect would be to subtract from that, and any gains you think you are capturing will be offset by costs you can't imagine right now, let alone quantify.

If you want to be a good manager, find out what the obstacles to good work are and attack them. High school principal management techniques are not for thinking people.

When you are a manager, if you are any good at it at all, your underlings are the people you work for. Make them successful and you will prosper.
posted by FauxScot at 4:29 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Competent middle management assembles a competent team, then gets out of its way while sheltering it from the constant rain of bullshit generated by the org's executive layers.

If your team isn't broken, don't fix it.
posted by flabdablet at 4:39 AM on August 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

you are looking at management the wrong way. in a software development environment you should be focusing on building a motivated team with clear goals. don't tell them how and when to achieve their objectives, just tell them what they need to do and let them find their own way. manage performance if people aren't effective, let them set their own agenda if they are.

if you can't judge an individuals effectiveness properly then that's a whole other problem you need to face.
posted by ascullion at 5:36 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think you should let your employees decide how to manage their own working styles, and only implement a new policy if your company is having financial issues with bandwidth. Employees should be evaluated for productivity issues on an individual basis.

I've had a job where I looked at plat maps all day, and I listened to about 3 novels a week; doing this made me much more productive and calm. We had tracking metrics for our workloads and I was always above the mark. This was pre-streaming TV, but I would have enjoyed listening to TV shows while mapping if I'd had the chance.

At my current job, I have time periods when I need to Brain (so I turn off all distractions), and then I have monotonous tasks where I listen to music, watch a show, pop over to the internet, whatever.

I've found that I work better when I have lots of balls to juggle, including a few fun things. It makes me happier and a better worker. I'm actually much more focused this way. Some people need to focus on one thing at a time. Let your employees decide what works best.
posted by hotelechozulu at 8:17 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want them to be more productive, demand more work from them or demand the same amount of work sooner. You don't need to think about it much beyond that.

If it's not about real actual productivity, be very hesitant to change it. Your employees view their jobs as a bundle of perks that include salary, benefits, hours, dress codes, commutes, and office culture. Clawing back the tv-watching they enjoy will go over about as well as clawing back any of those other things.
posted by oreofuchi at 8:30 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you're looking to be a busy-body manager than everyone bitches about behind his back, go ahead and remove a quality-of-life benefit that your employees have had for years. Seriously, this will not make you popular. And you've said nothing about your employees now doing theier work well. Your best work is done without distractions, you say, but really, that's just YOUR best work. Different people work differently. As someone else said, don't manage stuff just to have something to manage.

If they haven't done anything to deserve punishment, don't punish them.
posted by Windigo at 1:30 PM on August 19, 2011

Of course they'll finish the work, it's just a matter of how much more focused and productive they would be without the tv.

If you want them to be more productive, give them more to do. If it's a reasonable amount and reasonable timeframe, but they can't get it done, then consider limiting the TV (but prepare for the morale backlash). If there's no more work to be done, and the quality of the existing work is good, then what's the problem?

You can't make people be focused. I can get distracted staring at a blank wall. What you have to do is engage people.
posted by desjardins at 1:55 PM on August 19, 2011

Does anyone like or respect people that change a pleasant, functioning culture for a less pleasant, culture? I don't understand the purpose of that. You run the risk of getting not only a less pleasant culture, but a less functional one. People like stability. People like to know what to expect at a job. If there is a measurable problem with productivity or bandwidth costs, then go on your merry, policy-creating way, but this sounds like managing and changing what works (and has been working for years) for no other reason than getting that little thrill of managing something and feeling powerful. ("Cultivating culture" sounds like the same thing, honestly.)

I don't have ADD, btw, and coding in silence would be hellish and I would never hit the "zone," so don't extrapolate from you to everybody.

(I manage a small team and the occasional intern. I am not, per se, a manager. I do have both business and computer science degrees and have worked in both fields.)
posted by wending my way at 8:56 PM on August 19, 2011

I've seen some people have it on in the background constantly as they work and I've seen some people actively watch. I tend to mostly have a hands-off approach. I don't monitor them to see how long they are actually just sitting and watching.

I think you need to split your TV people into two groups following your description above and evaluate the productivity of the people who are actively watching. 'In the background constantly' types probably fall into the categories people have described above (a little ADD, that's how the younger generation works, there's no zone with silence, etc.) so you can safely ignore them unless you notice productivity slipping.

Is this annual report time, or is that January/some other time for your company? If it's now, that's a great chance to evaluate whether or not people are reaching the goals you've mutually set out for them. You can talk one on one with your direct reports and gauge the need for change at that level.

If you lump everyone into one group ('TV watchers') I think you miss a lot of nuance. Your error seems to be assigning blame to TV when any blame necessary should be apportioned to the employee involved. So take a look, and decide if you need to have a chat with an individual employee about their TV usage and their low productivity. Otherwise, leave well enough alone.
posted by librarylis at 12:55 PM on August 20, 2011

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