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Too Much Work Ethic?

By Kyrrin in Culture
Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 09:38:09 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

I'm writing this at work. It's 0622, I've been here since 2300, and this is probably going to be the most intellectual thing I've done all day. I get to sit and browse the web all day, and I even get paid for it. Paradise, right? Or maybe not.

What do you do when you're feeling guilty about not having enough to do at work?

I've been here for a few months now, and the job I had before this was high-stress, high-pressure -- working as a QA tester for a major insurance company. I'm still with the same company, but now my job title is "Production Monitor" -- which is a fancy way of saying that I'm a breathing cron job. I thought when I took this job that it would be heaven; I'd finally get a chance to catch up on all of my reading, be able to read k5 in more depth, get some writing done, etc, etc.

Over the past few weeks, though, I've been starting to get bored -- and then guilty. The company is paying me a lot of money to sit here. It's not my fault that I don't have anything to do; there's just not a lot of work, by design. I have plenty of time to do whatever I want -- I just can't seem to stop looking over my shoulder for someone to swoop down and start accusing me of being a waste of space. I'm finding it difficult to believe that a job like this could really exist.

It seems to me that with the new concentration on technology in the marketplace, there will be more and more jobs like this -- jobs where you're only there in case something breaks, and nothing ever breaks. It's a good deal if you can get it, I suppose, but what can be done to prevent employee boredom and to keep those employees feeling like they're valuable members of the team?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


I'd love a "babysitting" job!
o Yes 6%
o No 13%
o For the first two weeks 27%
o Only if there were unfiltered 'net access 39%
o Only if I could work with Inoshiro 12%

Votes: 79
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Too Much Work Ethic? | 22 comments (20 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
Perhaps your job is to be prepared... (3.60 / 5) (#1)
by TuxNugget on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 06:58:37 AM EST

and so you should spend your time reading and thinking about what you need to do should various kinds of emergencies arise.

Of course, that suggests some kind of responsibility. Many bosses don't want their employees responsible for anything, to show any initiative, etc... because it is threatening in one way or another.

Funny you should say that ... (3.00 / 3) (#2)
by Kyrrin on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 07:10:22 AM EST

...as things started failing JUST as I hit "submit" on this story. All Praise Murphy, eh?

I mean, I'm not whining about my job. It's remarkably stress-free, and I *do* enjoy having the time to get other things done. It's just this lingering sense of guilt brought about by the thought that I should be doing something more than I'm already doing.

"I'm the screen, the blinding light; I'm the screen, I work at night. I see today with a newsprint fray, my night is colored headache grey, don't wake me with so much..." -- REM
[ Parent ]
My job is much the same (3.33 / 3) (#3)
by ZanThrax on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 07:20:42 AM EST

in that I've got little to do but sit around. There's occassionaly a call for some minor thing that takes five minutes, but mostly my job consists of sitting around making the more nervous tenants of the building feel safe at night. There have been zero incidents of a criminal nature during the time period that I'm on shift, and the three petty thefts in the 10 months I've been working as a guard have been ruled inside jobs that occurred when I wasn't even on duty.

I thought it was a pretty good job at first too, but now am bored, and somewhat guilty over being a resource drain with no real purpose. Still, this is a company that spent my monthly salary to have conduits and power installed to a rooftop area so that a tree could be installed outside our building, so I'm dealing with it. :)

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.

it is a weird feeling (3.00 / 3) (#4)
by gregholmes on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 07:24:41 AM EST

I've had occasional periods like that; and did feel guilty. But I guess some of that is inevitable; the cost on both sides (employer and employee) of constant hiring and letting go is just too high to have perfect efficiency (lucky thing, probably).

What do you do? (3.33 / 3) (#7)
by enterfornone on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 07:43:23 AM EST

For my nightshifts I bought in a stack of CCNA and MCSE books and figured I'd get some serious study in. But I end up just hitting refresh on K5 every few minutes, reading mailing lists I'm on, going to the vending machine every now and then.

Back when I was working in a call centre, I was able to study for A+ and MCSE, redo my resume, go through job sites and write up applications, all while fielding calls pretty much non-stop.

