Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 10, 2011 8:16 PM

Employees That Spend Too Much Time Online Are Stealing

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.

By Mitch Joel