Employees That Spend Too Much Time Online Are Stealing

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It’s called, "Time Theft," and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue.

There have been all kinds of shenanigans by lazy employees throughout the history of business (currently, I have the image of George Costanza napping under his desk from that infamous episode of Seinfeld). The concept of "time theft" includes everything from having someone else punch a timecard on your behalf to falsifying your attendance. It’s a huge issue. It’s a sad issue, but is this the same as when an employee is caught spending too much time online doing things that have nothing to do with work? Are they, in fact, stealing time from the company? Doesn’t it pain you to even think about this? Does this really happen? Are people so sad with their jobs (and their day-to-day lives) that they spend all day futzing around online instead of doing everything possible to make their work lives better?

Would you consider doing non-work related things online stealing from an employer?

In Friday’s issue of The Globe & Mail, there was an article titled, Does surfing the Internet at work qualify as ‘time theft’?. The crux of the article is about a government employee (for over 25 years) who was caught spending more than half of the work day surfing the Web (oh, and he had also downloaded more than 300 pieces of porn, too). He was fired and accused of "time theft," but the judge found him not guilty and had him reinstated (you need to read the article to get the full scope of why this decision was rendered). While I think companies need better provisions to know when employees are so dramatically taking advantage of their situation, it is an interesting thought: when you’re at work, you are expected to be working. If you’re spending your time doing everything else but your work and you’re still being compensated as if you are working, are you stealing from your employer?

You may not be stealing, but you are being stupid.

No one is going to be able to turn the tap off. If you start locking down and tracking people’s online usage, all they have to do is bring in their own laptop with an Internet stick, use a smartphone, bring in their iPad, etc… I’ve often said that blocking people from online usage won’t make them more effective, they’ll simply replace their online activities with other things (like longer lunches, smoking breaks, coffee runs, talking on the phone or whatever). You won’t be surprised to hear that I believe that majority of people are smart and want to do great work, so if you treat them like adults, they’ll behave like adults. That being said, every time I Blog about this, I get countless business owners telling me the opposite.

Be better.

It’s two very simple and easy words to remember. I used to say this to myself when I was an employee. I still say it to myself before I walk into our offices at Twist Image. My basic thought process is this: today is a new day. I’m walking into the office to start a new day. I have a choice. I can sulk and worry and fall prey to the politics that take place in every office or I can be better. I can do my best to be better than I was yesterday. I can do my best to be better in how I connect with our clients and our team members. With a spirit of "be better," it’s hard to just hang around, clock watch or surf the Web.

Time wasted is stealing time… maybe from your employer, but definitely from your own life.


  1. I can’t wait until the time comes when I can tell my grand kids about the days when I was paid by the hour as opposed to my productivity. If payment was tied into what I actually accomplished, I believe that this issue and ones like this would no longer exist.

  2. I’m REALLY agree with what Audley said. Cause we’re not paid to achieve, we’re paid to clock in.
    It’s true, I take pride in my work, and at least want to do better every day.. sometimes live is complicated and things don’t work that way but… you know.. there will be days I’ll work harder then others.. say like if there’s a big dead line.. and I have to kill myself over it.. after that.. dude.. cut me some slack you know?
    Also.. you know a lot of great ideas happen when you’re in the shower.. so if you do something that is in some way creative.. often times.. what you need to do is put down the thing you’re working on.. and do something else.. maybe go for a little walk… to give your unconscious a chance to process the problem, and get back to you.
    I think we need to be careful to not call this kinda of thing time stealing. And so I think.. it’s kind of.. not an easy line to draw

  3. This is why I bid by the job, not the hour. I’m irresponsible with my time, that’s not the client’s worry.
    Hour after hour of computer-based work gets dull without breaks. Even Seth Godin invariably writes me back immediately. If HE enjoys the diversion…
    But you can take it too far, I suppose.

  4. Hi Mitch
    In my part of the world (Denmark) it is a bit old-fashioned to look at time like that. No company have ever gotten 100% effective working time from their employees and they never will. The introduction of Internet access at work (I know 50% of ones time spent surfing is extreme) is a new source of distraction and before that employers were worried about their employees having private conversations on the phone.
    Decades ago when we were still building ships in Denmark the effectiveness of a shipyard worker could be expected to be approx. 50% – so what was the other 50% being spent on? I’m not sure, but smoking was probably a big part of it and I’m sure no one was crying “Time Theft†then.
    Today most companies (at least in Denmark) look at time in a more relative way and focus on task completion and not on how many hours a week you require to complete the task. A large part of Danish office workers have the option from time to time to work from home and studies show the they actually work more hours when working from home despite not having a boss looking over their shoulder.
    Trust your employees and delegate some responsibility to give them purpose and direction and they will more often than not deliver – They will behave like adults if you treat them like adults.

  5. There is a saying that goes “90% of the organizations sales are made by 10% of the sales force.” The reasons given for the poor performance of that 90% of the sales force is they make a big sale and get their commission. Then spend their time spending the commission. They don’t need to work when they have money.
    So dream on.

