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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Time Theft

In certain circles in which I travel, the term "time theft" has suddenly - and with some frequency - become a topic of conversation.

Did you know that the average employee "steals" approximately 4.5 hours per week from his employer - or nearly six full workweeks per year? I'm told that this adds up to thousands of dollars per year.

Different forms of time theft include:
* Late arrival or early departure
* Taking long lunch hours and breaks
* Requesting paid sick days for inappropriate reasons
* Slowing down the work pace to create overtime
* Excessive socializing and personal telephone calls
* Handling personal business while at work
* Using company time and facilities to operate another business.
To combat this, many companies are "going on the defensive". I understand some companies (like the place where I bring my car to be serviced) have blocked FaceBook. Some are actually collecting cell phones at the beginning of the shift so employees can't call or text or send private emails.

Others are installing biometric technology for their staff - professional and non. Biometric technology uses fingerprint recognition. The employee is to swipe their index finger on a "key pad" so another employee can't sign or "punch" in their time card.

This is happening in hospitals and nursing homes, in discount stores and supermarkets, in police and fire stations and schools. It  includes blue collar as well as professional staff.

Clearly, I live in another universe. I live in places where I worked a minimum of 50 hours per week - more often 60. If a parishioner wanted to go to lunch and it took two hours, then, well, it took two hours. It was work.

If I needed to spend an hour walking the streets or along a path in the woods to clear my head before talking to the next parishioner or to get my head wrapped around the gospel I was going to preach that Sunday, then that's what I did. It was work.

"Stealing time" is a concept so foreign to me as to make me shake my head in wonder.  Then again, I work with a different construct of time, one that is both linear as well as eternal. My job is to help people use the "gift" of time in this life to prepare them for life in the next.

If "corporations are people" the way the Supreme Court has decreed, I wonder what we are saying about the way "those people" are treating the people who make them human?

Which all causes me to wonder about the image of God some of these employers must have. Do they really think that God is going to greet them at the Pearly Gates and say, "Well done! You saved so many people from 'stealing time' that you now get all the time in the world"?

Look, I understand. It's about productivity. Some people will take advantage of any given situation and take what is not theirs.

I wonder if some of these employers have heard the Gospel story of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). You know, the one where everyone gets paid the same whether they started work at dawn or began just before dusk?

Jesus is the original "time bandit" - stealing away our rigid concepts of time and opening our minds and hearts and souls to a new way of thinking about our time on earth and Life Eternal.

If that makes me a sinner, well, I suppose I'll sin boldly - and, love more boldly still.

While I still have the freedom to make that choice for myself.


Marthe said...

And what is your time worth? Uber-
Corp sets the value of an hour, a high rate for "thinking" workers, a low rate for "unskilled", some median rate for "skilled" and "specialists" ... and that value becomes self-esteem, the level of consideration to be given by society at each level, the amount of respect "earned". Life in this construct is in no way sacred, it is quantifiable only in terms of a narrow definition of productivity and monetary profit. Squishy unmeasurables are ignored as useless ... but those unmeasurables are the essence of humanity, the point and "good stuff" of living itself. If we become only our productivity stats, we will no longer be human ... we will no longer be the people Christ thought worthy of sacrifice ... perhaps the "modern" version of apocalypse brought on by some new four horsemen of the military/industrial/financial/big oil plutocrats ... one "punch out" of the clock too many.

IT said...

Part of the problem is that we define "profit" so narrowly, as money. But is it not profit to have a healthy and happy workforce? Is there really no measure of profit other than filthy lucre?

A few years ago, a state legislature (I think in North Carolina, but I may be wrong) criticized the faculty of its state university for "thinking too much". I'm not sure what they think the role of a professor is, but news flash! If you want publications and grants and the dollars that go with them, you have to do some thinking!

We see another version of this in the antipathy to unions that has been played out in several states over the last few years. Workers are viewed as serfs, a necessary evil.

And we see it in the spoiled crybaby executives who have fired people just because Obama was elected. Because paying living wages and providing healthcare may eat into their already huge profits.

When I was a child, there were periods when my father went without a salary to keep people in his small company employed. What happened to people like my father?

Brian Davis said...

In contrast to the concept of employees "stealing time" from their employers, I have recently been involved in a discussion about the loss of human time in many workplaces, including the public schools.

Lunch hours are seen as unproductive time wasters so they have been reduced to lunch 20 - 30 minutes when they exist at all. In many companies the expectation is that you work through your break times, whether lunch or bathroom, staying at your desk or station and eating on the run.

Kids are herded in and out of school cafeterias where they often are not allowed to talk and are expected to do test preparation activities when they are not actively eating.

