Updated on 11.27.11

Some Thoughts on Careers and Cyber Monday

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, I was chatting with someone who was telling me how he only shopped for Black Friday sales online. He didn’t like to go out to the stores, and I completely agreed with him.

After that, the conversation switched to Cyber Monday, and he told me of the long checklist of websites that he checks on that day. He talked about how the guys in his office spent a lot of the day emailing those deals to each other.

When I heard about that, I grew quiet. It seemed to me that a lot of people were burning their day hunting down a deal or two. The people he had described were in an office, meaning they were at work, and they were emailing lots of deals to each other, meaning they were spending a lot of time online finding those deals and emailing them to each other.

I’m the last person to say that it’s bad and horrible to spend some of your time doing that. If you work in an office environment with an uneven work flow, you’re going to find yourself with pockets of time without anything immediate to do, and it’s up to you to decide how to use that time. A lot of people end up web surfing during that time.

Here’s the thing, though: people who figure out how to use that time more effectively at work are going to build up their career.

Think about it this way. Alan spends Cyber Monday at work surfing the web looking for deals. He finds a $20 bargain on something he was going to buy for his kids for Christmas and a couple $5 or $10 bargains for things for himself. A few work tasks back up, but nothing big. His office is a bit messy and some paperwork needs filed, but it can wait.

Bill spends Cyber Monday at work getting his filing done and handling emails from the long weekend. He gets the things in his inbox done. At the end of the day, he does have a few extra minutes to look for bargains, but he mostly just looks through the emails for the bargains coworkers have sent out. He does some Cyber Monday searching in the evening at home, too.

On Tuesday, a huge project comes down the pipe, one that, if done correctly and with quality, will catch the eye of the boss. Who’s going to be more prepared to just knock that project out of the park, Alan or Bill?

If you want to have job stability and earn raises and promotions, look at your actions from the perspective of your employer. Is the thing you’re doing right now creating a positive value for your employer? If it’s not, why should they continue to employ you?

Here’s the key thing to always remember: employers are always going to want to hang on to people who provide a positive value for their business. Most of the people who are “downsized” are either filling a position that isn’t providing that positive value or aren’t producing enough work in that position to be a positive value for the company.

If you want job stability and raises and promotions, you need to focus on making sure that the company is getting more value out of you than they’re paying you. If you’re not doing that, you might as well start spending your time building a side business or looking for a different job.

If you’re reading this late on Cyber Monday at work, as many of you will be, you have a fundamental choice to make.

You can spend the rest of the day surfing the web, hunting down deals on things you don’t really need, and providing little or no value at work.

On the other hand, you can spend the rest of the day taking care of some unfinished things, providing some real value to your employer.

One route might be more enjoyable, but the other one helps you build a more valuable and more secure long-term future.

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  1. Katie says:

    Alan is building social connections and bonding with his co-workers. He may very well be more primed to work with the people he needs to to knock Tuesday’s big project out of the park than Bill is.

    More broadly, this stuff is office specific, but a lot of offices have these occasional bonding rituals that sound silly from the outside but which everyone gets really invested in. At a friend’s high-powered law firm, for instance, they’re absolutely obsessed with March Madness. These are absolutely not slackers of any sort, but all sorts of work time gets eaten up with it. I don’t work there, but I’m betting people who participate ultimately are in a better position with the team than people who don’t.

  2. Vanessa says:

    You forgot about Jane, who is able to check all the Cyber Monday deals she wants, AND still gets her work done. She is prepared for the big project and has saved her family a lot of money. Jane has saved her family money because she got good deals. This gives her more confidence at work because she will not have to worry about how to pay the bills when they come. Jane’s full attention can be spent on the big project and she ends up doing a better job than Bill or Alan ever could. And those deals that Jane received through email? Came from her boss. :-)

  3. Maureen says:

    I agree with Katie. Alan is establishing himself as part of a hive that can share the labour in bargain hunting or tackling the next big project. Management may well consider this a ‘team building’ exercise.

  4. lurker carl says:

    Many businesses monitor web traffic. ‘Nuff said.

  5. Mary says:

    Many businesses also block web access. Enough said.

  6. Tracy says:

    “On Tuesday, a huge project comes down the pipe, one that, if done correctly and with quality, will catch the eye of the boss. Who’s going to be more prepared to just knock that project out of the park, Alan or Bill?”

    Solution: Trent has not given us enough information to correctly answer this question. Alan and Bill’s handling of routine tasks have absolutely no bearing on how well they’ll manage a huge project.

