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What are the signs of buddy punching?

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Buddy punching occurs when employees log in and out of work on behalf of their work buddies. American businesses lose millions of dollars to buddy punches every year. Businesses that use manual time sheets and punch card systems are most vulnerable. In this article, we’ll help you identify whether buddy punch behaviors are happening at your workplace – and what you can do about it.

Is buddy punching happening at your business?

How can you know for sure? There is no way to know for certain until you catch someone doing it. However, workplaces that have a buddy punching problem have a few things in common. You’ll want to look for the following signs or gaps:

  • Symptoms of buddy punching, such as low absenteeism.
  • Outdated timekeeping systems, such as manual punch cards.
  • Type of business and layout, as some workplaces are more susceptible than others.
  • Attendance policy gaps, such as failing to mention the seriousness of time theft.

Let’s look at each of these topics below.

Symptoms of Buddy Punching

First, take a look at your attendance records. If you notice the following, you might have a problem:

Your employees are hardly ever late.

According to your timekeeping system, your employees are hardly ever late. This could be a sign that they’re abusing the system. Getting late to work once in a while is normal. It happens everywhere. Chronic lateness is a problem in some workplaces. But if your employees are hardly ever late, this may be an indication of buddy punching, instead.

There is very low absenteeism.

Absenteeism at your business is so low your business buddies wonder at it. Again, unless your employees are all super healthy and super organized, absenteeism is normal in all workplaces. Everyone has childcare issues every once in a while. Everyone gets sick or has family members that need attention. If your employees are rarely ever absent, they might be getting away with time theft.

Outdated Timekeeping Systems

An outdated system doesn’t guarantee that buddy punching will occur, but it does make your business more susceptible. Consider whether you match the following:

You use an outdated time and attendance system.

Four out of six businesses are still using outdated systems for tracking hours worked. These include manual time sheets and time punch machines. Punch cards and timesheets are easy to game. Just ask a buddy to punch in for you when you are late or when you want to leave early. Companies with outdated systems are more likely to suffer from time theft.

Your employees only fill out time sheets once a week.

While not strictly about buddy punching, this can lead to accidental or intentional time theft. Studies show that more frequent time sheets lead to better accuracy. If employees are required to submit timesheets daily, then they are more likely to record their hours worked as they work. Also, it makes it easier for supervisors and managers to monitor work done against hours logged. On the other hand, less frequent time sheets makes it possible to put off filling them out and opens up many possibilities for inaccurate information.

Type of Business and Layout

The type of business you run and its layout can also have an impact on whether buddy punching occurs. Think about whether the following describes your workplace:

It is difficult to keep track of where everyone is.

Buddy punching is more difficult in manufacturing settings or places where everyone sits together. A missing person is easy to spot in factories and offices. Close circuit television cameras monitoring the workplace also make it easy to spot missing people. In many retail and hospitality settings, however, it can be quite difficult to keep track of where everyone is. If coworkers are amenable to buddy punching, late comers and early leavers can make use of it. People can take long lunch breaks with a coworker clocking in for them after lunch, for example.

You don’t have a good measure of productivity.

Do you have a way to measure employee productivity in your workplace? If you’re using metrics for matching hours worked against work done or output achieved, you’ll find it much easier to gauge whether you have a time theft problem. If you aren’t using productivity metrics, you’re operating in the dark.

Attendance Policy Gaps

If your employees don’t know you take time theft seriously, they’re more likely to engage in buddy punching. They need to know it is unethical, dishonest, and unacceptable. That there can be serious consequences. It’s not just about agreeing to do a favor for a work buddy; it’s theft.

Some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is buddy punching mentioned in my workplace policies?
  • Is it noted in the employee handbook?
  • Do people know the consequences are serious?
  • Are buddy punch logins addressed during the onboarding of new hires?
  • Do your team members know buddy punches are considered fraud?
  • Is it is clearly written and noted that clocking in or punching in for others is not tolerated?
  • Are there consequences for either or both parties?

If your answers to any of the above is NO, it is more likely that buddy punching is happening at your workplace.

Preventing Buddy Punching

Addressing each area mentioned above, including updating your attendance policy and creating employee awareness, can reduce the likelihood that team members will engage in buddy punching. One of the best ways to prevent it, though, is to upgrade your timekeeping system. It’s not as hard as you might think. Plus, updating your time and attendance system can also improve quality of your payroll data and prevent other types of time theft, too. For more tips, check out our post: How to Prevent Buddy Punching: Technologies that work.

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