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I used to be a Senior Software Engineer at another company but recently I took a lower level 2 position at another company remotely. I am very good at what I do. I can usually take a well groomed agile story in any tech stack and complete it way ahead of schedule. The company always praises me for this.

But the truth is they cannot keep me busy. I know I can help out else where but my output is already so very high, especially compared to everyone else.

So instead I just sit around all day playing video games while I wait for my next work assignment. This can sometimes be days or even a week. I don't go looking for it. I have so much free time on hands that I am seriously considering getting a 2nd full time software engineering job remotely and doing this all over again.

No one is the wiser.

Does this make a bad person or employee?

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    Why not use the time to write a book or learn a new skill? Why play video games all day? I have a buddy who's retired and relatively wealthy. He spends all day playing video games. I truly don't get it. Nobody on their deathbed ever said, "I wish I'd spent more time playing video games."
    – user4894
    May 22 at 20:39
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    @user4894 Do you know anybody that said on their deathbed "I wish I'd have spent more time writing a book or learn new skills."? Different people enjoy different things. Some like to play video games, others like to rant about it on SE in comments just for the sake of it apparently. How is it even relevant to the question? I assume OP grooming horses as a time waster would be okay for you?
    – Num Lock
    May 23 at 6:45
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    @user4894 why don’t they? What do they say? Video games are fun 🤷‍♂️
    – Tim
    May 23 at 8:44
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    @user4894 I'm not on my deathbed yet, but there have been plenty of times when I've wished I had been playing video games instead.
    – Džuris
    May 23 at 11:06
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    There is an SE site for work: workplace.stackexchange.com. They give good info on typical work problems, but those aren't always ethical answers. Then again, the ethics around reciprocation are pretty watery. If it makes you feel bad, that's always bad.
    – 10479
    May 23 at 14:23

6 Answers 6

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It seems to me that you get paid for the results you produce, not the work you do, so I don't see why this is any kind of moral issue. If your employer is satisfied with your work, and hasn't yet taken advantage of your full capacity... What of it? Play video games, go to the beach, go out on dates, get another job, take up ballroom dancing, whatever. As long as you give the employer what it wants, your due diligence is fulfilled.

This is not an attitude that's going to allow you to advance in this company, if that's a goal of yours. If you have these skills you could work your way up the corporate ladder quickly, but that's not to everyone's tastes. If you feel bad about not putting out your full efforts that's a different issue, and you might want to look for something that challenges and interests you more, or maybe use your free time to start some new project of your own. But you are not cheating the company by not giving them more of your time and effort than necessary.

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The simplest way for you to answer for yourself is to ask yourself what you would expect of others if you hired them to work for you and they acted in that way towards you as an employer.

It would seem like in your situation as a remote worker, there is a moral duty to communicate to your employer that you have finished all assignments and are unoccupied during hours that the employer is paying you to work for them. If you do not communicate that, you are failing at this duty. Your employer could check in your busyness every hour however to ensure they get the maximum out of your employment, but if they don't, it does not release you of your duty.

Your moral failure is not that you deliver less than expected, or less than asked, or less than possible. It's just that you promised to provide your work potential for the benefit of an enterprise certain hours per week, but then you don't. You have potential left, but are withholding it.

That you can deliver more or faster than equally payed colleagues at the same time does not release you from the promise you gave.

If you declare yourself as available for more work, yet your employer does not give you assignments, then it's viable for you to do anything that does not conflict with your main job. But morally you are obliged to provide the information of your availability in cases when the employer cannot easily tell whether you are busy or not.

Some work arrangements can pay people to be on "stand-by" for hours, not working fully, and that could also be done in your case, which can involve explicit permission for you to do other activities including earning money as long as this does not impact your ability to deliver when required by your primary job. Some companies explicitly allow this.

Does this make a bad person or employee?

Bad actions don't shape people into anything. Others might judge you that way, and you might judge yourself that way one day. But a judgement is not a fact but an opinion.

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    +1 Although I would like to note that the last sentence is playing a bit with definitions. "A bad person" is in natural language simply "a person who does bad stuff". May 23 at 5:31
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    As this is a philosophical forum, we can require more precise language.
    – tkruse
    May 23 at 5:36
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I feel like Ted has offered you a legalistic answer. In philosophy, we should look to the ethics, to conscience.

See this post for a selection of discussions about philosophy of work: References regarding pragmatic views of philosophy of worklife

Fundamentally, it depends on your own ethical framework, what behaviour will be consistent with your other beliefs. What is it? What moral guidance, principles, or teachings do you look to, to guide your behaviour?

Aristotle looked to eudaimonia, best translated I think as 'human flourishing'. His picture is that each organism is working towards a state of achieving it's telos, it's inner goal-directed purposes. That means for a human, using your capabilities, serving your community, and probably reproducing if you can and feel you would be a good parent. More here: When is happiness enough? I feel Aristole has a deeper perspective than Darwin, because he is not only considering whether replicators can replicate, but whether they want to, whether they are flourishing - that replication is a natural response to that, which we should seek, and if flourishing is not achieved or achievable, perhaps we would not want to inflict our condition on future people.

Buddhist thought focuses on 'Right Livelihood', as one of the branches of The Eightfold Path, which together are the Fourth Noble Truth, at the core of Buddhist practice. So, the Buddhist concern would be about what companies you work for, and their impacts on the world, in relation to alleviating or causing suffering.

