Pop Culture Intervention

Pop Culture Intervention Advice: Is It Ethical To Watch TV At Work?

37 percent of people watch Netflix in the office.

At A Plus, we're addicted to pop culture, and Pop Culture Intervention brings that obsession to the soapbox. Through this series, we'll recommend what you should be watching, reading or listening to; explore how arts and entertainment affect us; and interpret the important messages contained within various works.

Now, more than ever, there's an abundance of TV shows and ways to watch them — it is the Golden Age of Television, after all. This era of "peak TV" has presented us with a unique predicament of whether or not it is ethical to watch television at work. So … is it? Let's explore this issue with a dose of Pop Culture Intervention Advice.


Studies show there were nearly 500 scripted television series in the U.S. in 2017 — 487 to be exact. The key word there is scripted, so there's no accounting for the seemingly infinite amount of unscripted, aka reality, television out there. When the heck is a TV lover supposed to take in all of their favorite shows? And, better yet, how do we resist doing so in the office — where we spend our 9-to-5 — when we have computers, tablets, and smartphones that let us watch our go-to shows with just one click?

A recent Netflix study found that 37 percent of people polled admitted to having watched the streaming site at work. This was found via a SurveyMonkey poll from last summer, which presented various TV-related questions to a worldwide pool of participants — with 1,600 Americans in the mix — balanced by age and gender. 

Other notable places people are watching Netflix are airplanes (44 percent of respondents), buses (40 percent of respondents), cars (34 percent of respondents), trains (31 percent of respondents), and public restrooms (12 percent of respondents). This, of course, is based on people willing to admit when and where they are watching TV. Some of these numbers could be and probably are higher than these figures.

Public transportation and even public restrooms are one thing, but it's the office that potentially raises red flags for bosses everywhere. As someone who personally covers film and TV for a living, it makes sense for me — and others like myself — to consume media as we chug along during working hours, but that's a unique situation. What about everyone else? Are there any hard-and-fast rules that make it OK or not?

The first thing you should think of is whether or not others will be distracted by what you're watching, should that be something you choose to do. If they are able to see it, maybe touch base with them to ensure that the visual stimulus won't avert their attention too much. If they're able to hear it, that's a whole other story. That sort of thing is most certainly going to detract from what they're trying to accomplish.

Now that you've got that out of the way, ask yourself if what you're watching is appropriate for the workplace. Cursing is fine, as long as others can't hear it. Nudity and sexual situations are almost strictly forbidden — the same goes for almost any public place here. And violence is probably cool as long as it's not too graphic. Use your own common sense to think about what is appropriate and make the best call.

This is my personal rule, but I don't watch anything I care about too much at work — that is something I save for when I'm luxuriating on the couch at home. This is because when I'm watching TV in the office, it's likely something I don't need to pay too much attention to. After all, it's probably best that you aren't sitting at your desk and staring at your screen completely wrapped up in a show because you are technically supposed to be working.

If the comedy is too deep, the action is too tense, the drama is too juicy, or the suspense is too riveting, it's probably not the best for viewing in the office. You want to make sure a quick glance every now and then is enough for you to enjoy what you're trying to watch. Beyond this being an important point to making TV watching appropriate for the workplace, it's important to preserving the show as well.

The last point to consider is whether or not watching TV at work is something that slows you down or keeps you from fulfilling your basic job requirements. This is a culmination of many of the points we've already discussed and should really be the most important thing to ask yourself in regards to binge-watching something at your desk. You want to make sure your productivity — and ability to perform tasks well — won't be negatively affected by an episode of whatever it is you might be enjoying.

In the end, perhaps the best thing to do is have an honest conversation with your boss. Let them know that you have taken all of these topics into consideration and will continue to be the great employee they've always known but that you would just like to spice up your workday a bit. Approaches to this issue are going to be different depending on the industry you're in, the office you work at, and the boss you have.

Cover image: Brayden George / Unsplash


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