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True Stories of Ingenious Ways People Outsmarted Their Boss

“I'd say, on average, I work about 30 mins to one hour a day.”

by Ruby Lott-Lavigna
06 February 2020, 11:36am

When Dolly Parton released the great, anti-capitalist anthem “Nine to Five”, she had no idea how good she had it. In 2020 Britain, working an eight-hour workday is the least of your worries – if your day even is that short. With the proliferation of zero-hour contracts in an insecure job market, we’re working for less money than ever before, leaving millennials the first generation in decades to be poorer than their parents. Not to mention that technology has blurred the line between work and free time, making it all too easy for your boss to drop you a “Could you take a look at this?” email at 11 PM on Thursday.

All any of us want is to earn enough money to occasionally buy a Diet Coke from the shop, eat something other than pesto pasta, and y'know, turn the heating on once in awhile. Instead, millennials are stuck spending their measly earnings on extortionate rents to the already affluent over-50s, who own three-quarters of the housing market. Oh, and we’ve stopped joining unions because we don’t think they’re needed.

So, how do you reclaim power in a job market that gradually wears down any modicum of self-respect? From stealing the stock to organising the workplace, we spoke to young people about the ways they outsmarted their employers.

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Photo: Bekky Lonsdale. Collage by VICE staff.

“I spent an entire month working from home every morning because I adopted a rescue dog”

“The top tip is to work in the right part of the public sector. It seems to be completely impossible to get sacked from a university. In the last few years, I have effectively run a fanzine which is both printed and written during my working day without anyone noticing. I also just spent an entire month working from home every morning because I adopted a rescue dog. It's safe to say I didn't do any work in the mornings.” Ben.

“I didn’t need to buy any toiletries for a year”

I used to work at Bodycare and literally every staff member stole things. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. We would have our bags filled with stuff, and when I left I had so much stuff I didn’t need to buy any toiletries for a year. Personally, I’d say [I was stealing] about £1,500 the whole time I was there but then other staff who’d been there for years, their estimates could be up to £5,000 or £6,000.

They ended up putting cameras downstairs in the stockroom rather than on the shop floor to catch us all out. It was horrible having to pay for toiletries again. Emily*

“I organised the team of 12 to all sign a letter stating we didn’t accept the new imposition”

As service engineers, we were paid cash expenses for working away from home, which we typically were all week, every week. We were informed by our employer, over email, that the policy had changed and we could no longer claim any cash expenses – effective immediately.

Our employer doesn’t recognise any unions so I organised the team of 12 to all sign a letter stating we didn’t accept the new imposition and were working under protest. Part of our protest meant we withheld our other expense claims, which meant being a bit out of pocket for a few weeks but all the engineers were on board. I had to coordinate by phone and email as we were spread all over the country – including some offshore! We even got the global service director on board who personally intervened. Obviously, this looked terrible for the UK managers who, apparently, couldn’t even handle a slight expenses change without chaos.

Once we were organised, which didn’t take too long as we were all pretty pissed off, it wasn’t too bad. I got all my colleagues to agree our position and we got senior management to the table, negotiated a new policy that suited all parties and then this was then implemented for all engineers across the UK. John.

“I'd watch Netflix, do online shopping, take personal phone calls”

I used to work for two different departments and both my managers didn't communicate with each other so if I didn't come to them for work they would assume I was busy with the other department. I also sat in a room by myself so I basically did no work all day. I'd watch Netflix, do online shopping, take personal phone calls. I also really improved on my Italian, got important errands done with my banking and things like that. One time I was so hungover, I took a two-hour nap and nobody noticed. I really don't know how I didn't get caught out. Amy*

“I strolled into work, an hour and a half late, and had my boss apologise to me for all the inconvenience”

In 2012, I was working in a casino in Manchester, running hospitality on the day shift. My boss was an absolute moron and a total prick, he used to chirpse the young lasses and couldn't do the basic shit of being a manager, like setting a rota. We'd regularly have two or three rotas, and nobody ever knew which one was the real one, which meant you could never plan a day off.

Anyway, my mate was moving to the States and we all got hammered at his leaving do – meaning that I woke up about 15 minutes before my shift was meant to start. I raced around and, while I was in the shower, I realised that there was no way that I could make it in time and thus had to think laterally about how I was gonna get away with it.

I rang the casino HR and asked them to check the rota for me, knowing that the original schedule had me as off. Obviously, the HR lady confirmed that I wasn't working that day – because the boss hadn't taken the old rota down.

When I didn't show up, the boss rang me and asked where I was. I told him that I wasn't working – in fact, I’d checked with HR just ten minutes earlier and she had confirmed it to me. I then offered to come in on my day off and cover the shift, because I was such a good team player and, hey, I was up and about anyway, wasn't I?

So, I strolled into work, an hour and a half late, and had my boss apologise to me for all the inconvenience, and thank me profusely for agreeing to work a shift that I'd already been down to work and had slept in on. Mike.

“I used [slip] a pound coin out every hour or so”

At ASDA, there was a £15 buffer on the tills for discrepancies between the accounts and the amount of cash actually in there, to account for human error I guess. I used to exploit that by slipping a pound coin out every hour or so as I handed customers back their change.

Must have stolen hundreds of pounds from that awful union-bashing hellhole. Marcus*

“I'd say, on average, I work about 30 mins to one hour a day”

I'm a back end developer for a range of web services. I manage custom pages for our brands and create and maintain applications. Most tasks are fairly easy and can be changed quickly with some know-how. My bosses aren't technically minded and don't do any coding, so they think everything code-related is black magic. I set my ebook application to show white text on a black background the same as my code app and they think I'm coding. Whenever a big change needs to be made to the website, it can be done really quickly but I say it'll take a while and just piss about online all week and upload the new file and refresh everything at the end of the week, so it looks like I've been flat out the whole time.

My biggest swerve was when I automated a big change on the site’s images and did about five minutes of work and told them it would take around a fortnight. I just sat about listening to audiobooks and reading articles, watching YouTube videos.

I got pulled into my bosses office at the end of last year and I thought it was all up there and then, but they were actually doing a review and I got a slight raise. I'd say on average I work about 30 minutes to one hour a day but get paid full-time on a decent wage.

I don't feel any guilt either because what I've done has brought in more customers and my bosses get more money, and I've not got much stress. Tim*

*Some names have been changed.

@RubyJLL

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The Great Millennial Divide