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Protection of time a necessary skill in world of human resources

Time theft is a constant issue – especially for the self-employed


Time theft is especially an issue for self-employed contractors, writes Evert Akkerman. (Андрей Яланский/Adobe Stock)

When we hear the term “time theft,” we tend to think of employees getting paid while they don’t work.

The topic is especially relevant considering the various work-from-home arrangements that have been put in place since March 2020.

Traditional forms of time theft include falsifying time sheets, taking excessive breaks, and taking a scenic route that is 12 kilometres longer than the highway option.

These are forms of fraud that decrease productivity and increase cost for the employer.

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But think about it: it’s not just employers getting ripped off – we are surrounded by people who try to steal our time. I first clued into this years ago when telephone surveys had their heyday. Like, 2008.

I was an HR manager at the time, and, at some point, getting calls almost daily from people conducting research on topics such as growth expected for next year, how many vacation days the company offered, and the average number of coffees that employees drank per day — and whether I expected an increase in that (my answer was always no, until the CEO ordered two high-end coffee machines).

Painful reality for contractors, consultants

Time theft is especially an issue for self-employed contractors.

I can’t tell you how often people send me emails with resumes, memos, or proposals attached, and the question “Can you take a quick look at this?” Translation: “I know you’re great at this, but I don’t want to pay you.”

Also, the word “quick” suggests that a review takes me five minutes. And I always wonder: would they ask their lawyer or their service technician the same thing?

As in, “Can you take a quick look at my will/prenup/shareholder agreement?” or “Can you take a quick look at my transmission?”

And if these people bump into their lawyer in the produce section at the local No Frills, do they ask, “Can I pick your brain?” I bet they wouldn’t, as they’d fully expect to be billed.

But, apparently, it’s OK to ask precisely that when they bump into me at Starbucks or in a neighbour’s driveway, when their son, daughter, or spouse was fired the day before and they want to know how much they’re owed.

Do the words ‘quick question’ creep you out, too?

Such queries are closely related to the phrase “quick question,” which I have really come to detest. It’s symptomatic of the vibe that so many people love about our hyper-society, where everything is urgent and it’s cool to jump around all day.

They interrupt meetings with “quick question,” and then meander for a full minute. I once received an email from an accountant that read, “Can I ask you a quick question about overtime?” to which I replied, “Sure, can I send you a quick invoice?”

Yeah, I know, attitude.

Also, HR contractors often encounter people who ask whether they can be flexible on the rate. And since words have meaning, I’m always tempted to say, “Yes, you can pay more.”

Would they ask their lawyer, their dentist, or their service tech the same thing? No way.

One of my HR colleagues received an email from a client with a 10-page document, and the question “Can you give this offer of employment a cursory look?” To which she replied, “There is no such thing as a five-minute car wash in HR.”

Protecting valuable moments from construction to HR

Another form of time theft is creep, which construction contractors are intimately familiar with.

They quote on, say, overhauling a bathroom, and once they start the work, the homeowner asks whether they can, quickly, change a few light bulbs, take a look at the water tap in the fridge, quickly, and, also quickly, help set up a TV in the basement.

All that chips away at the profit margin.

In HR circles, clients ask for a quote and then send additional questions and requests that fall outside the scope of the assignment, or they bring in a third party to review the work – like, “I know you said this, but my neighbour/co-worker/former BFF is also in HR, and they said that (insert dissenting opinion).”

Sometimes they flip my documents back with notes from that person in the margin, expecting me to ponder and comment on comments, for round two, or three, or four.

The solution lies in managing expectations

As self-employed service providers, we can ill afford to have clients like these.

In terms of solutions and building sound relationships, independent contractors need to manage their clients’ expectations.

Customer profitability is key, and sometimes it’s best to part ways with clients who soak up an inordinate amount of time and resources. You don’t need the stress either.

The creep phenomenon typically occurs at the start of a relationship, and then the second time the client enters your inbox, you can reply that you’re “booked solid,” or “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’ll respectfully pass on this opportunity.”

This is typically the best way to send a message without making it too awkward.

Ideally, we then return to the situation as it was before — and we can still appreciate the relationship and enjoy an occasional coffee.

Evert Akkerman is an HR professional based out of Newmarket, Ont., and founder of XNL HR. He can be reached at info@xnlhr.com.


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