After going to my dad's office a few times when I was a kid, I used to wonder how much he cost his company by discussing the weather with his customers, suppliers and associates around the country.
It was a sizable amount for those days, I'm sure, because he was definitely a weather freak. I don't think he'd have dreamed, however, of putting a purely personal call on the company tab.
Of course, that was before the Age of WATS Lines.
Nowadays, our employers' costs for small talk during business calls are insignificant compared with the price of our chats with Aunt Minnie and Friend Joe and the reservations clerk at that favorite motel at the beach.
Regardless of the various rate structures of WATS lines and other commercial long-distance services, most of us prefer to view them as a fixed-cost expense--like rent. So why not take advantage of them, right?
In self-defense, an employer can limit the number of phones with access to a WATS line or whatever . . . or get printouts showing every long-distance call from every phone, install a system requiring special codes . . . or all of the above.
But the effectiveness of these measures ranges from moderate to nil.
Some supervisors choose to overlook all but the most flagrant violations. Many don't care to undertake all the policing that's needed in order to sort out business calls from personal ones.
And even the most fanatical enforcers are frustrated to some extent by what I call the "WATS line waltz."
It's a dance without partners, and the tempo increases at lunchtime and after hours. The performers glide, as imperceptibly as possible, to other people's phones--and then place their long-distance calls.
I'm not implying that these waltzers are in the majority, and I certainly don't mean that no one is free from sin. But why do some company operators sound shocked when you charge a call to your home phone? I suspect it's the novelty of it.
My own virtue, I confess, has fluctuated, but I envision myself as better than average. I've never joined in the waltz. And even in my frailest moments I have drawn at least one other fine moral distinction.
I've never stuck an employer for my job-hunting calls.