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5 Signs You're Stealing Time At Work

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Apr. 20 2023, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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When you picture someone stealing something, you might imagine a cartoon character in a ski mask robbing a bank. You would never want to be that thief, but people engage in time theft daily and don’t even realize it. These are a few ways to recognize when time is slipping away and avoid getting in trouble with your boss.

What Is Time Theft?

Time theft can happen accidentally or on purpose. It’s an occasion where an employee is unproductive while on the clock. You might scroll through social media for a few minutes to decompress after a meeting, which is time your employer pays for when you aren’t doing anything to benefit the company.

Being productive constantly is impossible because everyone needs an occasional break. Avoiding burnout is a healthy goal, but time theft results in a 5% annual revenue loss for companies of all sizes.

The seemingly small percentage can add up to a significant financial loss, so employers are watching for people who steal time intentionally or accidentally.

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How To Spot Time Theft

You’ll have a better work-life and keep your job longer by becoming aware of when time theft occurs. If you spot yourself doing any of these things, it’s either your chance to get focused or find other solutions for underlying concerns.

1. Unnecessarily Long Breaks

Breaks are an essential part of working. Stress builds into burnout or mental health conditions when people can’t step away from their responsibilities. In 2022, 27% of adults experienced anxiety symptoms like fatigue, irritable moods and headaches.

Taking a moment to breathe can reduce how those symptoms affect your stamina-making processes. However, prolonging your breaks with unnecessary activities like phone calls to friends or wandering down the hallway when you feel ready to return to work is a form of time theft.

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2. Starting A Friend’s Time Clock

When your friend texts that they’ll be late to work, they might ask you to start the time clock on their computer. They’ll only be a few minutes late but can’t manage on a smaller paycheck. The motivation may feel right, but buddy punching is a phenomenon that steals from employers.

3. Changing Your Time Reports

Some people prefer to log their hours for the whole week every Monday. It prevents moments where you forget to log the exact minute you left work and might make it easier for payroll to calculate your paycheck.

However, that gives people room to leave work early or arrive late and get paid for time they didn’t work. Everyone should log their shifts accurately each day. You won’t accidentally commit time theft, and your employer will trust you that much more.

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4. Spending More Time Browsing the Internet

Scrolling through your Instagram timeline may only take a few minutes out of your day, but those minutes add up over weeks and months of working. It’s another way time theft occurs and people don’t even realize it. Explore options like using blocking software to lock access to your social media accounts on your browser and phone if you can’t resist checking for updates.

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5. Using Excessive Personal Time

Personal time happens when you’re doing things to benefit yourself while on the clock. This includes scheduling a doctor’s appointment or answering messages on social media for the small business they run on the side. Saving those responsibilities for break or lunch periods is an easy way to avoid time theft.

Watch For Time Theft Accidents

No one wants to get in trouble at work or purposely deceive anyone. It’s why people often think time theft happens to someone else, but it can affect all of us. Watch how you spend time on the clock and find resources to help you focus so you don’t have to worry about accidentally committing time theft.

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By: Mia Barnes

Mia Barnes is a health journalist with over 3+ years of experience specializing in workplace wellness. Mia believes knowledge is power. As the Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine, Mia's goal is to cover relevant topics to empower women through information.

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