Stealing time sounds like an unlikely concept. However, it is a common occurrence in most workplaces. Moreover, it costs many employers dearly. So, let’s observe this phenomenon and learn how to prevent it.
What Is Time Theft?
Contrary to the science fiction name, time theft is a collection of common behaviors. They may seem harmless (especially to the perpetrators), but once they become common among your staff and keep repeating, the company can suffer quite serious consequences.
Here are the most common examples of time theft:
- Fudging with numbers
- Buddy punching
- Unnecessarily long socialization
- Internet distractions
- Non-approved breaks
- Using work hours for personal matters
- Unauthorized overtime
- Late starts and earlier finishes
To put it simply – time theft represents the activities employees partake in during working hours that aren’t contributing to company goals. As a result, the employers end up paying for a lot more hours than the employees have worked, which brings the profit margins down.
Fudging with numbers
This is the most common type of stealing time at work. Simply put, it means being dishonest about the amount of time you’ve spent working. This can be as easy as clocking in earlier and clocking out later than you’ve arrived or left your workplace. The discrepancies can be minor, i.e. five to 10 minutes. However, the practice can become widespread, and those few minutes add up as time goes. This method of time theft is possible both with written and electronic timesheet-based solutions.
This is the practice of having a coworker clock in for you if you don’t get to work in time. This method is prevalent in manual time tracking.
Unnecessarily long socialization
Even though employers usually want to create a positive atmosphere within their companies, they aren’t going to allow it to get in the way of their profit. This time theft method means spending too much time chatting with coworkers instead of working.
Internet distractions have been one of the most detrimental ways of stealing time since the internet became widely available. Employees will scroll through their social media accounts or other work-unrelated sites and lose track of time. The widespread availability of mobile devices made this practice more common. Implementing a productivity tool into the workflow can be of great help, but doesn’t prevent time theft completely.
This type of time stealing occurs in companies that have a mandated amount of rest time. To put it plainly, it means taking either too long or multiple breaks and not logging them.
Using work hours for personal matters
Work takes up a third of a person’s day. Some interaction between personal and professional lives is bound to happen. This is understandable, especially in urgent situations. However, some employees will use more work time to get through their personal matters than actually work.
16 Ways to Prevent Time Theft
As you can imagine, preventing time theft completely is not possible. To put it simply, some inaccuracies are always going to happen, no matter what you do. So, your goal should be to decrease distractions and make sure time theft is happening as rarely as possible. Here are the best techniques to do so.
1. Let Your Employees Know Your Expectations
Communication is one of the most important ways to create awareness about time theft. The truth is, your employees most probably don’t see their actions as severe. They also usually don’t realize just how much time they spend away from their tasks.
The first step is to make rules and policies crystal clear. Create a list of the most common time theft methods in your organization and let your employees know these behaviors are unacceptable.
Firstly you should hold a meeting, or let team leaders do so, depending on the size of your organization. Then you can use the policies presented in those meetings to create a document or a presentation that will be a part of your onboarding process, so your future employees understand what will and won’t be tolerated.
2. Work on Communication
Being told you aren’t doing enough is never pleasant. It can create a negative atmosphere in your offices and lower employee morale. It is up to you to reduce the damage. Your employees shouldn’t be scared into compliance.
Communicate that you aren’t creating your new policies to punish your employees. Explain the ways time theft is damaging your company and the teams themselves. This way you will start raising the morale, as the employees will feel like an important part of the team.
3. Present the Benefits
The additional profit you’ll make by reducing time theft is the other side of the medal of our previous point. As the employees are the main reason for increased productivity, they should also reap some of the benefits.
Announce the benefits your team will get once they reduce time theft. These benefits will depend on the size of your company and the amount of money increased productivity brings.
4. Follow Through on Your Policies
Simply creating a list of rules and talking about it isn’t enough to change employee behavior. It will let the employees know their time theft has been noticed. However, once they see that you are noting their time theft and following through on your policies immediately, they will change their behavior as well.
Unfortunately, this also means you will have to make an example of someone. On the other hand, it will show that you are serious about preventing time theft.
Don’t forget to follow through with the policies that benefit your staff as well, as it will show that you keep your word.
5. Track Employee Time the Best Way Possible
As we have previously stated, it is easy to manipulate numbers if you track time manually. The Pen-and-paper method is most commonly abused. That is why you should look into a time tracking system.
You should look for the most effective solutions for your company and the best time tracking practices. There are many different types of automated time tracking, and many platforms that offer different options and features. That means you’ll have to do your due diligence and do some research before choosing the time tracking platform that suits your needs the best.
6. Increase Transparency When Possible
Time theft is clearly unfair to the company, as employers pay employees for the hours they haven’t worked. However, it is also unfair to other team members. Simply put – if one team member is slacking, their responsibilities will fall onto their colleagues.
Adding an element of transparency will show who are your top performers, but also level out the playing field, time thieves will have to step up and start contributing as much as the rest of their team.
7. Conduct Audits
You will need to conduct time audits regularly to figure out whether your time tracking system is working or not. Time audits are a useful time tracking practice that makes sure everyone is truthful about their time spent on different tasks.
