Time Theft: The Definitive guide to what, why and how to reduce it.

February 29, 2024

Time Theft: The Definitive guide to what, why and how to reduce it.

Time theft is something of a covert culprit syphoning away valuable work hours across Australia. It also poses a significant challenge for employers as it can be hard to identify, hard to navigate a solution and will require businesses to look further into the problem to deal with the causes. The COVID era saw the emergence of flexible work options and working from home became in many industries the standard. With the pandemic more or less behind us, many employees have retained the ability to work from home, coupled with industries that demand travel, the commonality and mainstay of personal devices allowed in offices all create opportunity to commit time theft.

In this article, we’ll unravel the diverse aspects of time theft, delve into some practical steps to identify, understand, and prevent time theft in the workplace.

Identifying Time Theft - Unmasking the Stealthy Culprit

Time theft takes various forms, and being able to identify these subtle indicators is crucial for employers. Key signs include irregular working hours, frequent breaks or unexplained absences, inconsistencies in time tracking, lower-than-expected productivity, observations from co-workers, personal use of technology during work hours, and unusual remote work patterns. Let’s take a deeper look at some of these.

Inconsistent Work Hours:

Time theft becomes apparent when an employee's declared working hours don't align with their actual workload. For instance, an employee may claim to have put in long hours, but the tangible outcomes may not match the time invested.

Excessive Breaks or Unexplained Absences:

Time theft occurs when an employee takes an unusually high number of breaks or frequently leaves their workstation without a valid reason. Employers will need to be sensitive when investigating this as it is crucial to distinguish between legitimate absences, such as illness, and instances of time theft.

Discrepancies in Time Tracking:

A warning sign arises when reported working hours don't correlate with the actual work completed. For instance, if an employee falsely claims to have accomplished specific tasks on a particular day despite being absent, it transcends from time theft and into outright time fraud. Time fraud and incorrectly filling out timesheets in Australia is a criminal offense in some states and naturally carries some serious consequences. 

Subpar Productivity:

Time theft may manifest as lower-than-expected productivity despite an employee reporting full work hours. It's essential to assess whether the assigned tasks align with the employee's skills and if the employer's expectations are realistic.

Colleague Observations:

Co-workers often become witnesses to time theft when an employee consistently engages in non-work-related activities during designated work hours. The consequences can be burdensome for colleagues who may find themselves compelled to take on additional duties to maintain departmental productivity.

Abuse of Technology, digital slacking and cyberloafing:

Excessive personal use of the Internet, including online shopping, gaming, as well as indulging in social media or personal phone calls during work hours, is time theft. The issue is exacerbated if the employee employs company-provided equipment, such as phones or computers, for personal activities.

Unusual Remote Work Behaviours:

In remote work settings, time theft can manifest through behaviours like being consistently unavailable during designated working hours or delayed responses to work-related messages. While not every occurrence is indicative of time theft, recurrent issues should prompt a review of the employee's time tracking records in asynchronous work environments.

The Psychology Behind Time Theft - Why It Occurs

Understanding why time theft occurs is the next step in tackling this issue. It often happens because the right conditions present themselves. According to the "theft triangle" model, employees need an opportunity, motivation, and reasoning to steal time. For instance, an employee might seize the opportunity to come in late if they believe their manager won't notice (opportunity), driven by financial struggles (motivation) and feeling underpaid (rationalisation). Addressing the motivational and rational aspects can be challenging, but the most effective way to reduce time theft is by eliminating these opportunities.

Strategies to Reduce Time Theft - A Time and Attendance Solution

One powerful tool to combat time theft is a robust time and attendance system. Manual timesheets are vulnerable to errors and deception, making them a breeding ground for time theft. Adopting an automated system, such as Aussie Time Sheets, provides a reliable solution. The range of time clocks, including Face Scan Time Clocks, Fingerprint Time Clocks, Proximity Card Time Clocks, and mobile app clocking, seamlessly integrates into the daily work routine. This automated system records time to the minute and sends the data directly to timesheet software, minimising the risk of errors and ensuring accurate payroll processing.

Fostering Positive Workplaces to Reduce Time Theft

But eliminating time theft goes beyond technology. It involves fostering a workplace culture where employees feel valued. Investing in the right time and attendance software not only curbs time theft but also opens avenues for rewarding employee attendance, driving productivity, and enhancing overall work experiences. A Harvard Business Review article quotes a study by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organisation, showing that disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In organisations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time. Importantly, businesses with highly engaged employees enjoyed 100% more job applications. If you’re an employer and your identifying multiple increases in time theft and dis-engagement it may be time to look at your workplace culture and see how you can improve things.

Time theft may be a silent adversary, but with a keen eye for identifying its signs, an understanding of its roots, and the right tools in place, employers can reclaim lost time, boost productivity, and create a workplace where every employee feels valued. By demystifying the secrets of time theft, organisations can fortify their foundations and pave the way for a more efficient and harmonious work environment.

Need some help to get started? Contact Aussie Time Sheets Today!

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