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Time Theft in the Workplace

When we think about theft, we often think of a person stealing something tangible, like a car, authentic jewelry, or money in the form of cash. To us, thievery is wrong, unethical, and completely unjust.

When we think about theft, we certainly don’t think of time theft, which is actually a form of theft some (maybe most) of us are guilty of. As wrong as thievery is, what if we are actually guilty of committing it ourselves?

What is time theft?

Why is it bad and how might you be doing it? These are all really important questions to ask when the topic of time theft in the workplace surfaces.

Time theft occurs when an employee accepts pay for time that s/he did not put into their work. When an employee collects a paycheck for a forty-hour workweek, but actually only truly worked thirty of those forty hours, said employee has committed time theft.

In short, if an employee is not completing the amount of work necessary during their shifts that they are being paid for, they are essentially stealing time from the company.

Here are some examples of time theft that you might be committing that are considered stealing time:

1. Altering your time in/out without reporting it.

Do you tend to arrive ten minutes late to work and leave ten minutes early every day? If you’re contracted to work specified hours, you need to stick to the hours you and your employer agreed to.

It doesn’t matter if you are an hourly employee or a salary employee. Twenty minutes per day equates to almost two hours per week and nearly seven hours per month of time that you’re “stealing” from the company. This is time that you’re being paid for that you did not actually work.

Be mindful of when you arrive late and/or leave early. Make sure you’re compensating for missed time by using benefit time (e.g. sick time, vacation time, personal time, etc.) or make up for it by working late.

[Tweet=”Do you know what time theft in the workplace is? We’ve all been guilty of it.” quote=”Do you know what time theft in the workplace is? We’ve all been guilty of it.”]

2. Long lunches and extended breaks.

It’s easy to get away with long breaks during the day, especially if you eat lunch with your work BFF, and you want to vent about your work day. However, these extra long lunches and extended breaks can really catch up with you.

People will notice if you’re gone longer than your authorized thirty minute or sixty minute lunch break. They will be aware that you’re going for long walks, extended smoke breaks, or extra long bathroom trips that you haven’t been authorized to take.

Be sure you’re sticking to your guaranteed break time so that you do not abuse the company policy. It’s unfair to steal time from the company because you want to take an extra long lunch without permission.

3. Internet surfing.

While the Internet is at many times an amazing resource, it can also be an amazing waste of time. If you find yourself scrolling through your social media platforms, watching cat videos, messaging your cyber friends, and/or taking Buzzfeed quizzes, chances are high that you’re not spending your work time wisely.

If you are really that bored at work, it might be time for you to ask for more responsibility from your boss, or find a new job if your current career is not stimulating or challenging you mentally. when  you catch yourself Internet surfing while you’re on the clock, stop. You shouldn’t be paid to watch cat videos, no matter how funny or adorable they are.

4. Unauthorized socializing. 

The temptation to goof off with coworkers may seem all too great sometimes, but it really is a form of time theft when you socialize during your work day. A quick greeting or brief conversation about your colleague’s weekend is one thing, but it’s entirely inappropriate if forty-five minutes have passed by before you return to your desk.

Unauthorized socializing and goofing off are forms of time theft. You’re stealing time from the company by playing around when you should be working. If you really want to spend time with your colleagues, meet up for happy hour after five o’clock.

5. Misusing paid leave.

While no one can really prove if you misuse your company paid leave (unless you share a social media photo post of yourself partying after you called out of work for being “sick”), it still is a form of time theft. Using paid sick time, vacation hours, or personal time improperly is abusing the paid leave your company offers.

Be mindful of why you’re taking leave time. Using paid time off for a mental health day is a great use of paid leave. However, calling out sick to avoid a big meeting at work or because you went to a concert the night before and want to sleep in really is time theft. Watch out for these habits.

6. Excessive personal time.

A major culprit of time theft is when you take extended time for yourself in the workplace. If you find yourself making and accepting personal phone calls, texting, visiting with family or friends who surprise you at work, etc. then you are stealing time from the company.

Work is not the place where you book appointments, call your s/o, chitchat with your mom, or plan your dinner menu with your kids. Work is work.

You need to minimize personal time, unless there is a true emergency. Not only is excessive personal time a form of time theft; it’s also plain rude. Your coworkers sitting near you don’t want to hear your personal conversations. Keep the personal time minimal.

Time theft in the workplace is serious. While it doesn’t seem as horrifying as robbing a bank or hijacking someone’s car, it’s a form of theft all the same. Getting paid for money you didn’t truly earn is stealing from your company.

Make sure that you are not performing these acts of time theft. Some of these examples may not seem all too serious, but when you add them all up, you can actually see how you may have robbed hours of time from the company by goofing off, taking long lunch breaks, making personal calls, surfing the Internet, etc. all while getting paid. Take time theft seriously; it’s likely that your company does.

Are you guilty of committing time theft? If so, how? Do you work with people who commit time theft? Share your thoughts about this topic in the comments!

About the Author

Rachael Warren (Tulipano)

Rachael is a University of Southern Maine graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Sociology. She remotely works full-time as a Senior Content Marketing Specialist for Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. In her leisure time, Rachael enjoys traveling with her husband, finding the next Netflix series to binge, and taking too many photos of her dogs Jax and Kai. Rachael is obsessed with chapstick, favors the Oxford comma, and is a proud Mainer. You'll likely find her exploring New England + beyond.

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