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I work for a small medium business (SMB) that pays its staff hourly. We record our hours worked with an online time accounting system that is based on the honor system. Employees enter there Time In and Time Out entries to complete a virtual punch card that keeps track of their total hours worked, breaks, vacations, etc. I am the direct supervisor for a small team of office professionals and one of my direct reports (we'll call him Mike) is using the time accounting system improperly.

We are expected to "Punch In" when we start our day and "Punch Out" when we take a break or leave for the day. When Mike arrives in the morning he will often forget to "Punch In" and when leaving on his break it is very common for Mike to forget to "Punch Out." To compound matters, Mike's estimated arrival and departure times are always incorrect and always in his favor.

For example, this morning Mike forgot to punch in for the day. When I informed him of the oversight, he back filled his time sheet with a start time of 7:29 AM. I happen to know for a fact that he wasn't at his desk at 7:30 because I was looking for him at the time. In fact, he didn't arrive until 7:38. Admittedly it is a very minor discrepancy, but it struck me as odd that he was so specific and yet demonstrably inaccurate. He didn't put in an estimated time of 7:30, instead it was 7:29.

My spidey-senses were tingling, so I paid closer attention to Mike's coming and going today. The window in my office overlooks the parking lot, which made it easy for me to make a note of Mike's arrival and departure times.

Mike left for a morning break at 11:00 on the nose, but on his time sheet it says he left at 11:09. He didn't get back from break until 11:47 but his time sheet says he returned at 11:43. It seems like this may be a pattern of behavior that has gone unnoticed before now.

Mike and I have talked in the past about the importance of following the company's time accounting procedure. On three separate occasions I have made it clear to Mike that he needs to Punch In when he arrives and Punch Out when he departs. I don't want to lose an otherwise valuable member of the team over something so small, but the dishonesty is really bothering me.

How should I deal with this situation with Mike?

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    Before considering approaching him, are you certain he's the only one? – Glen Pierce May 25 '18 at 18:34
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    I respect you wanting to protect a "valuable" employee, but if he's committing fraud, he isn't valuable. And if you're willing to pay him the extra and not call it fraud, then convert him to salary. And think about the impact once the rest of the hourly staff find out about this. – dwizum May 25 '18 at 18:46
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    The reason he put in 7:29 instead of 7:30 is that he is stuck in the habit of lying on his timesheet. When someone wants to lie on their timesheet they randomize the times to look more authentic. Even when caught, he instinctively puts in a non-round number. – Keltari May 25 '18 at 18:50
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    @GreenMatt No, we have an honor system Time Sheet. We talk in terms of "Punching In" and "Punching Out" but it is all accounted on a single Time Sheet. – Lumberjack May 25 '18 at 19:02
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    Has anyone stopped to consider that it can take 10 minutes to enter and exit many buildings, with security procedures and bottlenecks such as lifts? If I have a 30 minute break, and I'll need to spend 20 minutes of that entering and leaving, that would rather defeat the purpose, and be counterproductive for the company in the long term. Indeed even the distance to the door can take many minutes to cover, not counting other factors. – Dom May 26 '18 at 1:45
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For starters, I think you may want to give this some thought before you do anything. You seem to consider Mike a valuable employee. However, you also seem to think it's a big deal that he's not reporting his time accurately, even though you say it's a minor discrepancy. If you talk to Mike about it, you run the risk of looking like you're following his every move and annoying him; his production could go down; he might even leave. If you go to HR, they may take the situation out of your hands and start disciplinary procedures that could lead to Mike's departure by his decision or the company's.

If you decide that this does need further action, you may want to have a look at this old question. The OP didn't select an accepted answer because it seems there is no generally agreed upon occasion at which people start and end their work day (and I can definitively say that because it was me who posted that question :-). The point being that perhaps you think the work day starts when someone gets to their desk, but Mike thinks it starts when he pulls into the parking lot or enters the building or some other point. Coming to some sort of agreement - or you making clear what you expect - about when Mike's work day starts and end may be needed here. As some answers to that other question pointed out, company policy may help you here.

