Question: If you have an employee, who steps away too many times from the desk for snacks and bathroom breaks, how would you suggest to address this matter? How many times is too many?


I have two ways to go about answering this question for you. First part is a management answer and then the second is a legal answer. 

If you are questioning how many times your team members are getting up to go use the restroom or take breaks, then do you feel that you fully know what your employees are doing?

The question should not be necessarily focused on how many times they get up, as much as what they are doing when they take all these breaks or what they are not completing during their day that is part of their job responsibilities. It seems to me that the bigger issue is that you are not happy with their work performance, you question what they are doing when they are up or you have possibly talked to them about this already and it is not improving. For this answer, it is my suggestion that you need to have a real discussion with either the one person or the team about your concern, set some ground rules and then follow through with them. For example, there needs to be a clear outline of what they need to be doing during the day in order to do their job completely, that breaks are fine to take but are not to be used to check social media or do other things that are not approved unless on an approved break and then you need to follow through on what will happen if it continues. That is probably where I see the ball getting dropped with most owners and managers as well. If you lay out your expectations, make sure they fully understand and can do what is expected of them, and then when they don’t, nothing happens, they will no longer take these conversations seriously. It will be empty threats, which is why you will not see things changing with habits that you are trying to correct. Even worse, if you have one employee that is the problem and you don’t address it appropriately, then others on the team see that, which results in the entire team watching you allow these actions to continue.  

Which leads me to my second part of the answer, legal. I am not an HR or legal specialist, so I suggest that you work with someone who is trained in this area, but I can tell you that much of the follow through on your part will need to be in this area.

You will want to make sure that you have a written out policy or handbook on what employees are allowed for their breaks throughout the day according to your state law. You will want it clearly spelled out and then make sure that the person or team understands the policy and knows that they have to abide by it. The next part is enforcing it. If you truly want to change the behavior, you will need to explain the why to them, make sure they understand, give them the tools they need to be successful, but if they continue to violate the policy, then it could lead to getting written up and eventually the loss of their job. I am hoping, of course, that it does not come to that but they need to know that could be the outcome if they do not follow what is required in your office.