Like most businesses, you also want your employees to be cordial and look out for one another.
What to do when some employees start exploiting this relationship and start punching each other in and out at work? This is known as buddy punching or buddy clocking where some employees may illegally punch in for other employees.
As a business owner, It isn’t a pleasant experience to realize your employees are committing time theft, it creates a culture of dishonesty, and you can end up paying for work that was never done.
In the United States alone, it is estimated that time theft is costing businesses $50 billion annually.
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What is buddy punching?
Simply put, buddy punching is when one employee clocks in for another employee and does attendance punching on their behalf. This is a common occurrence in instances like when an employee is running late and asks a colleague to clock in for them to avoid notice or detection by the floor manager or supervisor.
According to a 2017 Pollfish survey involving 1,000 employees, 16% admitted to buddy punching. Furthermore, the study also found that the most common mistake committed while submitting timesheets is employees adding an extra 15 minutes to their clock time.
This might not seem like a challenge, but when you put things into perspective you realize the deeper consequence this can have on the annual payroll bill.
The latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that there are more than 78 million hourly workers currently. If we assume that 16% of them participated in buddy punching and added 15 minutes to a co-worker’s timesheet, this will end up adding more than $373 million to the employers’ annual payroll bill.
In some extreme cases, some employees use buddy punching to take entire days off work without getting caught or accrue extra overtime. This not only tricks employers into paying for large chunks of time employees have not worked for, but is also detrimental to the morale of an honest workforce.
Whether you are a large enterprise or a small business with tight margins, buddy punching is time theft and dishonesty that must be dealt with.
Negative Effects of Buddy Punching: More than just extra business cost
The cost implication is not only the negative impact buddy punching has in the workplace, there are many more. If you are not able to prevent buddy punching it can correlate with the following problems in your workplace.
Rise in buddy punching culture
When new team members witness seasoned employees participating in time theft, they think of it as a norm. Especially, if there is no feedback around buddy punching, employees will feel it acceptable to continue to do so. This will also result in slacking on their responsibilities.
Low morale for high performing staff
Employee absenteeism due to buddy punching puts pressure on the rest of the workforce as they need to pick up the slack and do extra work. This is outright unfair for honest employees who exhibit strong performance.
They are compensated the same amount for all the extra work. Lack of equal treatment and fairness is one of the major reasons for employee turnover in the workplace.
How to prevent buddy punching at work
1. Have a strict zero-tolerance policy
The most effective way to eliminate buddy punching is to address it head-on without showing any leniency. Putting a formal buddy punching policy in place will ensure your employees are aware of the consequences they can face. Having a clear zero-tolerance policy will also let the new employees know of the stance the company has against time theft.
If you do not have a zero-tolerance policy already in place, work on one, print it out and put it where all staff can see it. A formal buddy punching policy also gives grounds for termination.
2. Install CCTV
A seemingly simple solution to prevent budding punching is to record who is clocking in. Installing CCTV cameras at the right places, you can verify whether the employee was present at the time and place when they were clocked in or clocked out.
While this solution seems simple, it has its shortfalls. Primarily monitoring CCTV footage is a time-consuming task. It is a full-time task to figure out who is where and at what time. Also, the cameras and other equipment require frequent maintenance. As all the components are serialized, even if one breaks down everything can stop working.
3. Update legacy attendance systems with modern attendance systems
While card punching systems are a norm, they do leave a lot of scope for time theft. Biometric attendance systems offer an excellent improvement. As it requires thumbprints, face recognition or retinal scans to clock in an employee, it is a failsafe mechanism to ensure that the right employee is clocking in.
With biometric clocks employees were able to limit time theft to only 3% of the employees of the total who were buddy punching previously.
Face recognition attendance systems make time theft virtually impossible and can keep employees from abusing the timekeeping system. To better adapt to the needs of a contact-free work environment in the post-pandemic era there are touchless face recognition based employee attendance systems available like the one offered by Truein.
4. GPS Tracking
In workplaces where employees roam over a larger area, preventing buddy punching can be challenging as managers need more resources to track employees. An easy solution is to use timekeeping software and mobile GPS. Such systems can track an employee’s location as well as their hours.
Timekeeping solutions with inbuilt GPS tracking and/or geofencing are available, which allow an employee to clock in only when they are within a certain radius of the business. GPS tracking employees for timekeeping is not expensive as GPS can be activated on their smartphones.
A more restricted and arguably the most effective way to manage employees and avoid buddy punching is geofencing. As geofencing relies on GPS, WiFi and cellular data, it can create an invisible barrier within which a person can clock in.
You can decide at what distance you want your employees to be able to clock in, be in the parking lot or the front door. Once this digital barrier is set, employees can mark attendance only when they are inside.
You can enable automatic punching for employees when they are within a certain distance or allow manual clock in through an app. With geofencing, employees cannot clock in when they are away from work, or can’t be buddy punched by any other employee.
6. Try Truein Solutions
A company focused on providing seamless staff attendance, Truein leverages the advancements in Artificial Intelligence technologies to prevent the menace of buddy punching. Their touchless face recognition based employee attendance system enables employees to clock in using their phones or tablets.
There is no complicated hardware needed to implement their attendance system. Truein’s attendance system also offers selfie-based geofencing, leave management and automated reports. Here is a case study on how we solved the buddy punching issue in real estate industry.
Largely buddy punching is a side effect of more pressing attendance issues, rather than being the problem itself. You must take a closer look at your attendance policy to ensure that it is fair towards employees and not too constrictive.
Still, buddy punching can be the Achilles’ heel for any business and must be prevented. Having an effective attendance solution that relies on modern technologies like AI, facial recognition and geofencing are recommended to prevent negative impacts on productivity and costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Buddy Punching Illegal?
The legal policies governing how companies handle buddy punching vary by state and country. However, in most cases, time theft through buddy punching does constitute fraud and can be ample grounds for termination without warning.
How should you tackle/deal with employees who have been caught buddy punching?
Most employees practising buddy punching are found to have a sense of entitlement. Rather than terminating their employment, you must issue a warning notice. Also, establish clear communication feedback where managers can explain the consequences of buddy punching to their teams.