How To Prevent Time Theft: Tips, Examples, And More

As a manager, you know that time is of the essence. Employees misusing their compensated work time can devastate your bottom line, productivity, and overall operational efficiency.

In this guide, we’ll explore common time theft tactics, their consequences on your organization, and proven strategies to prevent this costly issue. 

Here are the key things to know about time theft:

  • Time theft is an employee’s unauthorized use of an employer’s time, which can take many forms and result in significant financial and productivity losses.
  • While time theft is sometimes intentional, it can also be unintentional. Therefore, employers must address the issue through clear policies, communication, and technology solutions.
  • Common examples of time theft include buddy punching, taking excessive breaks, rounding timesheets, engaging in non-work activities, and getting distracted online.
  • Time theft can negatively impact a business, including avoidable financial losses, reduced productivity, decreased employee morale, and incorrect coverage forecasting.
  • Effective time theft prevention involves implementing a clear policy, open communication, root cause analysis, technological solutions like GPS time clocks, and productivity monitoring.

Table of contents

What is time theft?

An employer considers an employee’s unauthorized use of paid time for personal matters as time theft. Despite the term “theft” in its name, it’s more commonly an issue of employee misconduct rather than outright theft. It’s important to note that it’s often unintentional on the part of the employee.

For example, an employee may commit time theft by rounding down their start time from 9:10 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. or rounding up their end time from 4:50 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

Many employees believe rounded times are easier for management or payroll to process. While this may seem like a minor infraction, the costs can quickly increase when multiplied across an entire workforce.

Which industries face time theft issues?

Time theft is a problem businesses across various industries face, from retail and food service to office environments and manufacturing. Every company that pays employees for their time is vulnerable to its negative effects, including financial losses, reduced productivity, and low morale.

Read also: How To Save Time And Money With Automatic Scheduling For Employees 

Is time theft intentional?

While time theft can certainly be intentional, it’s important to recognize that it’s often unintentional on the part of the employee. It can happen when employees take frequent breaks or get distracted by personal matters during work hours. The problem can also arise when the employee doesn’t understand the expectations or policies.

Employees may believe rounding their start or end times or taking a few extra minutes here is acceptable or expected. However, these small increments can quickly add up, resulting in significant financial and productivity losses for the business.

Time theft examples

Employers must be aware of how employees exploit paid work time. From classic schemes like buddy punching to more subtle forms of slacking off, this can significantly impact a business’s bottom line and overall productivity.

Buddy punching

An employee who buddy punches can get paid for time they did not work by having a coworker clock in or out for them. For example, if an employee runs late, they might ask a punctual coworker to clock them in, creating the illusion that they arrived on time. It is a clear-cut case of intentional time theft, and you should implement policy enforcement and technology solutions quickly.

Taking long or frequent breaks

Another common tactic is when employees exceed their allotted break time or take frequent breaks, such as extending a 15-minute coffee break to 30 minutes or taking several short breaks that collectively amount to significant unproductive time. While the individual instances may seem minor, the cumulative effect can be costly.

Rounding on timesheets

Some employees may be rounding up their clock-in or clock-out times, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, an employee might clock in at 8:05 a.m. but round their start time to 8:00 a.m. on their timesheet. While seemingly small, this practice can result in significant financial losses for an employer over time.

Doing non-work activities during work hours

Engaging in personal activities such as surfing the web, checking social media, or running errands during paid work time is also time theft. Employees may attempt to disguise their non-work activities as legitimate tasks, making monitoring especially difficult. Addressing this issue requires clear policies, employee education, and potentially using productivity-tracking software.

Getting distracted online or generally slacking off

Employees who get easily distracted by the internet or other non-work-related activities during the workday should be using their paid time effectively. Excessive social media use, frequent web surfing, or inattention to assigned tasks can lead to this problem. Employers should provide guidelines and tools to help employees stay on track and use their work time productively.

The impact of time theft on your business

Misuse of paid work time can negatively affect a business, resulting in many issues hindering the organization’s overall performance and profitability. Employers need to understand the potential consequences and address it proactively.

Avoidable and steep financial loss

The most tangible impact of time theft is the direct financial loss it can incur. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage in America is $34.91 per hour. If an employee is consistently showing up 15 minutes late, that amounts to over $2,000 in stolen time per year per employee. These small increments can quickly add to substantial, avoidable costs when multiplied across an entire workforce.

