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Have you heard the phrase “time theft”? Then you might associate it with poor performance and work practices of employees of a company, such as the employees who clock in early but only work part of the time. Or employees who extend their lunch break without telling a manager. The traditional definition of time theft is related to the modern “quiet stop” movement in that it puts the focus of bad behavior on employees who “steal” time from companies.
But have you thought about the countless ways employers stealing time from employees – especially those working on diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace? Are there ways employers and others are taking time and energy away from employees working towards a more equitable and equitable workplace? In this article, we turn the idea of time theft on its head and discuss six ways that employees who spend time working on DEI issues often go uncompensated, overlooked, and undervalued by companies.
1. It is a theft of time when employees are asked to participate in DEI councils and working groups without compensation.
I am a strong supporter of DEI councils and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). They are great places for like-minded people to get together and strategize on ways to tackle DEI issues in the workplace. However, when those councils and groups take hours away from employees on a weekly basis, employees must be compensated for those hours.
DEI councils and ERGs are not “extracurricular” activities that employees do for fun while away from their desks. It is hard, business-oriented work that drives progress. It is a waste of time for employees to do the brainstorming, planning, and execution work that benefits a company’s DEI plans while not being paid or recognized fairly for it.
Participating in councils and groups without proper compensation is stealing employees’ time that could otherwise be used for their personal needs or to invest in other professional development opportunities.
Related: Stop expecting marginalized groups to lead diversity efforts. It’s time for allies to rise up and do the job
2. It’s time theft when employees are constantly trying to get involved in DEI initiatives outside of working hours.
The amount of labor spent by employees trying to get buy-in for DEI initiatives within an organization can be enormous. Related to sitting on DEI councils and ERGs, it takes time and energy to attend pre- and post-work events to get more people on board with a DEI strategy or find cross-departmental support. Time theft comes into play when employees constantly need to upsell, resell, reformulate, and revitalize their colleagues and leadership on an initiative that is beneficial to the company.
Employees who are passionate about DEI and have a fire to support their initiatives spend so much time on it that it eats up their bandwidth to accomplish other parts of their jobs. They need reliable support from other employees and leadership so that the burden does not fall on the shoulders of a few.
The time spent building support for DEI initiatives should be recognized and compensated. It should be recognized by leadership as an act that supports the development of the company. All employees, not just those personally affected by DEI, should make an effort to gain support for DEI projects.
Related: 7 ways leaders can improve their DEI workplace strategy
3. It is time theft when leadership experiences analysis paralysis and leads employees on a leash without taking action.
After serving on an unpaid DEI council and then having to run around trying to get people to sign up for an initiative with clear company benefits, some employees can get their hopes up by coming out on top with a grand master plan. Leadership may value the initiative ideologically, but it may take time to figure out how to implement it. Leaders can string employees along and tell them they’re working on it, but the result can be months of inactivity and analysis paralysis.
Companies should not rush to implement DEI plans without having the financial and logistical pieces figured out. However, many leaders get bogged down by a lack of data and slow progress because they look for more information before taking action. I believe in data, but sometimes waiting for the perfect amount of information, even after a DEI council or ERG has provided a lot, can be a crutch that steals time from employees who have worked hard for an initiative and are waiting for action.
When executives hear the same messages calling for action on racial, gender, sexual orientation or disability issues in the workplace, it’s time theft to take action while others wait for results.
Related: Hybrid work can impact your diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Here’s how to prepare for it.
4. It is time theft when employees of marginalized identities are constantly asked to train colleagues.
Consistently tapping employees with marginalized identities to lead discussions or be spokespersons for entire groups is a theft of time and energy.
When colleagues try to be better allies, they have to put in personal work to master the issues. Rather than doing the job alone, they often rely on those involved to teach them. It can be exhausting and triggering for some employees to be an educator while experiencing their own challenges in the workplace. Using an employee’s time to answer questions that could be part of someone’s self-study is an inappropriate and problematic request.
Employees and colleagues who do not have marginalized identities should educate themselves and reduce the amount of time they spend asking those involved to support them in their learning. It is stressful, exhausting and harmful to those who have to protect their peace and boundaries at work.
5. It’s time theft when employers ask marginalized people to share their ‘lived experiences’, but scam those individuals when it’s time for action.
It can be incredibly frustrating for employees with marginalized identities to share their experiences and not be heard or taken seriously. Leadership can ask certain groups to share their lived experiences in hopes of finding an opportunity to create a DEI initiative that supports them. While the intention is good, it can feel dismissive and a waste of time if those individuals speak up and others discredit or make fun of their experiences.
When employers request information from marginalized people, it should be serious and focused on solutions. When people share their experiences of trauma, discrimination and social inequality at work, it is important to believe their stories. When leadership asks for this information and then pulls employees with marginalized identities into conference rooms to talk about it, discrediting, questioning, or denying their experience is disrespectful and a waste of time.
Related: Here’s how to make the most powerful DEI calls
6. It is time theft when leadership encourages marginalized people to work harder for advancement opportunities and then overlooks them for promotions.
Many marginalized groups are familiar with the expression ‘you have to work twice as hard to get half of what others have’. This can absolutely be true in the workplace. Many marginalized people who get promoted are told by their managers that “if you work harder” or “if you take on this project”, you might be better positioned for a promotion. Maybe the employee jumps through all the hoops and completes their job with flying colors, but when it’s promotion time they get overlooked while someone “in” with leadership gets the nod.
As much as DEI practitioners try to level the playing field, we know that promotions and advancements are still hampered by those who hold tight leadership or represent the stereotypical recipient of promotions.
Too often, people who belong to underrepresented groups do not qualify for opportunities despite their hard work, above average performance or consistency. It is time theft to convince employees with marginalized identities to put more time and energy into their work, only to be left without recognition or reward. Women and people of color are often the first to voluntarily work harder, but too often the last to be promoted.
Time theft is a real problem for marginalized people and those passionate about DEI’s work. Creating a more inclusive, diverse and equitable workplace can be viewed as a “voluntary” or “extracurricular” activity that does not require compensation. However, organizations need to reframe this work as mission-critical and essential to growth and longevity.
Everyone should be involved in advocating DEI and promoting its presence in the workplace. This should not fall on the shoulders of a few employees who have a marginalized identity. If DEI were more integral to an organization’s work, there would be more of a drive for self-education, fair compensation, and equal opportunity for advancement.
Time theft occurs when groups, being marginalized, overlooked and undervalued, have to carry the weight of education, gain acceptance, lead and still survive workplace inequality. It is not fair for the burden to be borne by them alone without financial compensation or action from management. It’s time to invest in DEI, to make it an integral part of a company’s values, and to honor and give back the time and energy employees have expended in executing their plans and taking action.