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Sometimes Employees Know How To Manage Themselves

, , , , , | Working | December 10, 2021

I work as a software engineer — AKA code monkey — for a contracting company. Programmers get a lot of flexibility in our work hours; so long as we get in forty hours a week and are available for a few hours midday for meetings/discussions, we can pretty much work whenever we want.

I take advantage of this by taking many non-productive breaks during the day to goof off online. I’m on one right now as I write this story. I use the stopwatch on my watch to track exactly how much time is spent on these breaks and always work later to compensate for the break time so I get in a full eight hours of productive work. For reference, my extra breaks usually add up to one or two hours over a day, so not a trivial amount of time.

I should also explain that my company contracts me to the government. That means I have two lines of bosses: the government manager and above who I am contracted to and work for daily, and my company management who, ironically, I see far less of.

One day, my company manager shows up and drags me into a room with some HR people for a talk.

HR Person: “[Important Government Guy not on our project] reported that he saw you looking at comics at work. Is that true?

Me: “Yes, I probably was. I take breaks during the day to do stuff online, but I don’t charge that time.”

HR Person: “But you are being paid to work, not spend time online.”

Me: “I’m not being paid to be online. I told you, I track that time and don’t charge it. Studies show that occasional breaks improve productivity, especially in more mental fields like programming, so if anything, the government is getting more work out of me by my taking breaks.”

HR Person: “But it’s against policy to use government systems for personal use.”

Me: “It’s only unauthorized personal use that is against policy. [Government Manager] knows I take unpaid breaks and doesn’t have a problem with it, so I would say it’s not unauthorized.”

Company Manager: “[Government Manager] knows you’re taking breaks online?”

Me: “Yes. I explained it all to him the first week here and got his approval before I started doing it. He doesn’t mind so long as I don’t charge it and I get my work done.”

HR Person: “It’s still timesheet fraud to not claim hours you’re at work.”

Me: “But I’m claiming eight hours of work and I do eight hours of work. My timesheet never says which hours I work, only that I did eight hours.”

HR Person: “If you’re in the building, you need to charge the hours.”

Me: “So, if I log off and walk out that door, I can get on my phone and play around all I want, but because I do the exact same thing sitting in this room, it’s somehow fraud?”

HR Person: “Just stop reading comics at work. It makes us look bad to the customer.”

Me: “It’s important for me! I have ADHD; I can’t always control when my mind wanders. If I can’t take breaks when distracted, I’ll still be distracted; I’ll just be charging the government for it and being unproductive.”

HR Person: “Everyone else has managed without playing games on the Internet. I’m sure you can, too.”

At this point, I’m honestly getting a bit flustered and upset. I know these goof-off breaks may seem trivial to most people, but they really do help me. The real reason has more to do with something called hyperfocus than how I explained it to the managers, not wanting to get into the nitty-gritty of ADHD, but the point is that it’s an effective strategy that helps me. I know from experience that I’m far less productive without my breaks and that, when that happens, I feel guilty for not being productive and try to make up by staying late, which just leads to burnout and a downward spiral of productivity in the long run that I want to avoid.  

In fact, this is important enough to me that the possibility of changing companies is already running through my head. Given the lack of programmers and certain qualifications I have, I know finding a new company won’t be hard. I can quit this moment and have a new job in two weeks without difficulty, quite possible with a higher salary. So, there isn’t that much tying me to my current company if they are going to make my life terrible.

Me: “But I know from experience that I do need them! I’m a far worse employee without them. I’m not charging it, [Government Manager] is fine with it, it’s not hurting anyone, and it’s important for me!”

HR Person: “It’s making us look bad to our customers.”

Luckily, I think my manager can hear the desperation in my voice because he steps in.

Manager: “Hold on. [My Name], have you been officially diagnosed with ADHD?”

Me: “Yes, since I was in first grade. I even keep some knock-off Ritalin at my desk in case I forget to take it at home.”