Reduced productivity

When employees misuse their work time, it can significantly drop overall productivity. Longer task completion times, missed deadlines, and compromised customer service can result from the employee’s unauthorized use of paid time for personal matters. Taking proactive steps to combat this will help employees remain focused and engaged, resulting in better business outcomes.

Decreased employee morale

Witnessing time theft among colleagues can lead to resentment and reduced employee morale. Hardworking, dedicated employees may feel that their efforts are not adequately recognized or rewarded, eroding trust, teamwork, and overall job satisfaction.

Incorrect coverage forecasting

If a business cannot accurately track and account for employee time, it can lead to incorrect staffing forecasts. The result can be either overstaffing, resulting in unnecessary labor costs, or understaffing, compromising the organization’s ability to deliver high-quality customer services.

Want to make sure you’re managing your labor costs along with accurate forecasting—all while saving hours each week building the work schedule? Sign up for your free 14-day trial of When I Work and see how easy it can be.

How to prevent time theft: 4 tips

Given the significant impact of misuse of paid work time on a business, employers must take proactive steps to address the issue. Implementing the following strategies can help prevent this problem and ensure your employees use their work time effectively.

Create a time theft policy

Develop a clear and comprehensive time theft policy that describes your expectations for employee time usage, the consequences of misusing paid work time, and the measures you’ll take to address the problem. The employer should inform all employees of this policy so they understand the implications and how to avoid time theft.

For example, the policy could specify that employees must be actively engaged during scheduled work hours at their workstations, with limited exceptions for approved breaks and personal emergencies.

Related: How To Write An Employee Attendance Policy That’s Fair To Everyone

Have a discussion about time theft with your employees

Discussing the issue of paid work time usage openly with your employees, in addition to the written policy, allows you to reinforce your expectations, address any questions or concerns, and ensure everyone is on the same page. Transparency and accountability can prevent misuse of work time before it begins.

Consider holding a company-wide meeting to discuss the policy, provide real-world examples of time theft, and encourage employees to come up with any issues or suggestions.

Look for the underlying reasons that employees are stealing time

Sometimes, time theft may be a symptom of more significant organizational issues, such as boredom, lack of engagement, or personal problems. Identifying the root causes will allow you to develop more targeted solutions. Providing additional support resources could involve improving employee training, increasing communication, and providing more feedback.

Let’s say you notice that certain employees are consistently taking longer breaks. When this happens, you may discover that they’re feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated, and addressing those underlying issues might help curb the misuse of paid work time.

Use tools to identify and prevent time theft

Technology can be a powerful ally in the fight against time theft. Time tracking solutions like When I Work can assist you in accurately monitoring employee time usage, identifying potential issues, and proactively addressing this problem. Features like GPS and geofenced time clocks, photo clock in, and mobile messaging can all contribute to a more transparent and accountable work environment.

The When I Work GPS and geofenced time clock ensures that employees can only clock in and out when physically present at the designated work location, reducing the risk of buddy punching or remote clock in abuse.

Using technology to track employee time and prevent time theft

Employers can use technology to prevent and minimize time theft issues. Businesses can increase visibility into how their workforce uses work time and identify potential problem areas by implementing robust time tracking and employee scheduling solutions.

One powerful tool you can use is When I Work. The comprehensive employee scheduling and time tracking software gives employers insights and control to ensure their teams use their work time efficiently. When I Work offers a photo clock in feature and mobile messaging functionality to let managers closely monitor employees’ time usage and quickly address discrepancies.

Furthermore, the software’s seamless full-service payroll feature eliminates the need for manual data entry, reducing the risk of rounding errors or other issues during payroll. These technological solutions allow employers to take a proactive, data-driven approach to preventing misuse of paid work time and protecting their bottom line.

Prevent time theft and increase your business’s productivity with the help of When I Work

Time theft can significantly impact a business, resulting in financial losses, reduced productivity, decreased employee morale, and inaccurate coverage forecasting. Employers can address this by creating a clear policy, communicating expectations to employees, and researching underlying causes by leveraging technology solutions such as When I Work.

Use comprehensive employee scheduling and time tracking from When I Work to get the tools and insights to prevent misuse of paid work time and maximize workforce productivity. With features like photo clock in and mobile messaging, this helps businesses track how their teams use their time, identify potential problem areas, and deal with time theft before it’s too late.

If you’re ready to protect your bottom line, boost employee accountability, and drive greater efficiency across your organization, start a free 14-day trial of When I Work today.

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