Take a trip back in time with me to Confirmation class. Remember memorizing the Ten Commandments? Then say the Seventh Commandment with me: You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income. Excellent! Now that we’ve all quoted that, we can give ourselves a mental pat on the back, because we know better than to steal, don’t we? We would never stoop to stealing. It’s wrong, and we know that. Or do we?
Let’s delve a bit deeper into the meaning behind the Seventh Commandment. Remember, Luther wrote the Small Catechism for everyone, especially children, to memorize. But he also wrote the Large Catechism, where he examines things in much more detail. I’m going to make a wild guess here that most people haven’t read the Large Catechism, so let me sum up what he says regarding the Seventh Commandment. First of all, Luther asserts that thievery is in full swing in common trade. He says that selling bad merchandise, overcharging, using false measures, and clever tricks are all ways in which the Seventh Commandment is openly broken in his day. Doesn’t sound like we’ve come too far since then, have we? Those same tactics go on in our society as well, and yes, those are ways of stealing. But lest you start getting indignant here against the large corporations taking advantage of the little people, consider as well what else he has to say.
[C]onsider a manservant or maidservant who does not serve faithfully in the house, does damage, or allows damage to be done when it could be prevented. He ruins and neglects the goods entrusted to him, by laziness, idleness, or hate, to the spite and sorrow of his master and mistress. In whatever way this can be done purposely…you can in a year steal 30 or 40 florins. If another servant had taken that much money secretly or carried it away, he would be hanged with the rope. But here you (while conscious of such a great theft) may even express defiance and become rude, and no one dare call you a thief… All these are far worse than burglars, whom we can guard against with locks and bolts and, if caught, can be treated in such a way that they will not commit the crime again. But against unfaithful workers no one can guard.
Update a few of those words and you have a scarily accurate description of much of the workforce today. Are you tracking with me here? If you’re wasting time at work, you’re stealing. Your employer is paying you to work, and if you aren’t working, you’re being paid for something you aren’t actually doing, which is stealing. It’s not hard to guess the main source of wasting time in the workforce today—the Internet. We have become such a connected society, with most people carrying their own personal computers on them in their smart phones, that distractions are very easy to come by, and sometimes very hard to detect. Office workers who have to spend time on a computer anyhow may look like they’re busily at work, while secretly they have another window open to switch back and forth to Facebook while no one is watching. According to the article Employees Really Do Waste Time at Work, Part II, by Cheryl Conner, studies show that employees born between 1980 and 1985 waste almost twice as much time on technology as do those born between 1960 and 1969. And a surprising correlation to excessive amounts of time on the Internet is depression. Conner’s article sites a study done by University of Wisconsin—Madison, which concluded that depression is on the rise for college students—a 56% rise within the past six years. The study showed as well that a common denominator in those of the depression group was excessive amounts of time on the Internet. So not only are those students entering the workforce with the mentality of spending large amounts of time on non-work-related websites, but the consequences will eventually include increased medical costs and treatment expenses. If the employers end up covering that cost, that’s another form of stealing. Having to pay for something that should never have happened in the first place is just ridiculous.
Okay, we get it, you might be thinking. We waste a lot of time on the Internet. But it can’t make that much of a difference. Back to Conner’s article, she writes, “Simply put, the average employee admits to wasting anywhere from two to three hours a day. Multiply that by the cost of the average wage plus benefits of your entire staff, and…well, you get the picture.” Indeed. That’s a lot of time and employer money wasted. If you’re self-employed, this doesn’t really affect you as much, and quite honestly, neither does this really apply to most factory workers. Factories are among the most productive places of work because they have a strict policy against cell phones on the production line. They know when people are distracted it can be deadly. But office workers, be honest with yourself. How much time do you waste texting, surfing the Internet, or playing Farmville when you think no one is watching? We all know people who update their Facebook status every twenty minutes at work. Maybe you think you personally don’t waste a lot of time, but let me challenge you. Pick a day and turn off all distractions. Leave your cell phone on silent mode and keep it in your bottom drawer. Check your e-mail and your phone for voicemail two or three times throughout the day (at times picked beforehand), but otherwise stay off the phone, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and all other websites that aren’t work-related. You just might be surprised at how much more productive you are that day. A Reader’s Digest quote once maintained that employees take up to twenty minutes to get back on task once they are distracted, so if you’re checking Facebook every fifteen minutes, that’s a lot of potential for wasted time. Challenge yourself to a distraction-free day and see what happens.
My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me, and even as a teenager before iPhones, I was appalled at how unmotivated some of my coworkers were. I worked for a while at a TCBY, and there was a lot of down time when there were no customers. Many of my fellow workers would just stand around and chat when there were no customers in the store, but I could always find something to do. There was inventory to check, restocking to be done, cleaning underneath the counters, pulling out the machines and mopping underneath them… The point is, I was actually working even when there weren’t customers standing there. The same held true when I worked at a library. During slow hours there were always shelves to be checked to make sure books were in the proper order. We called it “shelf-reading,” and I caught a lot of books out of place and returned them to their rightful spot for the future.
Consider the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, where Will Smith played Chris Gardner. During his unpaid six-month training as a stockbroker, he found himself and his son homeless. To get shelter each night, they had to be in the line of the refuge center by 5:00. This guy had to be productive while he was at work. He knew others stayed until 9:00 at night to get their work done. He didn’t have that luxury. So he didn’t drink anything at all to avoid bathroom breaks. He never interacted with his fellow workers. As he worked his way down his phone list, he didn’t even hang up the receiver between calls; he simply hung up with one finger and then immediately dialed again to save a few seconds between calls. He couldn’t afford not to be productive. With no distractions, he was the most efficient worker there, and he was the one who got the coveted job at the end.
How does all this translate for you? Depending on your vocation, this may apply to you differently than to someone else. If you’re self-employed, the only time and money wasted is your own. Teachers generally don’t waste a lot of time because, well, they’re teaching. Standing in front of kids all day doesn’t allow for a whole lot of Farmville. Factory workers probably don’t have the option of noodling away their time on an iPhone all day. Office workers and those of you paid per hour, you’re probably the most likely ones to be stealing time and money from your boss through wasting time. Make yourself accountable to a friend or coworker. Challenge yourself to stay off the Internet or phone unless you’re on a break. Or maybe you’re a stay at home mom like me and think, Boy, I’m sure glad this doesn’t apply to me! Ah, but does it? Do you text friends or husbands while they’re at work? Make a concerted effort to stop distracting them. I am guilty of that myself. Even though the daytime while my kids are in school is free for me, a lot of the people I text are working at that time. I should not bother them and take their minds off their work. Or even consider how much time you spend on the Internet while your kids are young. Are you robbing them of time spent with you? Challenge yourself to a tech free day as well. You will probably be surprised at how much more you can get done. Maybe you can actually fold that pile of clean laundry, make dinner ahead of time, and go on a picnic with your preschooler.
Whatever your vocation, work at it with all your heart. Be the best worker you can be. And with that, I’m getting off the computer. I have to get back to work.