    Plus, as Katie and Maureen said, if this is part of your friend’s office culture, it’s obviously not frowned upon. I used to work in a huge March Madness-focused company – to the point where *everybody* who got promoted beyond a certain level participated. If you didn’t participate, you didn’t get promoted.

    Not to mention, your friend’s office sounds like pretty perfect crowd sourcing. Instead of everybody checking all the sites, each person checks a few sites and everybody knows where to get the best deals AND get their work done.

    ” Most of the people who are “downsized” are either filling a position that isn’t providing that positive value or aren’t producing enough work in that position to be a positive value for the company.”

    Which usually has absolutely zero bearing on something like CyberMonday. In a downsizing situation (why the quotes?) both Alan and Bill are BOTH probably gone, because their entire department is.

  7. Eileen says:

    I agree – as an employer, I would be completely short sighted to view the world this way. Positive value in an office environment doesn’t depend on the 9 to 5 grind – this is a very 1950s view of the workplace. And career progress depends much more on how likeable you are than how competent and organised you are (after a point, obviously). So rock on with the Cyber Monday surfing, I say :)

  8. Jennifer says:

    I think I agree with Trent on this one. He isn’t saying not to participate at all, just that you shouldn’t be doing so to the exclusion of your actual workplace duties. Both employees got some time to bargain hunt, but one of them also took care of his work responsibilities as well.

  9. Gretchen says:

    Most of the people who are “downsized” are either filling a position that isn’t providing that positive value or aren’t producing enough work in that position to be a positive value for the company.


  10. Johanna says:

    If Alan’s Cyber Monday surfing means he’s gotten most or all of his Christmas shopping done, then he’ll have one less thing on his mind come Tuesday, and he’ll be that much more able to focus on that big project he’s hit with.

  11. Steven says:

    No wonder Trent hated his job. He doesn’t know how to relax.

  12. deRuiter says:

    Workers who surf the web for themselves, cyber shop, on company time, are stealing from their boss and their company. Companies do monitor web sites, and when the time coms to downsize, I’d pick those who waste precious office time with their personal computer surfing and shopping. Cyber shop and surf the web on your own time. There is ALWAYS something which can be done if an employee finishes his / her allotted work.

  13. Riki says:

    Actually, I believe there has been research that supports that a project-driven (these are your tasks, you decide how to get them done) is a much happier and more productive workplace overall. Spending a few minutes socializing or surfing cyber-Monday deals can actually contribute to a workplace community that is much more effective in the long run. I agree with Eileen that this view that employees must have their nose to the grindstone for every single minute (or else they are stealing from the company, etc) is very paternalistic and short-sighted.

    Here’s a different example from my experience doing some expensive private tutoring:

    When I’m working with a student for a 45 minute block of time, it is often much more productive to take the first 5 (or even 10 minutes) for some rapport-building. Even though it means we’re not working for every. single. minute. the parent is paying for, in the end we generally get through significantly MORE work if I hadn’t taken the time to build a good relationship. The tutoring is much more effective with a rapport than without, even if it takes time from “learning” to build that rapport.

    Trent, this article is filled with judgment and old-fashioned ideas about working in an office. No wonder you hated your old job.

  14. pam says:

    As someone who has been a headhunter for almost 20 years, I totally agree with Trent on this.

    Although there are always exceptions, in most cases those who are laid off are not viewed as top performers.

    It’s one thing to do a little Cyber shopping on your lunch break, or for a minute here or there throughout the day. But, to spend more time than that shopping online IS stealing from your employer. It just is. You’re not being paid to shop.

    People who are promoted or kept on when others are downsized, are generally adding value. Bottomline is you are either making money for the company or you are not.

    Time and time again, in all kinds of industries I’ve seen people promoted quickly and consistently and they’ve almost always had one thing in common….they work harder and smarter and they get more done. They add more value.

  15. David says:

    If your boss gives you a big project to do at the beginning of December, your boss is an idiot and you should quit.

  16. marta says:

    I haven’t worked for an employer in well over a decade, but I have to agree with the others that you don’t have to work every single minute of the day and that a healthy office environment matters a lot.

    As for Trent hating his old job, that seems to vary depending on whatever the post is about. On his book blurb it says that he couldn’t stand the job, here I have seen some posts stating that he loved the job, just not the travel aspect of it, yadda yadda.

  17. Katie says:

    As to the “stealing” question, different jobs are different. A lot of us work significant, uncompensated overtime. Taking one day a year to do some non-work related bonding with co-workers isn’t exactly dropping our hours below a reasonable amount. (Speaking hypothetically – I’m not the person who talked to Trent nor does my workplace make a big thing of Cyber Monday.)

