Stopping time theft: How to eliminate buddy punching 

by Andy Nguyen
buddy punching

In the tight labor market that most of the world is experiencing, talent retention is absolutely critical. However, leaders still need to ensure that all employees are productive and engaged. Retaining ‘bad apples’ just because it’s difficult to hire only erodes company culture and profitability.

One of the significant signs of disengagement is the dishonest practice of ‘buddy punching’ – where one employee clocks in for one of their colleagues who is not actually present. It might only be a few minutes at the start of a shift, but it quickly adds up to significant time theft.

Curbing acts like these, on the other hand, has the positive effect of boosting productivity, controlling costs, and fostering a culture of integrity.

What is buddy punching?

Buddy punching occurs when employees deliberately misreport their work hours by asking a colleague to clock in or out on their behalf to create the illusion of time spent working. 

An employee who arrives late might ask a colleague to punch them in at the official start time, or someone leaving early might ask a buddy to punch them out. In both cases, the employer ends up paying for hours not worked.

While it seems like a harmless perk, it can have significant consequences for your business in the long term. Proving time theft can be challenging, which means even if your employees haven’t worked certain hours due to buddy punching, you still have to pay them.

What are the negative impacts?

Even if only a small percentage of your staff are buddy punching, the losses can soon become substantial. However, the negative impact goes far beyond wages paid out unnecessarily. Buddy punching harms productivity, engagement, and overall work culture. It reflects a failing work environment that needs to be addressed promptly. 

It also distorts productivity data by falsely inflating the number of hours logged compared to actual work performed, which gives an entirely misleading impression of employee productivity. Many crucial purchasing, investment, and hiring decisions depend on the accuracy of this data.

Buddy punching can also impact team morale as it puts an additional and unfair burden of work on those who do show up, leading to frustration that dishonesty is being tolerated.

Employees engaging in dishonest practices like buddy punching often indicate a lack of commitment and dedication to their work. Low employee engagement can lead to decreased productivity, poor work performance, and harm to company culture.

How can you prevent buddy punching?

There is no single quick fix for deep-seated cultural issues like time theft through dishonest practices. It requires a whole range of remedial and preventive actions. Broadly, you should seek to address the issues that are causing staff to act in this manner while at the same time taking precautions that make it much more difficult for them to do it in the first place.

Like any organizational change initiative, reducing instances of buddy punching requires alignment among leadership. Present a compelling case highlighting the return on investment (ROI) for investing in updated policies and controls. There are plenty of cost savings and potential benefits like increased engagement you can point to. Ideally, you want commitment from executives and managers to enforce the new rules consistently.

Here are our recommendations for eliminating buddy punching in your organization.

Find out why buddy punching is happening

If you uncover buddy punching in your organization, the first thing to do is have an open conversation with staff about their concerns. What improvements would they like to see in the company so they don’t feel the need to do it? Perhaps they think they need more time off, or they’re overwhelmed or experiencing disrespect from colleagues or superiors.

Sometimes, employees might resort to buddy punching for fear of losing their jobs if they run late. If your company has an overly strict attendance policy that leaves little room for flexibility, this might be something to look at. To prevent a culture of blame from building up, or one where employees see their bosses as adversaries, try to cultivate an inclusive and supportive work environment

Update attendance policies

An attendance policy that promotes a healthy work-life balance will help. Training managers to handle attendance issues fairly and sensitively also goes a long way. However, it should also be made clear in your employee handbook and onboarding documentation that your company has zero tolerance for buddy punching. 

Outline what happens when buddy punching is discovered and what disciplinary measures will be taken when someone uses another employee’s timecard or engages in other forms of improper clocking. While maintaining a fair approach, ensuring that everyone understands your commitment towards enforcing these rules is equally important.

To prevent buddy punching, reviewing your attendance rules from an anti-theft perspective is crucial. Close any loopholes related to clock-ins/outs, early departures, and lateness. Provide examples that address common questions employees may have about what behavior falls under unacceptable practices. This will help eliminate instances of buddy punching caused by misunderstanding or lack of clarity regarding acceptable behavior.

Instill a culture of integrity

Ideally, your objective is to foster an ethical environment where employees genuinely value honesty and accountability. You cannot do this using only the stick – there must be a carrot too. Ethics training and recognition for employees who display desired behaviors can help here. It’s also essential that managers create an atmosphere where doing the right thing is the done thing. 

You can reward employees who go above and beyond with additional paid time off hours. It is essential to publicly acknowledge and appreciate those who align with the company’s values. People tend to support what they are rewarded for.

As you know, your company’s culture plays a significant role in employee engagement and performance. That includes accountability and adherence to workplace rules. Communication also plays an important role. Communicate policies and expectations through many channels, including email updates and team meetings, and explain why these rules exist. Actively seek input from employees to refine the implementation process.

Choose a secure clock-in technology 

Outdated methods like paper timesheets or shared logins make it easier for dishonest practices to occur. Upgrade to digital time clocking and timesheet tools that use employee passwords and other compliance measures – for example, fingerprint or facial recognition clock-in systems guarantee verified identities. 

Geofencing can also be implemented to automatically clock workers in when they are on-site, while GPS can be used to confirm their location and check that they are actually on site. If these systems are integrated with your timesheet and payroll processing systems, you will have a bulletproof solution, saving you many administration costs.

For remote employees, time tracking software on their work devices, combined with a camera and facial recognition software to ensure they are at their desks, can help ensure they are ready for work when they clock in. You could also require employees to use a difficult-to-memorize password that includes a mix of upper- and lower-case letters and numbers when clocking in or out. Tying an employee’s time clock activity to their device’s IP address can also help prevent buddy punching incidents.

Use time-tracking software

Time tracking software, such as Time Doctor, installed on each staff member’s work device can offer advanced protection against buddy punching and also help foster a culture of transparency that discourages underhand practices. 

Time Doctor Homepage

Time Doctor monitors the hours each employee works while they are on the clock and also automatically reports on what they are doing. With non-intrusive camera and keystroke monitoring, Time Doctor gives managers and supervisors the means to check who is present and actively working when they should be. It is particularly powerful for remote and offshore teams – where other means of visibly checking people are working are unavailable – but is also deployed for on-site staff, enabling salaried and hourly-rate employees to track their work time accurately. It is usually tied to each employee’s work device and password-protected, so it prevents other employees from pretending to be someone else.

Time Doctor timeline report

Explaining the positive benefits of time tracking to your employees is essential. Rather than present it as a potentially intrusive surveillance measure, highlight its ability to provide valuable productivity data and insights to help individuals and teams work more quickly and effectively by highlighting process bottlenecks and inefficiencies. By boosting productivity, increasing transparency, and eliminating many of the frustrations all workers feel with broken processes, tools like Time Doctor actually allow employers to be more flexible with schedules

This positively impacts the employee experience, improving the workplace culture and reducing the likelihood that staff will want to get involved in something like buddy punching. 

Get started today

Addressing buddy punching requires a collaborative effort across departments and teams and at every level of the company – from technological upgrades to revamped policies and improved communication. 

Once implemented, these changes will combat buddy punching and re-engage employees, build trust, and reinforce your company’s values.

Ensuring that all employees are fairly compensated for their work and that nobody is ‘gaming’ the system is something everyone in your organization can probably get behind. 

Implementing reliable time-tracking software like Time Doctor can play a crucial role. If you’re interested in experiencing the advantages of dependable time tracking and eliminating buddy punching in your workplace, request a demo of Time Doctor today.

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