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Are Your Employees Stealing Time?

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.

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. Follow me @paul_slezak.

  • Time theft has always been a troubling factor for all employers and moreover this problem was with all earlier time tracking methods. But with the new time tracking processes are buddy punch proof and time theft proof.

  • Jax Gibb

    What about the reverse – time debt? The current trend is for professionals to perform unpaid overtime work through being more contactable when mobile – on their way to & from work, or at home.

  • You’re right that you can’t know what an employee is doing all the time. GPS data is useless if they simply log in and out. We have a piece of software where users record the specific task and project they are working out. The TimeTac mentality is that employees become more conscious of their time, resultantly improving productivity. Yes there will be irregularities and mistakes in time tracking to correct now and then, but when a manager is monitoring how much time is being spent on a task, compared to how long it should take; they will easily see if their employees are completing their assigned duties. The idea is trust-based working. You have the responsibility to track your own time, while your manager knows that you’re working as you should be.

  • Time theft is really a concern that many organizations are concerned these days however I think the best way to figure this out is to use a good time tracking software – such the one we had been using by Replicon Inc.

  • Scott Williem

    Yes, if you are a victim of time stolen by your employees, the time clock or time recorder should be your choice. You can have a tracking of the employees work duration by the employees and the chances of time to get lost become incredibly less or almost nil.

    For more details, you can visit

  • Mac Lauren

    Time theft in the organization is a threat which directly creates a negative impact on employee productivity and in turn the organizational productivity and the consequence is a bad hit on the ROI. It is vital to monitor employee in and out activities to have a better control. To do this, you would have to get the right time and attendance system in place.

    For more details, please get in touch with

  • terredean

    Time theft has always been an issue
    and will stay if a time tracker is not used to solve the problem. I have been
    using Labortimetracker.
    Take a look:

  • Le-roy Staines

    I think it depends on the type of work as well as the type of people. I know programmers like to come and go at their own leisure (to a degree) but what I’ve found is that if we let our programmers start at 10 instead of 9 then they’ll work until 7 or 8 instead of 6. They clearly overcompensate. Or perhaps they just like to work late and then realise they earned flexibily to start late.

    We have developed a system to track employee hours and it works really well particulary for crew based teams out in the field. And because GPS is involved it makes them think twice about time theft.

  • Cliff Mitchell

    Here’s ours which is designed for construction and service trades, it’s launching in a few months. Still working on the beta release now.

  • Selmon Olive

    There is simply no doubt that the time theft has been a major issue in organizations where the proper arrangement of a solution to have the time tracked and managed works well enough in order to make the things go in a streamline manner. We too faced a various sort of problems with the time tracking and productivity issues. Ultimately the cloud based hours tracking tool from Replicon – came as a solution which gives out the legitimate solution to have the productivity comes into recursive perspective.

  • TickTA

    Some very interesting points but you overlook some of the other advantages of a time tracking system. Such as reducing the amount of time it takes to run payroll each month. Human errors made through manual processes, illegible handwriting etc. The ability to have all your data for multiple work sites in one system. Who’s currently on site reports in case of emergency. Our system is relatively new and needs a few additions here and there, but it provides the advantages I mention. Thanks 🙂 John

  • Pingback: The Importance of Updating Your Time Management System - Buddy Punch |Time Clock Software()

  • jonrgrover

    But what do you do with creative employees in a less creative job? Creative employees create all day long. Their minds create ideas and implementations of ideas spontaneously and they tend to record their creations. This behavior can be reduced by making word processing, picture creation, program writing, and spreadsheet software unavailable to creatives (any sort of software that allows a creative to create and edit), but this software is often necessary for work.

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