Another issue that might need to be factored into this: Does Mike work in some way outside of the work place? Where I work many people don't put in 8 hours per day in the office. However, nearly everyone works from home (and other locations) a fair amount, reading and answering emails, and addressing issues posted on our web site, doing research, developing software, etc. If Mike does some sort of work when he's not in the office, that deserves some consideration. Maybe he figures it's okay to pad his time sheet a few minutes if he's put in an hour of work at home before he comes into the office.

So, let's say you decide that something does need to be done about this. I'd recommend asking him into your office for a private conversation. Make it clear that you value his contribution to the organization and you want him to stay there. Per the 2nd paragraph here, make sure you agree on what events are to be logged as arrival and departure at work. Come to an agreement on how to handle work done outside the office, if applicable. Then, if it is still an issue, make it clear that you won't continue to approve his inaccurate time sheets (as his supervisor, you do approve them, don't you?); tell him you'll send it back to him for correction when needed. Of course, you will have to back that up. When his pay starts to suffer, it is likely he'll do a more diligent job of putting in the time required for him to get his full paycheck.

  • Thank you for this answer. I come back to read this from time to time and remind myself. Today was one such day. Mike's pattern of behavior hasn't changed, but my perspective on it has changed, thanks in big part to your answer. Thanks again. – Lumberjack Sep 6 at 19:37
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Your first step is to talk to HR about the process for reprimanding and firing someone for this type of thing without mentioning any names. Then you know exactly what your options are.

Next step is generally an official reprimand. Being polite didn't get his attention, he is committing fraud even if not for very much money, so you need to get his attention and insists on a change. He needs to know this is a serious issue that you expect him to fix.

One thing you could try is to wait until he comes in late and then doesn't punch in and then take him to punch in at the time you first see him. If you know he left for a break, your company may have a way for you to punch him out. Do so if possible, then insist he punch in when he returns. It is terrible to have to treat someone like this, but he is committing a crime. One that I have seen auditors send people to jail for.

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    Good advice, but I would not call it "not for very much money". Let's say Mike gets $20/hr. He defrauded the company of (9m + 9m + 6m) / 60 = $8 for one day. If this is typical, we are talking $1k - $2k per year... – user1008090 May 25 '18 at 18:44
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    His actions might also be illegal. If your company is billing a customer based on his incorrect time, that would be fraud. – Keltari May 25 '18 at 19:00
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    @Keltari: Actually, if he deliberately punches in incorrectly, that is already fraud (defined as "deliberate deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain"). – sleske May 29 '18 at 7:58
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Hm.

So Mike is adding - let's generously say 30 minutes a day to his payment.

This seems a lot, and it might be depending on how many hours Mike bills in a day (is it 2? or is it 12?)

You're always going to have some time lost, I mean, it's just unlikely that all your staff work 100% every minute they are in the company.

Two Things

So you have to think of at least two things -

  1. What is the time-discrepancy for all other employees? To work this out you will need to, unannounced, consistently & thoroughly observe all employee comings & goings for a week, and match against their declared time sheets. You cannot be known to be doing this - because of the Hawthorne Effect. This will take considerable (although not total) time over the week - it's not something you can fairly do by checking every now and again.

  2. How much time does Mike waste otherwise compared to other employees. This includes non-business related internet usage and bathroom/rest breaks. You can presumably check internet usage easily. Don't discount bathroom breaks they add up. This might seem trivial, but you want to fairly determine the culture of time usage in your office. Mike will be more aware of it than you, and it can go a long way in explaining his actions

Analysis Of Data

Once you have all this data, you can tabulate to see if Mike is truly under representing his time vs all other employees, as well as how much time is lost by overall time discrepancies (both on the time sheet and via internet usage).

You then need to compare Mike's overall productivity vs other employees. If he is producing more output, or less output. I have no idea what you do, but I'm sure you can work this out. This isn't per hour or whatever, it's per week, assuming all employees are 100% honest and work 40 or whatever hours. ie if in a week Mike makes 6 widgets, and Claire only 5, then Mike is 20% more productive - you assume they both work a full schedule.

Outcomes

Once you have all this, you can work out if you want to confront Mike or not. It could well be that Mike works harder/faster/better than the others, and assumes that because he produces the same amount (or even more) of "stuff" then he doesn't need to sit around so much. In which case, you have a problem of motiviation - your pay structure is not motivating your employees to work as hard as they can, but rather to some conceptual "average". After all, if Mike sees no reason to work harder why should he?

