Time Theft In The Workplace: Who’s Actually Working?

Time Theft In The Workplace

Whether through maliciousness or negligence, time theft is a pervasive practice among salaried and hourly employees alike. According to a survey by Salary.com, 64% of workers have reported using the internet for non-work reasons during working hours on a daily basis. With a notable portion of internet traffic inside a corporation being unrelated to work, employers and managers need to understand and mitigate distractions that lead to time theft and reduced employee productivity.

What is Time Theft?

At its core, time theft occurs when an employee accepts payment for work or time they did not actually complete. Time theft comes in a range of degrees of severity, from employees mismanaging their allocated break times all that way up to intentional fraudulent claims. Time theft is not always done maliciously, as is the case when employees accidentally forget to punch in/out for allocated breaks or if a lack of employee time tracking infrastructure causes them to overestimate time spent on work or underestimate time spent on breaks.

Examples of Time Theft:

  • Over-extending allocated breaks
  • “Buddy Punching” – the act of convincing a friend at work to punch in on their behalf in an effort to fraudulently claim they worked hours that they were not actually present for. This could range from having someone punch them in when they are running late from an allocated break to taking entire days away from work while claiming their time was spent working.
  • Exaggerating the time spent working on tasks
  • Spending unauthorized/excessive time on non-work tasks (“Cyberloafing” with social media and personal emails, “goofing off”, excessive socializing, sleeping, playing games, working on personal projects during working hours)
  • Working unauthorized overtime

Why Does Time Theft Happen?

Dissatisfaction Over Wages/Working Conditions

Employees that do not feel fairly compensated for their time and energy or are otherwise dissatisfied with their work-life are less engaged and are more likely to commit time theft through a lack of engagement, excessive personal activities during work hours, or fraudulently reporting hours worked.

Lack of Clear Guidance

Time theft can occur when employees are not given clear expectations. If employees are not aware that the less-malicious examples of time theft (excessive socializing, over-extending breaks, etc) are a concern for the organization, they may inadvertently participate in these activities without a second thought. By clearly communicating expectations for time spent at work and enforcing those expectations through formal policies, codes of conduct, regular message reinforcement, and monitoring, you can establish a baseline with which employees can operate from and allow them to be coached to better suit the needs and expectations of your organization

Lack of Accountability

While happy employees are ethical employees and job satisfaction should be of the utmost concern for organizations wishing to be successful, sometimes employees that willingly engage in time theft may also be doing so simply because the opportunity is present. Part of an organization’s time theft mitigation and productivity strategy needs to account for this possibility by implementing systems that can accurately track and verify employee time.

How to Prevent Time Theft

Blocking Websites and Apps

The most pervasive example of time theft is employees becoming distracted with non-work-related websites and applications. In one Gallup report titled “State of the American Workplace”, they reported that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 to $550 billion per year in lost productivity. Social media, news, and games can all become a temptation for even the best of employees, amounting to significant losses in productivity and subsequent labor costs.

Organizations can prevent lost productivity due to excessive use of non-work-related applications and websites such as Facebook through the implementation of internet restriction software to proactively prevent access during specified working hours. To prevent employees from downloading distracting applications such as games, some internet restriction software also comes with integrated features for blocking unauthorized downloads.

How To Monitor and Report Time Theft

One of the most difficult parts of mitigating time theft is a lack of resources for identifying its prevalence. Software designed to monitor employee internet usage will give human resources (HR) and management the insights it needs to understand the prevalence of time theft in your organization. With the data collected through employee internet monitoring software, your organization can make educated coaching decisions and improve your employee’s mindfulness of distractions they engage in and how it may be impacting their performance.

Policy & Enforcement

Establish accountability with clear guidance and policies/codes of conduct. With your baseline of policies and expectations set, employees will have a pillar to be held accountable to. Ensure that all of your employees clearly understand your organization’s expectations and reinforce their accountability to those expectations through enforcement and coaching.

Achieving Balance

One of the difficulties of employee monitoring is that employees may feel that they are not trusted to manage their own schedules or they may worry that “big brother” is micromanaging their time and making uninformed judgements about their work ethics based on the data collected. To help generate much-needed support from the employees in your workforce, there are ways to balance your time theft strategy to a reasonable standard.

Monitoring While Respecting Privacy

If you would like to use software-based monitoring solutions as a part of your time theft mitigation strategy, it is important to respect the privacy of your employees. Only use the amount of monitoring that is appropriate for the needs of your organization, and ask for explicit consent from employees that will be monitored as a part of their work activities. For traveling or remote employees that require the use of a tracked device for work, it helps to provide them with a dedicated work device as the monitoring of personal devices can feel like a significant privacy violation for most employees.

Set Reasonable Expectations For Your Employees

With all of the concerns your organization may have regarding time theft it is important to consider that typically, the ultimate goal is to cultivate a workforce that is full of employees that are happy, engaged, and productive. Internet and application monitoring should be used to identify and coach repeat offenders and address productivity issues, not to micromanage your employees. 

When assessing the prevalence and severity of time theft, you should consider the “human factor” behind your workforce – your employees are multi-dimensional humans with needs outside of their immediate work obligations. By allowing a reasonable degree of flexibility for non-work activities such as taking personal calls/emails as needed or engaging in brief team-building conversations, you will make your employees feel trusted and valued, leading to an increase of engagement and productivity through greater job satisfaction.

Software for Monitoring & Preventing Time Theft

CurrentWare is a global provider of software solutions for web filtering, internet usage monitoring, bandwidth tracking, and data loss prevention. If you would like to better understand how the internet is used (or misused) in your workplace and take steps to improve employee productivity, you can try our internet monitoring solution BrowseReporter and our internet filtering software BrowseControl with a FREE no commitment 14-day trial.

  • Track Internet Activities
  • Automated Email Reports
  • Bandwidth Monitoring
  • Record Application Usage
  • Remote Screen Capture

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  • Control Internet Access
  • URL White / Black Lists
  • Category Filtering
  • Application Blocking
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Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland is a Marketing Coordinator for CurrentWare, a global provider of endpoint security and employee monitoring software. Dale’s diverse multimedia background allows him the opportunity to produce a variety of content for CurrentWare including blogs, infographics, videos, eBooks, and social media shareables.