And for good reason: time theft has tangible negative impacts on businesses—including monetary losses, unhealthy working climates, lost productivity, and more.
It can also create a lot of tension for work teams. Fortunately, there are HR practices you can implement in your organization to combat time theft.
What is time theft?
Time theft is when employees are paid for tasks they haven’t actually performed, or for time they haven’t actually worked.
What’s the difference between time theft and time loss?
Time theft implies that an employee has fraudulent intentions and deliberately wants to cause harm to a company. If your employees are chatty or less productive, it’s not necessarily a case of time theft, but rather time loss.
For a small business, time theft can incur losses in the thousands. If just one of your employees is consistently 15 minutes late every day and works full time at an hourly rate of $18 per hour, you stand to lose $1,170 per year. If several of your employees falsify their timesheets on a regular basis, the losses can quickly mount up.
Whether your employees are paid on an hourly or yearly basis, time theft is almost certain to concern you.
So, how do employees steal time?
Time can be stolen in many ways. Here are just a few examples:
- Falsifying work hours on a timesheet, or deliberately clocking out several minutes after finishing work
- Asking a colleague to punch for you, (buddy punching)
- Taking longer breaks than the ones authorized by the company
- Using work time for personal activities
- Wasting time on the Internet or social media
- Not beginning work upon showing up
- Wasting time doing things other than assigned tasks
- Hiding from the manager
- Deliberately working slowly
5 tips to combat time theft at your organization
1. Conduct more frequent performance evaluations
If your employees feel properly supervised, they will be much less likely to engage in time theft. A good way to be proactive is to carry out performance evaluations on a more frequent basis.
Note that a single yearly evaluation is not enough to really monitor progress and check in on your employees. Instead, aim for at least 2 performance evaluations per year.
This helps you clarify your quality and performance expectations toward your employees. You can also set new goals to encourage them to be more effective at work. You’ll quickly be able to identify whether their performance is getting better or worse.
You can use a performance evaluation guide to help structure your evaluations.
2. Don’t micromanage
Micromanaging is never the answer. Instead, train your employees well, and trust them.
Micromanagement almost always results in lower employee motivation and engagement. It can even perversely make your employees want to commit time theft as soon as you have your back turned.
If you give your employees the right tools and trust them, they’re much more likely to give you their 100% at work.
Focus on honesty and transparency in order to build trusting relationships with your employees. Most importantly, lead by example.
Don’t forget to present your HR policies and procedures to your employees so that they are aware of the company policy on cell phone use, for example. This will prevent you from having to police people all the time.
3. Use scheduling software to track employee time
One of the most common methods of time theft is to buddy punch, in other words, to ask a co-worker to punch for you before or after you arrive.
With scheduling software, time tracking is much more precise than with a manual timesheet. Your employees’ work hours are recorded using a PIN that they have to enter each time they arrive at work, take a break or finish their day.
Some software, such as Agendrix, even lets users take a photo of the employee when clocking in or out. So you can be sure that your employees are in the right place at the right time.
Certain software also offer GPS localization so you can know that your employees are at work when they clock in from a mobile device. This can be very useful for industries where staff is mobile, such as construction or homecare, for example.
In conjunction with scheduling software, you can also put in place a clear time and attendance policy that sets out the consequences of time theft to employees. This will make it much easier to take disciplinary action if necessary.
4. Build a vibrant and stimulating company culture
It goes without saying that employees who enjoy adequate working conditions are less likely to want to voluntarily harm their employer. To avoid time theft, make sure you offer adequate salaries and prioritize the well-being of your employees.
Another wonderful asset in combating time theft is having a culture built on employee recognition and well-being. The happier and more fulfilled your employees are at work, the less they’ll want to harm their employer.
For example, instead of reprimanding your employees for stretching their breaks, ask yourself whether there might be a reason behind their behavior. Maybe you’ll find that they’re exhausted and need a longer break to do their job properly.
In this case, make it clear that you understand their situation and are grateful for their work, and then offer them a lengthier break. Managers who trust their teams will let employees extend their breaks by a few minutes, especially when they’re facing high workloads.
Develop cordial relationships with your employees and urge them to do the same with their colleagues, to help nurture a friendly and healthy working atmosphere. Preventing your employees from having fun or chatting with each other is counter-productive.
Of course, if an employee is constantly wasting time, you may have to take action. Use your common sense to determine whether an employee’s conduct is affecting their work performance.
5. Take disciplinary action when necessary
Time theft can be a very sensitive topic. If you suspect an employee of time theft, be sure to document your observations and implement disciplinary measures accordingly. And keep a record of everything in the employee record.
You should treat time theft as seriously as physical theft. Don’t hesitate to meet with the offending employee and apply disciplinary measures. Otherwise, you may send the message that you tolerate this kind of behavior within your team.
On the other hand, however, never deprive an employee of their salary without consulting an expert in employment law. As an employer, you have an obligation to pay your employees, so you must first pay their wages and then take the legal steps to recover your money.
You must also be able to prove that the employee was not only wasting time, but doing so with fraudulent intent. Before firing an employee for gross misconduct over time theft, it’s always best to consult an expert.
There can be a fine line between wasting time and stealing time. Use your best judgment to determine which situations really require disciplinary action for gross misconduct.
Serious issues call for serious action
Do you feel that your organization has a considerable problem with time theft or loss? You can set up monitoring systems to keep an eye on your employees.
However, be aware that this could hurt your employees’ motivation and engagement. Never do so without careful consideration.