Manager: “Then, as I understand it, you would be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I’d say being allowed to take unpaid breaks at your desk would definitely qualify as reasonable accommodations, right, [HR Person]?”

The HR guy seems shocked at having his own rules thrown back at him like that.

HR Person: “Umm, possible, but we still need to do something about how he looks to our customers.”

Manager: “Let me verify with [Government Manager] that [My Name] has already talked to him about his breaks. If he’s fine with it, then before we ask [My Name] to change a system that works for him, why don’t you let me talk to [Important Government Guy] and explain why he is taking breaks and see if that satisfies him?”

I got excused from our little meeting shortly after that. Even more amazing, the important government guy that originally complained about my being on the Internet even spoke to me a bit later and basically apologized for leaping to conclusions and told me he didn’t have a problem so long as I didn’t charge the hours I was playing online.

Thanks to that manager, I stayed with the company for a bit over half a year longer, at which point I’d stayed long enough that it made sense to jump companies for the salary boost I’d get. Still, I appreciate my manager standing up for me and fixing the problem.

You Look Like Living Death

, , , , , , | Working | June 10, 2019

(I am a woman in my 30s, picking up a framed photo of the extended family.)

Store Employee: “Nice picture! Is it for a family party?”

Me: “Yes, actually! It’s the great grandfather’s 90th birthday.”

Store Employee: “Those are some good genes!”

Me: “They sure are! He is actually my husband’s grandfather, though.”

Store Employee: “So, he’ll be the one to bury you, then.”

Me: *confused pause* “I… guess… so?”

No, But There Is One In New York

, , , , | Right | February 26, 2019

(Our hotel has free unlimited international calls, but once a guest has called someone through the phone in their room, the number that is displayed on the receiving end is the hotel’s own number. Thus, it happens sometimes that people call our hotel after they have missed the initial call. One day, a man calls our hotel. I can tell that he is calling from a different country.)

Me: “[Hotel]; how may I help you?”

Caller: “Did you call me?”

Me: “Oh, no, sir. If one of our guests in the hotel calls you, you’ll see our number. Do you know of any friends or family that are visiting Jerusalem right now?”

Caller: “Jerusalem? No… Is that in Canada?”

Might Be Hiding A BB Gun

, , , , , , | Working | August 1, 2018

(I am in the military. I am temporarily assigned to another unit, which requires me to report to another base. As I am the only person from my unit going there, no transportation is provided, and since I don’t have a car, I am traveling by bus, with all my usual equipment. I get off the first bus outside of Jerusalem’s central bus station and head inside to catch the next one I need. This being Jerusalem, the security is tight. The following ensues at the entrance:)

Security Guard: *to me* “Sir, I need to inspect your bag.”

(I show him my military ID, which is usually enough to avoid the hassle. Not this time.)

Security Guard: “Sir, I still need to inspect your bag.”

(I look down at myself, then at my sports bag.)

Me: “So, let me get this straight… I’m in full military uniform, which you can see. I’m carrying an assault rifle on a sling, openly, which you can see. There are a couple of ammo mags hanging on my belt, which you can see. My full combat vest, a helmet, and several more mags are wrapped around the outside of my bag, which you can also clearly see. And with all this in plain view, you are suspicious of what I may have inside my bag?”

(Yes, he still made me open the bag.)

Now I Want One Of Those

, , , | Right | May 24, 2018

(I am sixteen years old, and I just moved from New York to South Carolina. I still have a heavy New York accent, and I’m a fast talker. I work in a restaurant with coupons for free souvenirs: a cup, a lighter or a koozie.)

Customer: *with heavy southern accent* “This coupon here says I get a free gift. What’s my free gift?”

Me: “A cup, a lighter, or a koozie.”

Customer: “What’s a cupalighter?”

Me: “No, a cup, a lighter, or a koozie.” *trying to speak slower*

Customer: “I know what you said; what’s a cupalighter?”

Me: “Sigh. A cup. OR a lighter. Or a koozie.”

Customer: “Oh! You ain’t from around here are you?”

Me: “No.”