For some reason even though I have plenty of free time here, the fact that there is nothing to do makes me less motivated to do anything.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
Absolutely nothing, that's what I do ^_^ (3.66 / 3) (#9)
by Kyrrin on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 07:55:51 AM EST

Like you, I bring huge stacks of books and resolve that I'm going to work my way through them, and I wind up reading k5, or looking for video game fan fiction that doesn't suck, or once more proving Sturgeon's Law at my other job, or just staring at the ceiling. There is a TV in here, and I can hook up my Playstation and play games all night, but to me, that's really pushing it -- even if my boss doesn't care.

I agree with you about being undermotivated, though. I honestly don't even mind that undermotivation. It's the lingering guilt that kills me -- that and the feeling that no matter how many times my boss says that he doesn't care what I do when he's not here (he works 0800-1600; we never see each other), I'm gonna get my ass canned for reading k5 all night.

"I'm the screen, the blinding light; I'm the screen, I work at night. I see today with a newsprint fray, my night is colored headache grey, don't wake me with so much..." -- REM
[ Parent ]
Your job .... (3.33 / 3) (#8)
by Bad Mojo on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 07:47:14 AM EST

I've done this type of work. It didn't suit me. Some people love it and I even enjoyed it for 6 months. After that, I realized I needed challenges to keep my mind from turning disruptive. :) What good is a no-resistance work-out? What good is a job that never presents you with a challenge to defeat?

As a SysAdmin, the ideal job for me is coming in to a place, getting it all set straight to where I have minimal work to do. Then document how it all works. Then leave. But that rarely happens. I usually never get it all perfect and if I do, it's just in time to overhaul something and I never get a chance to document everything or move on. I'm not complaining.

I guess that in the end, all I'm really saying is that you either like your job, or you don't. If you don't, go get another one. Seems kinda cut and dry.

-Bad Mojo
"The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"
B. Watterson's Calvin - "Calvin & Hobbes"

Fireman (3.60 / 5) (#10)
by slaytanic killer on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 08:40:51 AM EST

Well, you're a fireman. You've got a job that is intermittent, but you do it well when it needs tending to. Your tasks would be disruptive to someone who has more regular tasks. So perhaps you should chin up, and perhaps save your money just in case some change in management tries consolidating your job with a sysadmin job.

Rapid Application Development (3.66 / 3) (#11)
by theboz on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 09:00:54 AM EST

Ah...I have a similar problem at work. Basically I do rapid application development...which basically means it's easy to make stuff. In the department I am in, we have java developers and such that require a long time to do their part of a job but we are lumped together so I end up getting done in 5 minutes what would take them 5 days. I found out that the rest of my team takes their time, so I slowed down too, read kuro5hin, slashdot, bikkel.com, etc. most of the day, when I am not playing in the rec room. It's a temporary thing but I think this is the type of job I want when I get burnt out before I retire.


Administrative Assistant (3.00 / 3) (#12)
by reshippie on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 09:17:18 AM EST

I get paid to take care of faxes, and photocopies, and other odd jobs. When there aren't any odd jobs, I putz on the internet. I've been doing this for about 3 months now, in a few different divisions of a very large bank.

It's very boring, and my motivation is actually DEcreasing. Sometimes I just watch the phones ring and let their voicemail pick it up. I've skipped work twice for not feeling well, and nobody has said anything. Once I didn't even call in, and not a word was said the next day.

Seeing as how I'm stuck in the Real World(tm) for at least another 9 months, I've gotta find myself a new job, something requiring more knowledge of computer than Word and Excel. I'm just gonna miss emailing my best friend all day ;-)

Those who don't know me, probably shouldn't trust me. Those who do DEFINITELY shouldn't trust me. :-)

Make use of the time... (3.75 / 4) (#13)
by Midnight Ryder on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 09:50:31 AM EST

Want to make your employer happy (or even possibly unhappy), then make use of your spare time:

  • Study for your MCSE or certification of choice.
  • Learn how the systems you are monitoring run - you can better report exactly what failure you percieve in the systems you monitor.
  • Learn about OS security - the try and discover where there may be areas that are lacking.
  • Learn to program - contribute to Open Source projects during your downtime.
  • Start your own company.
  • Complain about the lack of work to do.

