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I'm looking for a phrase for someone who is over-grasping with regards to minutes on their work time-sheet or other time accounting. Someone who will not only charge from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave, but also adds two minutes for a work-related email seen at home or six minutes for a work-related conversation with a colleague while sharing a ride to work.

The phrase that first came to my mind was "nickel-and-dime", in the sense of someone who charges for every single thing they can (like "Master of the House" from Les Mis).
I had a look at Can ‘nickel and dime’ be used for the object not related with money? but that doesn't seem to have a definitive answer as to whether you would use it for time. And it would seem to have the potential additional meaning of "wasting away your time on trivialities" which is not what I am trying to convey.

  • The referenced post says that the online OED also defines it as a verb meaning "harass someone by charging for many trivial items or services". Your example falls under services. – ottodidakt Dec 17 '15 at 4:30
  • Sounds like a lawyer. – CDM Dec 24 '15 at 20:28
  • There's the 2nd definition of overinvoicing here. – stevesliva Dec 31 '15 at 22:35
  • I've heard creative accounting used, but usually in reference to someone who deducts questionable expenses when filing their income taxes. – whywasinotconsulted Jan 30 '16 at 2:03
  • "Nickle-and-diming" has been used for things other than money for decades. It's especially common with reference to your time. – Hot Licks Jan 31 '16 at 15:31
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"Nickel and diming" is usually applied to someone or something (like a big company) that has a significant economic advantage over the person or entity it is doing business with and that exploits its advantage by adding a series of niggling fees and penalties to the ongoing contract at the expense of the economically weaker party. A typical example is a bank that adds various processing fees to its interactions with account holders—a teller fee for transactions that an account holder conducts in person at the bank; an ATM fee for transactions that the account holder conducts via ATM; and so on. The terms that yield all those nickels and dimes aren't subject to practical negotiation between the parties; the financially more powerful entity simply imposes them by fiat, and the weaker party either submits to them or looks for work (or a business relationship) elsewhere.

But the situation you're talking about is the reverse case: the employee or contractor or weaker economic party builds up the volume of work that he or she charges for by painstakingly including any fraction of time spent on any task arguably related to his or her employment. The ultimate chutzpah in this situation might involve treating the time that the worker spends recording each tiny fragment of billable work as billable work.

In one sense, this process does amount to nickel and diming, though with the significant difference that the more economically powerful party can usually cut its losses fairly easily by finding someone else to do the work. But given the somewhat unusual stronger-to-weaker flow of the nickels and dimes, I would use a different idiomatic phrase to describe what the billing party is up to: either "always on the clock" (which refers to the punch-clock that records reimbursable time at a job site—or figuratively, billable hours in, say, a law firm) or "always has his [or her] meter running" (which refers to the running tab that a taxi driver charges for transporting a passenger somewhere, whether the cab is moving or not at any particular moment).

The suggested phrase "padding [one's] time sheets" seems to me to describe something fundamentally different—not "charging for every minute of service that one performs on a client's or employer's behalf, regardless of how negligible a particular itemized action may have been," but "exaggerating the amount of time the person actually spent working." The former is perhaps (to the client/employer) a form of aggravating and expensive punctiliousness; the latter is a form of theft.

  • Thank you for suggesting some alternatives - I like "always on the clock".- even though I have heard it for someone who never quits work it also seems to fit the person I had in mind and their constant awareness of work-time. – Dragonel Feb 3 '16 at 3:19
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When referring to charging for extra minutes not really worked, it's usually called "padding one's time sheets." For example, "The building inspector was fired for padding his time sheets with hundreds of hours he claimed were spent traveling around to various construction sites that he never actually attended but was found to have spent playing golf."

As for nickeling-and-diming, I've never heard it used in this context. When one nickels-and-dimes, one is charging for every little thing one can, not for things one shouldn't be. Nickeling-and-diming doesn't extend to fraud. What's more, in order to so qualify, the charging of all of that minutia of minutes would have to be financially motivated or be driven by the express purpose of getting more money. Very often though, people who engage in this activity with their employers have other motives aside from trying to get more money, like trying to work less by fulfilling the quota of hours their employer requires of them to draw their salary or to get credit (as in recognition, not money) where they feel credit is due. If getting every last nickel and dime one actually could from one's employer by strictly charging the employer for every single minute of work wherever and whenever possible were one's primary motivation for doing so, then I would agree that was nickeling-and-diming.

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Terms such as "cheap, greedy, anal-retentive, unethical, or resentful" come to mind, if you are speaking of an accountant, attorney, physician or other professional misusing time-keeping systems. The problem with such software (or even of manual logbooks) that track activities by the minute is the enormous amount of time wasted filling them out, which is subsequently billed to a client. Typically, "pondering our anal-retentive timekeeping system" is not one of the billing categories available for use by partners and employees, even though it might be one of the more important things that needs to be done.

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My OED defines the verb form thus:

harass (someone) by charging for many trivial items or services. We don't nickel-and-dime our customers like some vendors that charge extra for every little utility.

To me, time is included in that, because trivial items or services presume a short amount of time. If you want to specify jobs of a few minutes, then best to spell it out.

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Suggest a version of lawyer speak: billable minutes.

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For what its worth, my father always said "you kids are nickel and dimeing me to death with this crap" whenever we'd ask for money for something trivial.

And that's what I always thought it meant for almost 40+ years, until read these answers. Asking for small amounts of money often.

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Everyone's been there, and you should be creative. To them, your time is their money. A good answer as an alternative to "nickel and diming your time away" is - they are "frittering" away "YOUR BUDGET" (in the form of time) for the project. It sort of reverses the typical usage, but I think it works well here.

Hey! You guys are frittering away my entire budget one minute at a time!

https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/fritter+away

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I've seen this used before "Fluffing your time sheet".

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