Sartre would focus on whether you are acting in bad faith, on behalf of self-deception and ressentiment. The core of this is whether you are denying your intrinsic freedom to act, and of conscience. If you are truly choosing this work situation, fine. But if you are in it because you feel you have to be, or circumstances pushed you there or forced you to stay, that is denying the ability you have to act in tune with your conscience, and in true knowledge of who you are. Existentialism Is A Humanism is a short very readable work, in which a character considers whether he should go and be a freedom fighter. I highly recommend it in regard to your quandary.

Camus is relevant, especially his work L'Etranger, 'the outsider'. In it he considers as I see it, how the qualities of someone truly liberated to act in alignment with their conscience are not manifested by the acts, but by their willingness to face the consequences of them whatever they are, and however unforeseen. When we truly act in alignment with our conscience, our understanding of who we are, we minimise regret.

It is important I think to consider wisdom, and the wise course of action. Discussed here: Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises? The TLDR of my view is, that wisdom is the strategy of avoiding short-term and contradictory behaviours, and 'about how we apply knowledge, and avoid compulsive behaviour of all kinds, through actions which come from the integrated centre of our concerns', a place we can only come to understand through an active dynamic practice of reflection and renewal of self knowledge. So, what is the wise thing to do, for you?

In The Dhammapada, an ancient collection of sayings of the Buddha at the centre of Buddhist thought, this is verse 6 of the opening section:

"There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels."

I would advocate considering this in regard to your situation. Life is short. Don't wait until your final moments to recognise that you had deep wishes, or authentic goals, which you did not achieve. You don't have to be just a 'super cog' in someone else's machine, because that's lucrative. You have a remarkable opportunity, income security, and free time. What those humans lucky enough to have that do with the luxury, has defined the past and will define the future of our species. What could you learn? What could you build? How might you improve the lot of the humans that matter to you? Go deep, look inward, Know thyself. And the answer will well up in you, as clear as spring water.

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From a realistic point of view, most people would simply continue to do what you are doing. The situation you found yourself in just comes with so many advantages that to forfeit them would not be a thought that many would even come up with, much less genuinely entertain.

However, from a philosophical point of view, I don't think that you are necessarily in the wrong here either.

On a basic level, the situation described could be viewed like this:

Your employer wants you to get X done and gives you Y amount of time.

The time given could be viewed as currency per hour. So the task could be directly translated into the company paying you a set sum of money to complete the assignment given. As long as you fulfill your responsibilities, the company got their moneys worth out of it and the respective expectations have been met. If viewed like this in a bubble, it wouldn't be particullarly questionable. However, this would require that the time needed for the tasks are always accurately esstimated which is rather difficult to do when it comes to software development. A few other things also have to be assumed to be true for this to not be ethically problematic.

If the company doesn't view you as someone they commission to do work but rather view you like this:

The employer buys your time and can delegate any task towards you with the time bought.

In this case, the company would be having capacitys available to them that you would knowingly withhold. This would be in most cases ethically problematic.

In any case, for the situation to be not ethically questionable, a lot of different variables have to be true in addition to your employer viewing your employment to be no different than outsourcing the work for a set sum.

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I'm reading between the lines here a bit, but I've been in a similar situation and I think what you're really asking is if it's ethical to log 8 hours a day on your time card, knowing that you spent some or all of that time not actually doing work. That is, if you were a contractor and not a salaried employee, you could have logged, say, 12 hours for the whole week and that would have been accurate, but instead you logged 40.

I think you can simply write it off as a "retention fee". The company is really paying you 8 hours a day so that you are available when they need you. They may not always need you, but they pay you anyway so that they have access to you. If you were an hour-by-hour contractor, they might not have you available when they need you so the salary is really money out of their pocket to keep you highly available.

On the other hand, if there is a backlog of issues that you could be pulling from, and you aren't, then that's kind of an ethical quandary. In that case, there is more work to do, they are paying you to work, you aren't doing it, and they may not realize they can assign you more. I would suck it up and fish around in the backlog for items to take, in that case. You can probably use that leverage to ask them for more vacation or a big pay raise come review time because you can point out how much more work you're actually doing, and doing well.

If there's nothing else in the backlog and you are doing all there is to do then I see no ethical quandary at all. It's rare for any company to get hiring exactly right. If they have enough work for 1.5 people then either they hire 2 people who don't have enough work or they hire 1 person and some work gets dropped on the floor.

I think it would be unethical to take a second job, though, because then you're setting yourself up for a sticky situation if both jobs suddenly jump up in demand. The salary is saying you're available but you're double booking.

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See if this fits for you:
Everyone has a duty to contribute what they are able, because we all rely on each other. If your current situation is not allowing you to contribute fully, it would be better for everyone if you change your situation. And purely selfishly, you should optimize your opportunities to flourish.

So regardless how you look at it, you need to change what you are doing.

"Archaic Torso of Apollo"
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Stephen Mitchell

"We cannot know his legendary head with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, gleams in all its power.
"Otherwise the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could a smile run through the placid hips and thighs to that dark center where procreation flared.
"Otherwise this stone would seem defaced beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:
"would not, from all the borders of itself, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life."

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    "You have not grown old, And it is not too late to dive Into your increasing depths where life Calmly gives out its own secret."
    – CriglCragl
    May 22 at 23:28
  • @CriglCragl Thank you. Probably a poem wouldn't reach someone who plays video games, but it is one of the historical forms of philosophical argument, I thought the last line might be that "cold slap on the face." Thanks. I needed that.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 23 at 9:54
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    @ScottRowe "Probably a poem wouldn't reach someone who plays video games, ..." I guess it must feel nice to be able to low key insult the inteligence and ethics of other human beings who enjoy to spend some of their time playing video games.
    – Squary94
    May 23 at 12:58

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