Theft of Time

I’m Mario Gutierrez, O.D., F.A.A.O., and if you’re like most of our peers, you’ve never thought of employees using their cellphones during work hours, or checking email on your time, as theft. But it is.

Here are a couple of stats that may astound you. According to the Robert Half Firm, the average employee steals approximately 4.5 hours per week from their employer, totaling nearly six full work weeks per year and costing businesses hundreds of billions of dollars a year worldwide. And, as reported by the American Society of Employers, 20% of every dollar earned by a U.S. company is lost to employee time theft. I never thought about it either until I went to a chain restaurant here in San Antonio with my family. The greeter asked how many people were in our party, and then she just turned around, went around the corner to the back and started texting.


It got me thinking that if I were the owners, I would be appalled. Not only was her mind not on her job, but she was texting while she was being paid.

It made me wonder about my own office. We have a no-cell policy during work hours. Our thinking? They’re being paid to work and, more importantly, we want their minds on the job and their patients. 

Once we started looking more closely, we saw that people were going into the restroom to use their phones and watch phones or texting under their desks.

We felt it was important to stop that, and so we had a meeting. And with all the ransomware, I was really worried about our young employees using our equipment for personal reasons, opening their email, etc..


We took a look at the search history in the office over a one-week period, and it was unbelievable. Searches included golf clubs where to buy movie tickets, and Gwen Stefani…one a half-hour thread and one a 10-minute one just in one computer! And that was just the tip of the iceberg. This just shows how oblivious we are as owners to what our employees really do while they’re being paid and are clocked in.


Most of us now have our employees clock in. In my office, we have a policy that says, “When you clock in, you are ready to work.”

The problem is they clock in and then spend maybe 10 minutes putting their stuff in the backroom, etc., instead of going to their station after clocking in. Then the same thing happens at lunch.

I spoke about this at a practice meeting. I told attendees (other doctors) that it’s our fault. We don’t want to run a sweatshop, but, on the other hand, this is all time they should be working— taking care of the practice, our team, and our patients.

What I suggested to them is that there is downtime. We always have some stuff we say, “If we had time, we would do this.” What I do now is that we keep downtime lists, for the optical, for the clinic, etc. So, if we have a no-show or two, that’s the time to catch up. Things like cleaning the frame boards, cleaning demo lenses, sending thank you letters/emails to patients, inventory, etc.

To be clear, I have no problem with a staff member relaxing a little bit, especially when our “to do list” has been addressed, but 20 or 30 minutes a day, that’s just not right. Twenty employees x 20 min./day…that really adds up!


We make it clear that before work, at lunch, and after hours, they are free to use their phones, our wi-fi, etc. But, when presenting this to staff, you need to be very clear in your office policies and manual. Also, your managers have to be firmly behind the policy.

We have our policies online, and once employees have reviewed them, they have to check off that they read and understood it. I also periodically remind everybody. This way there are no questions. Then we reinforce our policy in staff meetings. You have to get your managers to stick with it, and you have to discipline and oversee everyone the same way. It has to be across the board, and you have to be fair but firm.


My recommendation is that whatever you want your policies to be regarding this time issue, you have to address them in your office manual, and back them up yourself along with your doctors and managers. You actually have a decision to make. If this is something you’re not going to enforce, then don’t even put it in your office policies. I know we would never ask our employee to dispense a pair of glasses when they were clocked out, that would be theft of the employee’s time. So all I ask…is that they do the same. It’s a decision you need to make for yourself.

Erinn Morgan