When thinking of workplace theft, it’s easy to conjure up an image of an employee who embezzles money, steals data, or takes home supplies meant for the workplace. But even employees who would never think of skimming company money or stealing the office supplies can steal in another way – through time theft.
Employee time theft is when an employee gets paid for time that they didn’t spend working.
For example, an employee who has a co-worker clock them in at 8 am when they don’t actually arrive at work until noon is stealing time. But this isn’t the only method of time theft. Employees who alter or record the wrong time on their timesheets, employees who take breaks without clocking out, and employees who spend the time that they’re supposed to be working goofing off are all guilty of time theft.
Taken individually, some of these acts of theft can seem very minor. But when you add them all up, it amounts to a lot of lost time and productivity that companies are paying for, and you can understand why it’s important to get time theft under control.
Take a look at some of the things that employers can do to minimize employee time theft.
It might be easier to start from the bottom, ousting, or disciplining low-level employees who are obviously not getting their work done or are loafing on the clock. But company culture is set from the top down. If you, your managers, and your supervisors are treating your jobs casually, your workers will do the same.
What you want to do is cultivate a culture where everyone takes their roles seriously. If your supervisors spend hours on their phones instead of helping their workers manage the workload or if your managers routinely take two-hour lunches, your workers are going to notice these things. They may feel entitled to follow suit, or they may feel resentful of higher-ups who seem to be taking it easy and slack off as a means of getting back at them.
None of this is good for productivity. Don’t hold your workers to standards that you aren’t willing to hold their managers or supervisors to, and talk to your management team about their responsibilities as leaders of the company. The best way to lead is by example.
It’s typical for companies to follow a progressive discipline policy. So, a first offense might be handled with a verbal warning, a second offense with a written warning, and further offenses handled with suspensions or even terminations. The seriousness of the offense factors into the discipline as well – an employee who spends a few minutes scrolling Twitter in-between tasks is a less serious problem than an employee who has someone else clock in for them when they don’t arrive until several hours after their designated start time.
But it’s important that the disciplinary procedures that you use are spelled out clearly, communicated to employees, and that you follow them consistently. If nobody knows what the penalties are for time theft, or if they frequently see inconsistencies in how these incidents are handled, your workers are not going to become more productive.
You can’t suspend one worker for looking at their smartphone during work hours one time while letting another come back half an hour late from lunch every day without comment or action if you want your employees to take their responsibilities seriously.
Your best bet is an employee handbook that spells out prohibited behaviors and disciplinary procedures. This should be distributed to all employees and they should have to sign a document saying that they read and understood it. This ensures that everyone is on the same page. Make sure that new employees are given the same information upon hiring, and update the policies annually so that everyone can refresh themselves on the company policies. Then, follow the guidelines that you’ve laid out consistently. Avoid showing favoritism or coming down harder on some employees than others. When everyone is operating under the same rules, they’ll all be more consistently productive.
The reality is that not every worker will be working for every single minute that they’re on the clock. Downtime is a real thing, and most workers in most jobs will have downtime from time to time – this can occur between assignments or between customers.
A worker who has completed all of their tasks before the time they’re supposed to clock out may have to wait for a manager or supervisor to give them a new assignment before they can begin working again, or a cashier who is intended to remain behind the cash register for the whole shift may not be performing work when there are no customers in the store.
In some cases, employees may have downtime because of technical or environmental factors. For instance, if the internet goes down, your workers that rely on the internet to do their jobs may not have anything to do until it comes back up. Or if it rains, workers that must perform outdoor tasks may not be able to do work until the weather improves. In these cases, workers who are on the clock but not working aren’t stealing time – you’re paying them to remain available when there is work for them to do again.
If employees have too much downtime, that’s probably because of mismanagement of their workflow. The cashier can be assigned (and trained) to perform other tasks when there are few customers in the store. An employee who frequently completes tasks early and needs to wait for a new assignment may be able to handle a heavier workflow. If there’s an employee who performs similar tasks who is always behind, you may be able to shift some of the work away from that employee to the other one. It’s management’s job to ensure that workers have enough work to do to keep them busy (but not so much that they can’t possibly finish it all) and if the work distribution is uneven, to find a way to even it out.
Employee time tracking software can help not only by showing your employees’ clocked hours at work but also by giving you a clearer picture of what they’re working on and when. Take InterGuard Work Time Tracker and Attendance tool for a free test drive or schedule a demo with one of our specialists.