Buddy Punch Log Ins: Are they happening at your workplace?

a wall of old fashioned clocks

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Buddy punching occurs when one employee asks another to help them clock in for work while they are away from work. Typically, the request is made with the assumption that their supervisor or manager would not find out about it. In this day and age, buddy punch log ins or clock ins are often digital or happen online. The term ‘punch’ comes from traditional paper time cards, which were literally stamped or punched to track time.

Buddy punching often begins as an innocent request from a coworker. “Could you please clock me in? I’m running late…” The first time around, most people might go along with it, thinking of it as a simple favor for a work friend. But sometimes, buddy punch log ins can become a habit. That same individual could ask a friend to clock them back in when taking a long lunch break. On another day, they might ask another person to clock them out when they want to leave early.

Things can get much worse when employees form pattern of clocking in/out for each other. For example, a hesitant coworker might be pressured by the statement that “everyone is doing it.” Others might be tempted to trade favors. Below, we discuss why buddy punching is a serious problem, why it occurs, and what you can do to prevent it at your workplace.

Why are buddy punch log ins a problem?

Buddy punches (or more often log ins, or clock ins, in this age of online timekeeping) are a problem for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a waste of money for your business. Your payroll costs are higher than they should be. And the work does not get done.
  • It lowers business productivity, bit by bit. Because it inflates hours worked, in the end, you don’t have an accurate picture of workforce costs or productivity.
  • Your business becomes less competitive. As a result, profit margins may be lower. Your ability to change pricing strategies could be hampered. All because your competitors have their labor costs under control and accurately track employees’ time and pay.
  • Pervasive buddy punching is bad for the morale of your workforce. Honest employees feel cheated because their dishonest coworkers earn the same without putting in their fair share of work.

Why does buddy punching happen?

Without getting into psychology and human behavior, a simple answer is: it happens because employers allow it happen. Not intentionally, of course, but without a process in place to prevent it, there will always be employees who take advantage of the system, whether they actively mean to or not. Effective time tracking and schedule enforcement will prevent buddy punching and ensure all employees get paid for actual time worked, every pay period.

Many employees do recognize buddy punching as dishonest behavior and will not do it. However, when it is known among employees that buddy punching goes on, especially without serious consequences, it can become an acceptable norm. You do not want that to happen at your business.

Naturally, buddy punch log ins inflate hours worked for each instance an employee asks someone else to clock in on their behalf. Each such employee gets paid more than the hours they actually put in. Add the number of instances this happens, and you will have a pretty big chunk of dollars per pay period going out to people who did not work for it.

This also affects your productivity calculations if you are calculating output against hours worked. Pervasive buddy punching could also be a sign that your employees are not engaged in work.

How much is buddy punching costing your business?

Most likely you do not know. However, the statistics on buddy punching in the United States are alarming:

  • Buddy punching is fairly common. Studies show that 3 in 4 US companies are losing money due to buddy punching.

  • Half the employees surveyed in one study admitted they resorted to buddy punching for workmates at least once in a while.

  • Buddy punch log ins costs employers around $373 million a year in 2017.

Looking at the above, it is very likely buddy punching is going on in your business. That is, unless you’ve taken measures to prevent it.

Buddy punch log ins can be minimized or prevented

The good news is that buddy punching is preventable. Below are some actions you can take to minimize losses from buddy punching. These actions are grouped into two categories: 1) policy and communication, and 2) timekeeping methods.

Create and communicate a firm policy on buddy punching

  • Educate your employees. They need to know buddy punching is unacceptable, dishonest, and unethical. Make clear that your company has a zero tolerance for it. Let them know there will be consequences for buddy punching for both parties involved. Just knowing this would prove to be a deterrent for many people.

  • Issue a warning. Put the warning on notice boards and next to employee time clocks. For locations where there appears to be a high prevalence of buddy punching, a meeting of all staff would be an initial measure. You want to inform employees that buddy punching amounts to wage fraud. You have legal grounds for dismissal for both employees engaging in the practice.

  • Get employees to acknowledge they know the consequences of buddy punch log ins. Ask employees to sign a form in which they acknowledge that they understand the serious nature and consequences of buddy punching and wage fraud in whatever form. If you need to, change the company policy to include wage fraud. You are in effect making buddy punching illegal. With that written down, it makes it that much harder for an employee to claim it was an innocent favor to a buddy.

  • Include a similar warning and signed form at onboarding. Make sure this warning and form becomes embedded into your onboarding for new staff members. Add the policy to employee handbooks. Keep these documents and signatures on file.

Improve your timekeeping methods to safeguard against buddy punching

  • Increase frequency of time punches. Make it easier for your employees to clock in daily and without error. Studies have shown that around 38% of employees are tracking their own hours worked, while managers track employees’ time for another 18%. According to a 2014 study, employees who track their time daily are more accurate than those who log time weekly (66% of the time vs 47% of the time).

  • Upgrade your timekeeping system. Statistics from 2019 show that timekeeping methods are outdated in one in three businesses. Around four out of ten (38%) employers in the US still use paper time sheets and punch cards according to another study. Paper punch cards make it easier to game the system. If your business is still on manual time sheets, you are leaving the gate wide open for buddy punch related theft.

Benefits of a good timekeeping system

Improving your timekeeping system can have many more benefits on top of buddy punch prevention. With schedule enforcement, employees can be limited to clocking in and out only at scheduled times. When schedules are enforced with a biometric time clock, buddy punching becomes next to impossible and employees are paid only for the hours they actually work. On top of that, when your labor hours are accurate, you can gain a much clearer picture of your business’ productivity.

In a future post, we will discuss some of the ways you can level up your timekeeping system to save time and money. We’ll discuss some specific technologies, such as IP-restricted mobile apps and biometric time clocks, which can help you safeguard your business against unnecessary losses.

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