Are Your Employees Stealing Time?

By Paul Slezak - Feb. 21, 2013
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time tracking, workplace productivity, time sheets fraud, overtimeSince the invention of the very first time clock, employers have been monitoring the hours their staff work.

And there are distinct advantages in doing so. Time tracking allows you to identify those areas where your employees’ time could be better spent, thus improving overall productivity.

And with more workforces going mobile, time tracking is becoming essential for keeping tabs on employees who may be spread out across other states and even other countries.

Time Theft

As well as improving productivity, time tracking is necessary to prevent time theft. This is where employees accept payment for time they have not spent on company business.

It is estimated that  the average employee ‘steals’ between four and five hours a week from their employer, which adds up to one full working week every year – costing businesses hundreds of billions of dollars a year worldwide.

Time theft comes in a variety of different guises and is often difficult to detect.

  • Time sheet fraud – when employees are responsible for logging their own hours, the practice of rounding up to the nearest hour or lying about hours worked is considered time sheet fraud;
  • Break abuse – this is the most common form of time theft and involves taking longer or more frequent breaks than authorised; a charge often levelled at smokers (frequently by their non-smoking colleagues);
  • Personal business – making and receiving personal phone calls, texting and spending work time on social networking sites are all forms of time theft. Extreme cases even include using company time to run a separate business.

Should You Track Time?

Despite the losses incurred through time theft and the productivity gains to be had from time tracking, there is a school of thought that sees time tracking as a counter-productive practice.

Proponents of this argument point to the fact that physical tracking of employees does not mean accurate monitoring of productivity.

For instance, while a GPS tracking device on a company car or mobile can pinpoint an employee’s exact whereabouts, it cannot tell what that person is doing or whether they are carrying out company business.

Similarly, a time clock can tell when an employee punches in, but has no way of recording what activities they engage in before they punch out again.

Employee Trust

But the main objection of those opposed to time tracking is that it creates a culture of mistrust within an organisation.

If employees are required to constantly report their whereabouts or are placed under frequent personal or electronic surveillance, they are likely to feel that they are not trusted by their employer.

If they don’t feel trusted, then they don’t feel valued either and this can lead to resentment, reduced productivity, high staff turnover and all the other issues associated with a negative company culture.

Rather than checking up on their employees, opponents of time tracking argue that employers should trust their employees and let them know that they are trusted.

Studies have shown that if employees feel valued, they are more likely to work harder, take more responsibility and require less supervision than those who are treated like errant school children who must be watched at all times.

Is Time Tracking Really Necessary?

Some would argue yes and that there is a multi-million dollar time tracking industry to prove it.

Others may argue that good staff morale is more important and more profitable in the long run than any short-term productivity gains made through time tracking.

Perhaps, as in most arguments, moderation is the key. You may just be able to have the best of both worlds if you:

  • Clearly spell out to your employees what is considered acceptable use of company time, while still being flexible enough to allow for the odd long lunch, personal phone call, text, or check-in on social media (of course a formal social media policy is highly recommended);
  • Use only reasonable recording measures to streamline your payroll procedures;
  • Set clear goals and KPIs and judge an employee’s performance by whether they achieve them, rather than focusing on how they achieve them and how much time it takes.
Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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