Work is intruding on every facet of people's lives. Most workplaces today expect employees to be on call 24/7 through monitoring email accounts and mobile phone calls.

Department and big box stores are announcing that they are opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day itself this year to accommodate Black Friday shopping madness, taking employees away from their families on one of the 2 or 3 days they are allowed each year.

The irony of this is that worker productivity in the US is the highest in the world and historically yet the increased profits have not been shared with the employees.

A gradual erosion and loss of benefits, such as paid sick leave, vacation days, and pensions have cut actual pay for actual workers for the last 3 decades.

The truth of why this attack is happening can be seen in the CEO tantrums being thrown over "Obamacare" and the threats to lay off employees and/or cut their hours to part-time rather than be responsible for their employees continued good health and respect: greed for ever higher profit margins.

It would be wonderful to see the Church tackle these very troubling and real attacks on the people of God. Thanks for this post, Elizabeth.

Unknown said...

One of the best employers I worked for was Institutional Research and Planning at the University of Kansas. We were required to have a minimum of 20 minutes each work day in 'unallocated time,' e.g., time spent daydreaming, making personal calls. We had to keep track of the amount of time spent on different projects for billing purposes. Unallocated time was considered part of the mental health and wellness account.

James Mackay

Matthew said...

Oh Wow, this hit a nerve. I agree totally. Studies, countless among them have shown repeatedly that those who goof off a little or surf the web here and there are more productive because it clears their head, allows them to calm down after a particularly emotional or traumatic meeting. Being mentally alert is important too. Now, I work in a work place where there are a few (thankfully only a few) who abuse it but you deal with them individually. I know some who are super smart and highly wired and caffeinated and can do the same work in less time so if they leave a little early then so be it. Others are slower and goof off less, but are just as precise but like to double check because they are perfectionists. It takes all kinds. Its all about mentoring people to be the best employee that they can be given their style, personality, how they work best, etc. Sounds like terrible management philosphy to me. These are probably the same folks who do not want to allow anyone to work from home for fear they can get the job done in less than an 8 hour day and there is no supervision. This is so wrong headed that I cannot even believe this is going on. Its also terrible for morale. Fear is not good for a workplace. I don't think Jesus would condone fear.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - I really resonate with what you write. So much of what is being cut in school systems, for example, are precisely the things that build a healthy, prosperous civilization: Music, The Arts, Creative Writing, Gymnastics.

As my grandmother would say, we are cutting of the end of our nose to spite our face.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - Your father - and mine - were part of The Greatest Generation. We're not going to get that back without teaching our children about creativity AND critical thinking.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brian - I think - obviously - that the church is absolutely compelled to speak to these issues of work.

When I was a child, we always had a big celebration on the Feast of St. Joseph - March....hmmm....14th?...when labor and work and their value were lifted up. We don't do that so much any more. I think we should, and use the opportunity to talk with employers about valuing their employees.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

James - Now, that company sounds like a healthy company. I hope we can get back to that if our future is going to be sound.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - Obviously, I couldn't agree with you more. Dealing with "problem" employees by making blanket rules for everyone is simply lazy management.

Anonymous said...

In law school we were told: 1.) the law is a jealous mistress; and, 2.) time is money. However, I have found that my mistress and I do a wee bit better with our time management when I get to take a walk and clear my head every once in a while.

Hilary said...

Like so much of what we're talking about in these days after the election, I'm struck by how much this a conservative/progressive thing. The grumpy old men (mostly :-)) who are of the 'beatings will continue until morale improves' school of thought of course believe that a worker is 'stealing' time if they are late or whatever. I once worked for a company like that myself. These are the same people who threatened their workers with their jobs if they didn't vote for Romney. Like Romney, they see workers as nothing but a cost of doing business - so much human capital, like any other form of capital.

But think about what I would consider are more progressive companies. You read stories of places like Google that don't have defined workspaces, wonderful food in the cafeteria, massages, ping pong - and other fun stuff. These employers seem to realize that a creative mind needs a variety of forms of stimulation and that chaining workers to their desks for 8 hours a day may not be the best way to promote creative thinking.

So who is winning? Who is producing really innovative products and services?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think you know the answer to your question, Hillary. When will these Grumpy Old Men (and, some women, sadly) learn that THEY benefit when they give small benefits to those who work in their companies?

Don't answer that. I think you and I both know.

MarkBrunson said...

As long as employers are allowed to treat employees as being owned, with minimal (or no) rights for employees, this will keep happening.

The North may have won the war, but we're all on the plantation, friends.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I hadn't considered that attitude, Mark. "My employer" = "My master". "My employee" = "My possession".