Doing item #2 could get you in trouble, depending on the company. Item #4 will definitely get you in trouble ;-) Seriously, though, make use of the time - the flip side of that is having a job like I have had for the last 7 years. I bust my ass day in and day out - if work gets slow, then I work on in-house projects. In fact, I go bonkers if work gets TOO slow... so I opted for #4 about a year ago, and am getting ready to leave my day job for my itty bitty game development company. Take the time you have, and make constructive use of it - improve yourself, or improve your situation in the company, or even help to improve your company. If you do any of those things, it's not waisted time.

And, some employers know they hire people into boring ass siutations like this, and that there's going to be lots of downtime. Talk to you boss - tell him what you think about the situation, and find out what he feels you should do. You might be surprised at the answer sometimes - but you almost never get fired for telling someone you aren't getting enough work! :-)

Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr

Owner / President

MidnightRyder.Com - game developer, among other things

Major Opportunity There (4.25 / 4) (#14)
by gauntlet on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 10:07:11 AM EST

Now, I don't know if I'm the only ambitions person on K5, or something, but that looks like a huge opportunity to me.

First of all, let me say that I'm going on the assumption that you don't mind working for this company, and that you would like to make more money. :)

Do some research. Look into what your company does, and how. Then do some research on yourself. Do some personality tests, determine the kind of job that you would enjoy, even if you were busy all the time. Then, ask yourself this question: "If I had no obligations to this company whatsoever, what would I do for them?"

If the answer is "Nothing", then you need another job.

If, however, you come up with something, do it. You obviously have a desire to be useful. That desire combined with your ability to pick your project will combine to great advantage to the company, and subsequently to you.

Try it. You'll see.

Into Canadian Politics?

Not all work ethics are the same (3.66 / 3) (#15)
by marlowe on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 11:12:37 AM EST

There are two major types of work ethic that I know of:

1) The results-oriented work ethic:
I'm as good as the results I obtain.
2) the guilt-driven work ethic:
I'm as good as the effort I expend.

I much prefer the first one. It just works better.

By the way, if a cron daemon has no scheduled tasks, and it does nothing, that is a correct result.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
I can sympathize (4.00 / 3) (#16)
by trust_no_one on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 11:15:39 AM EST

I too have gone through long periods in my career where I feel I'm getting paid to surf the web (Can you tell this is one of those periods?). Hurry up and wait seems to be a fairly constant theme in IT work.

I've calculated that about 20% of my time is spent doing interesting work. Developing new applications or processes, learning new languages or technologies and the like. The rest is fairly mindless and/or tedious. And of course there are stretches where all I'm doing is waiting for a fire to put out.

Motivation is hard to keep up during those stretches. You start to feel that since you're doing nothing, that nothing you do matters. Last year at this time was the worst for me. We were in a Y2K development freeze, so there was absolutely no work being done at all. Of course we knew Y2K was absolutely irrelevant to our applications, but management insisted on a November - March freeze.

You know it's gotten bad, when you start to resent real work when it finally does appear. I started structuring my days around my personal tasks and looked on work as an interruption in my routine. Updating my personal web page, or emailing my friends became priorities.

Fortunately, I recognize when these things have gone a little too far and manage to find some piece of code that needs tweaking, or an application that could use a major overhaul and convince my boss to let me do that. Of course, I still reserve some time for important tasks like posting to K5.

A bored programmer is a dangerous programmer.

I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused

Hurry up and wait (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by ToiletDuk on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 02:14:40 PM EST

I can definately relate to the hurry up and wait style of tech companies. I just spent three days doing zero work while waiting for an auto-sensing hub so I can plug a 10mbit device into our 100mbit network. A month ago, I had worked every day for four weeks straight, slept in the office three nights in one week and clocked a record 116 hours in a 7-day period. Now that project's over and I'm back to staring blankly at slashdot, k5, memepool, etc...

ToiletDuk@fishdot.org (Protector of the Wastes)
[ Parent ]

I thought I was the only one (3.25 / 4) (#17)
by balls001 on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 11:23:04 AM EST

I work for a very successful internet company, and they pay me a very nice salary. However, they haven't really given me much work (barely any, to be honest) since I've started.