It is also possible that Mike is under-performing, in which case you need to raise to him how he can improve his performance. Does he need to meet a certain quota? If so then let him know this, and of course take action - reprimands/ending contract - if he does not meet this quota in some due time.

It is also possible that everyone is doing this, and now you need to see if this is negatively impacting productivity or not. Is expected productivity down? Is it not increasing year-year? What is the impact of increasing the timeliness of staff - will it be to increase productivity? Or will it simply engender a sullen attitude in the staff, thus paradoxically reducing productivity, or worse (well, depending on what you do) decreasing retention rates?

Wielding the specter of "time" can be tremendously de-motivating to all employees.

It certainly reduces innovation - after all, why work smarter if you will only end up doing the same thing as everyone else?

As a manager you really want to increase productivity. This can be done by increasing hours, but it can also be done by encouraging innovation, or allowing strong performers to work less hours, or any number of other ways. The incentivization structure should be well thought out though, and possibly even changed every 6 months to discourage "gaming" the system.

Of course, some jobs - teaching, or phone support - would appear to not lend themselves to time bonuses. In terms of teaching I think this is a mistake, which has crippled innovation in the teaching disciplines.

For phone support, well, you probably aren't solely doing this as I imagine there is a relatively sophisticated algorithm for determining output for this particular industry.

  • Sorry to be a language Nazi, but "incentivization structure"? How about "incentive structure"? – GreenMatt May 25 '18 at 20:23
  • I see your points, but that 30 minutes a day is 2 1/2 hours a week, or 130 hours per year. IE the equivalent of 3 1/4 weeks extra vacation per year. Mike may be worth it or he may not be - but it is hardly insignificant – Peter M May 25 '18 at 20:53
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    @PeterM should really be looked at how much Mike works, not how much the break is. Also needs to be measured against Mike's productivity - if he is 5% more productive than the average, that's 2.6 extra weeks of work each year, this includes his time off. It depends in the end on what drives the company's revenue and profits. Looking at it only in hours is stupid, because companies don't make money because an employee is at a desk. They make money by output. – bharal May 25 '18 at 21:13
  • @bharal the problem with your comment is that if the OP decides to overlook the tardiness because they are productive... the OP is now complacent and ultimately the responsibility will fall on the OP for not addressing this sooner. Company policy is to clock in and out. Period. Accommodations can be made including paid comp time if done the correct way (through HR), but they cannot just be ignored. – Phil M Jun 1 '18 at 17:39
  • @PhilM why not? Company policy isn't set by an unflinshing god, it's set by very real people with goals in mind. One would think those goals were to ensure a certain level of productivity. The company policy of clocking in/out, incidentally, is not in itself being broken. – bharal Jun 1 '18 at 19:30
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If I were working at a company that tracked my time down to the minute for pay or performance measures, I would then account for all delays caused by company procedure.

If it takes 5 minutes to get out of the building, I would add 5 minutes to the time I left my desk.

Likewise, if I arrived on the premises at 7:29am, and it took until 7:38am to get to my desk due to congestion in the lobby and at the lifts/stairs, security procedures and other factors, I would state 7:29am as my arrival time.

I am not the person in question, but I see this as a narrowly worded question, and would not continue working for a company that began counting the minutes as soon as I left my desk.

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    I agree with this. Just because he wasn't at this desk 7:30, does not mean he wasn't in the premises and/or walking towards the desk. Or maybe he went to toilet or met some colleague and a quick chat about the project. Could be many reasons. Either way I think it's unreasonable to count every minute someone is not at their desk. – user1880405 May 27 '18 at 18:45
  • @user1880405 I agree. However, in this case I observed Mike in the parking lot at the times I mentioned. – Lumberjack May 29 '18 at 12:10
  • Lots of companies have time clocks that are located inside the building (like near the lunch break room), and newer ones even have fingerprint scanners to prevent fraud by a friend to clock you in early. That might need to be the solution... to ask HR for a true time clock system instead of a paper "visitor log" style. – Phil M Jun 1 '18 at 17:44

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