  18. Katie says:

    Oh, I’ll add, there’s another issue, which is burnout. Plenty of companies are happy to work their people into the ground, certainly. But wise ones recognize that happy employees who are engaged with their colleagues are likely to last a big longer and ultimately add more value over time. Obviously, you have to know your company before acting accordingly, but if people are wondering why any employer would tolerate employees shopping at work, this is part of why.

  19. valleycat1 says:

    This post is confusing and unfocused. Trent posts this early in the afternoon on CyberMonday, yet sets up the post by saying he talked a few days ago with a friend about what his office did on CyberMonday.

    Then, Trent raises multiple issues in the examples & discussion – people surfing for deals during work hours (both during otherwise down time and in lieu of working on projects); the implication that not having done one’s filing means you aren’t able to work effectively the following day; who is apt to be promoted first; and who the boss would decide to lay off first.

    If you just scan the article quickly & read the highlights, his point is one that’s obvious to [almost] anyone who’s ever held a job. The rest of the article, more of a scattershot approach.

  20. As someone who has worked in big and small offices/companies alike, I can tell you that with some exception, usually having to do with job function, most employers have no idea what their employees are actually getting up to on a daily basis. It’s sad, but true. And they may try to lock down computers but without a smart program to do it or removing internet access completely, the employees are usually always ahead of the curve and will find the sites they aren’t blocking!

    You can work and still have time to surf Cyber Monday. As for the ones getting fired, let’s face it – there are also going to be employees who’s work styles (habits) simply don’t allow for that kind of distraction. I have definitely been one of those folks! We tend to sit around and negatively talk about how so-and-so spends as much time as we do chatting or on the phone w/ someone not work-related, surfing internet sites, etc. but they get promoted and we don’t. We like to believe they aren’t getting their work done and it’s all favoritism and brown-nosing. Sometimes, it most definitely is. BUT there are also some people who have worked-out how to get their work done and then some and still have time to ‘play’.
    And yes. We hate those people. :-)

  21. jim says:

    Oh no! I’m at work right now. And I’m wasting my employers valuable time by reading this blog on the interweb. I guess my career is ruined!

  22. Steven says:

    @valleycat1: That’s because Trent never had this conversation…like many of the “conversations” he’s had with “people.” I tend to believe that he comes up with ideas for an article, then frames that idea into a scenario where he can prove his point.

    I could be wrong.

  23. I work as a copywriter for a travel company from 9 – 5:30 p.m. There is NO WAY anyone could write the same hotel texts over and over again continuously for all those hours. Everyone in my office takes time during the day to relax and surf the web, otherwise we’d have “burnout” as Katie says and our writing would take a turn for the worse.

    I spend several hours of my day surfing the web, and I’ve still been chastised by my boss for being “too productive”. Seriously. It’s not about working all day, it’s how much you can get done. If I can go above and beyond at my office and still have several hours leftover, what’s the problem?

  24. EarthMaMa_Jo says:

    “employers are always going to want to hang on to people who provide a positive value for their business”

    I wish that had been true for me. When I was laid off 8 years ago I was told that the decision had come down between me and one other person. That other person had far fewer skills than me, had a horrible attendance rate, horrible completion rate on projects (I was always handed her projects in the 11th hour to finish), and she made almost twice what I did. She was slated for the lay off until someone “brilliant” decided that even though I was the better employee to keep, I “have a better chance of finding a new job” than the other person. So, I was sent packing. That’s the last W-2 job I’ve had. Now I do W-9 work and am lucky if I make 1/4 of what I used to make.

    With decision making like that in a company, I wasn’t surprised to drive by the place 2 weeks ago and find it completely empty. It’s 1/2 a block from the day old bakery I buy bread from now.

    I’m friends with the COO. He said he wouldn’t be at all surprised that if I, and about a dozen other good employees that were all laid off, had been retained that branch would still be open.

    It seems to be a different “game” out there. I hear more and more about a “social game” being a big part of things, and I suck at that. I was raised that keeping my nose to the grindstone, doing my best each and every day, and blind loyalty were what would get me ahead.

    So, while I miss the paycheck I got for being a cube-dweller, I’m not so sure I’d survive in the environment anymore since what I offer no longer seems to be what employers “value”.

    Gotta go – will be spending the day looking for more new clients. I don’t get paid for that, but it’s the only way I can generate any income at all.

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