  6. Here is the thing, when companies stop trying to judge efficiency and effectiveness as it is attached to time, they will uncover ways to reengage their employees.
    There were many times when I was having to wait for something so I could do my job when I worked for others. When I was ahead and I had found ares that needed cleaning up I was told “to mind my own business”.
    Companies need to accept responsibility for their own inefficiencies instead of always laying the blame on employees.
    It does not exist if it did not come from the top down. How are companies setting their employees up for success and rewarding them when they uncover inadequacies internally?
    When you blame the messengers you train them to shut up and focus else where.

  7. If an employee can spend 50% of his or her time online and still get the job s/he was hired to do done, then management either isn’t doing its job of delegating effectively or has hired too many employees for that line of work. It takes a special business culture to encourage non-managerial employees to look for and do work beyond their job descriptions or pay scales. And it takes a special quality of manager to motivate and trust their employees to be self-starters.
    You have to remember that most employees come from an educational system that teaches them to take orders, not to challenge themselves beyond the teachers’ expectations.
    I think companies having problems with productivity need to ask themselves why employees have this extra time rather than whether being online is against company policy.
    The same argument applies to kids who spend too much time in front of the tv or computer. What are their parents doing to encourage more active engagement in school work, sports, house cleaning, cooking, an after-school job, playtime with friends, etc?

  8. Part of the “problem” if you want to call it such is society says we need to be at the office at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m.
    What if said employee is more productive as the sun sets? Why not enable that person to come in later and leave later?
    I held a short-term position last fall as a writer/editor in a public affairs office and the manager had no problem with my coming in when I felt like it and leaving when I felt like it, for she knew I was productive on the job. She also knew I could work from home and be equally productive, responding to queries and making phone calls.
    Employees will be less likely to steal time if employers give the benefit of doubt that work will be performed.

  9. I for one am much more productive when I can set my own hours.It’s what I love about not being an employee. Sure,I surf when I need a break from whatever I am working on, but I have no problem getting the job done. As a writer sometimes you just need a distraction to help you regain your focus 😉

  10. The working environment at Twist Image is likely more engaging and dynamic than that of most other corporations.
    I could be generalizing but I’ve heard time and again that because employees don’t have a stake in the success of a given company, they just can’t share the passion of the owners or top line executives who often have incentives to be more productive.
    I’m a business owner. I value my time and put much work into my company because it’s an investment in my future, that of my family, and my retirement portfolio. I can’t say that if I had a regular job I would steal time from my employer, but I likely wouldn’t consider a job that didn’t offer me a stake in the end game.
    And like Thomas says above: “Trust your employees and delegate some responsibility to give them purpose and direction and they will more often than not deliver – They will behave like adults if you treat them like adults.”
    People want and will be proud of what they do if they are respected. Sadly, this isn’t the case for the majority of employees on this side of the pond. In Europe, companies are often bound to offer solid benefits, which not only benefits the mental state of the workforce but it elevates society as a whole.

  11. Can’t stop thinking about this one Mitch. Nice twist at the end. And, couldn’t agree more on a personal level.
    Then there are institutions and how they are. Some [many] still think [well actually it’s their leaders that think] that on one hand employees should “bring their our own gear” [paraphrasing from your post http://bit.ly/nEG2SV%5D and be accessible 24/7 while at the same time being concerned about time theft. Somethng seems a bit off here.

  12. Interesting article. In my opinion time wasting or so called time theft employees in a company are really unproductive and employers don’t pay for being unproductive. Remember also that employees are the asset of the company and it would totally affect company’s progress. It is really hard to determine employees if he/she is really working. Like in our company that all employees spend most of their time in front of the computer. And one thing that helps us monitor employees effectively for what they do is by using a screen monitoring software. That takes a fairly accurate picture of what an employee do during working hours. Without these tools it would be hard to monitor employees and without these tools I believe that time theft in a workplace would still continue. I would like to share this article about screen monitoring software and more about its features on how effectively monitor employees.
    I hope this article would be useful.

  13. God, I hate my job. I hate my boss. I’m in non commissioned sales, so there’s no motivation for me. I’m a single mom with 2 kids, I make a pretty decent salary, but the company doesn’t provide insurance. The job is less than 2 miles from my house, and kids school and daycare. Even though I do b2b sales, my boss expects me to come in on holidays. Even when schools are closed because of weather, and I have no one to leave my 5 month old baby with, my boss gets mad at me for not coming in. I hate my job so much that I cry almost every day in the car before I go in. I expect to fired one day, but I’m in sales so jobs come pretty easy. I just don’t know if I could find another job that close to home. Bad jobs and bad bosses make bad employees. Ya, I probably spend too much tone on the internet, and I know it’s wrong, but I hate my job so much I just need to get away from it a little sometimes.

  14. Time stealing is one such aspect based on which the overall work management goes scattered which leads to a huge loss. Basically in businesses employees steal time and look out to be in the safe side and they does keep themselves in the track. This sort of approach I have seen in most of my professional career but the one such tool that I have come across which is meant for the time tracking and management in the industrial process is the cloud based time tracking software from Replicon ( http://www.replicon.com/time-tracking-softwares.aspx ) which keeps good track of the time and manage the same as well to help the employee perform more effectively in order to give up good output.

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