And plus, since space is limited, I ended up in an area mostly occupied by customer support and billing agents.. So these people get paid nothing compared to me, have piles of work all day long, and I sit around and read K5 all day while making double their wages.

Despite all this, I don't feel the slightest bit of guilt. Yes, my friends say I'm heartless and cruel, but that has little to do with it. I've made it very clear that I want piles of work, I want responsibilities, I want to be challenged and I want the opportunity to move up. I talk with my manager but mostly with the director of development about this. So now, everyone is clear that the only reason I'm not working is because I don't HAVE work, and the whole reason I am here is to work.

Make them aware you need to be challenged, and you want to further your career at your company. They will appreciate this, and even if they don't actively try to give you more opportunities to do so, at least they'll know it's not your fault you're not working.

And once you've done that, go back to reading K5 all day =)

Paid to surf... (3.00 / 2) (#18)
by Jordan Block on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 12:52:23 PM EST

I'm the NetAdmin for a fairly successful .com, and there are certainly times where it seems I'm paid to surf.

When there aren't any support calls to take, and the servers are all actually running, there really isn't a lot for me to do, so I'm basically paid to surf, shoot pool, or play some pinball.

Honestly, I used to feel kinda bad about it, but then I realized that when there is trouble, I'm the one who's here till all hours of the morning, or driving out to the server farm, or countless other things. I've realized that while there are times when I do nothing, there are also times of total stress that I have to deal with, and I feel that it balances out pretty well.

Plus I help out the development team (I was the lead programmer before somehow ending up doing netadmin), so all in all I do more than I'm paid for anyway.

What I'm trying to say is, don't feel bad if it seems like you're paid to surf. So what you're supposed to, and if you have free time or anything, help out with odd jobs around the office or something, I'm sure people will appreciate it.

True but... (none / 0) (#21)
by ChannelX on Sat Dec 23, 2000 at 12:56:30 AM EST

...there are always those folks that work with you who resent the fact of what you just mentioned. My job is pretty much the same and I can't tell you how many dirty looks or cracks I get about reading magazines, etc. OTOH I don't take 10 10-minute smoke breaks like half the company and I'm also required to be on-call pretty much 24-hours in case something goes wrong anytime but when I'm on vacation. The always forget those pesky facts tho ;)

[ Parent ]
Employment contracts (3.25 / 4) (#20)
by jesterzog on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 03:04:36 PM EST

One of the most visible things about employment contracts is that they bind you to a company to do work for them. In most places though, it also goes the other way. As long as you have a contract, the company is required to provide work for you (if you want it).

The point of this is usually more obvious with professions like acting, for example. A studio can't hire someone on a contract just to sweep them under the rug and prevent them from working for anyone else. They have to provide work, because a person's career revolves around having work and being seen doing it.

There's probably a similar situation in IT, because often it is more difficult to keep up with current events without being involved in them.

Without knowing how your contract is laid out, have you tried asking for some more work to do?

jesterzog Fight the light

I was in a similar situation (2.00 / 2) (#22)
by autarch on Sat Dec 23, 2000 at 01:08:38 AM EST

My first job out of grad school was doing tech support internally for a mid-size insurance company. By and large, they treated us quite well, and both of my supervisors were very cool. My cow-orkers on the support line ranged from almost as good as me to brain-damaged slackers (they only picked up calls when the queue light was blinking). I literally took twice as many calls as anyone else on average. However, when it was quiet there still wasn't much for me to do.

I convinced them to give me the Lotus Notes development version and worked on some cute little forms for our department. Then I decided to try to write a majordomo approval/rejection web-based app (never quite finished) and I learned Perl.

Eventually I left the job out of boredom and got a Perl programming job.

I'm really not sure what my point is though. My solution to a dull job was just to read a lot of tech books (I read multiple Perl books, C, C++, MCSE, and other stuff). It paid off. Now I do consulting work, working from home, on reasonable interesting stuff.


Too Much Work Ethic? | 22 comments (20 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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