Besides being useful for the employer, the employees can also benefit from regular time audits. Namely, they will be able to recognize their work rhythms and increase productivity while not overworking themselves.
8. Don’t Attack Immediately
We cannot recommend being aggressive when time theft occurs. Knowing you are paying your employees while they’re slacking off is frustrating. Yet, yelling and confronting them in front of their coworkers isn’t a good practice. Your aggression is not going to help your situation.
Instead, you should take the time for one-on-one meetings with the main problem causers and talk to them calmly about their performance. Then, if their behavior doesn’t change, you can reprimand them publically or take more serious actions.
9. Remove Paperwork from the Equation
An attendance and time tracking system that relies on employees manually writing their start and finish times and logging their tasks is becoming a remnant of the past. Namely, this method allows the biggest opportunity for time theft. Additionally, it can take quite some time to fill the documents properly, which can disrupt your employees’ workflow.
That is why many companies are turning to automatized time tracking, such as online timesheets and automatic time tracking and monitoring. Timesheets become a lot easier and quicker to fill if your timesheet software has a module that allows you to create custom logs that contain all the information you need.
Additionally, timesheets still allow some freedom for the employees. Even though time theft is a problem, you cannot expect everyone in your company to be at their most productive for 8 hours. A timesheet-based solution will allow you a realistic insight into the time your team needs to finish a task.
10. Consider Automatic Tracking
Automatic time tracking comes in many forms. The most common ones are
- Automatic timers
- Monitoring user computer activity
- Taking screenshots of user computers
As you can see, the order of these points is based on the severity of monitoring and the level of privacy you’re going to invade. This is another reason to be tactical and pay attention to the way you introduce the practice to your team.
The precision is the biggest advantage of automatic time tracking, as you will be able to account for every minute. On the other hand, the morale of your team is bound to drop, as automatic tracking implies a lack of trust.
11. Track visited web pages
If you still decide to use an automatic tracker, you may be able to choose between different options. Tracking the web pages your employees frequent during work hours is one of them. This method of activity monitoring is going to reduce the time your employees spend on social media and other sites that aren’t related to their tasks.
Some tracking solutions also give you the option to prevent users from visiting certain web pages depending on their position to maximize their efficiency. You need to remember that this practice has a downside. Namely, most employees have cellphones and use mobile data to access these sites.
12. Monitor Computer Usage
There are two main methods of monitoring computer usage:
- Monitoring keystrokes and mouse activity
- Logging the applications and document names employees interact with
While very efficient, both methods rely on intrusive practices. In other words, there will be some resentment once you implement them, and the results can vary.
13. Take Screenshots
Finally, the most intrusive of the time theft prevention techniques. Taking screenshots is believed to be the most certain way to ensure your employees aren’t committing time theft. You can set the system to take screenshots at regular intervals or randomly during the day. This way you will have an accurate representation of your employees’ workdays.
The downside of these methods is that they are completely automated, and slackers will always find a way to trick the system. Whether it’s simply putting a heavy object on their keyboard or randomly changing up their desktops, cheating is possible.
You need to pay attention to your country’s laws as well. Taking screenshots goes against the GDPR in some countries, so we recommend covering all your bases.
Finally, auditing can be extremely tedious when it comes to automatic time tracking methods. This is true because you will receive a lot of unnecessary information you will have to go through.
14. Connect Attendance and Hours with Employee Payroll
Making your employees care about the time they put into their projects is extremely important. There is no better way to do so than directly correlating their payroll to the real spent hours. Seeing their wages go up together with their task engagement is a great incentive to increase productivity.
Time tracking software often offers the option of integrating with different payroll solutions or exporting the timesheets into Excel sheets. Some countries also mandate issuing timesheets along with the payroll as proof of completed work.
15. Lead by Example
The transparency in your company should start from the higher-ups. Share your own experience with preventing time theft and managing your time more efficiently. Present the ways you’ve changed your behavior and the positive impact it’s had on you.
This is also a good way to decide whether the technique you’ve chosen is efficient enough. On the other hand, you’ll also know if you’ve taken it too far and need to be a little more lenient.
This tip would be most useful if you can use the system for a few weeks before introducing it to the rest of your team.
16. Make the Changes if Necessary
The consequences of time theft should be proportional to the stolen time. You should apply the same principle to award good behavior and positive changes. You should also stay consistent and just with following through with the rules you’ve made. This may mean correcting the behavior of some managers as well, and you should be prepared for that situation as well.
However, if the system ends up being ineffective (i.e. causing a greater employee turnover), you should reconsider your strategy. The point of preventing time theft is improving your performance as a company, not creating new costs.
Time tracking is one of the most efficient ways to prevent time theft. However, you will have to be very careful throughout the process. This means paying attention to the way you’re going to track time, as well as the implementation process and the follow-up.
You need to understand these are all steps that are going to take a toll on your team’s dynamic and performance. They are going to create permanent changes, which is why you’ll need to prepare well and think your plan through upfront.
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