Buddy punching. What is it? And how can you punch back?

12 July 2021
A graphical illustration of a person enjoying a drink surrounded by nature, whilst a large work clock ticks on.

Are your staff time thieves? No? What about the worker who keeps the clock running while they’re on the phone to their partner? Or spends hours at their desk posting pictures on Facebook and checking their Insta feed?

Many of your workers are clocking hours without performing their side of the bargain - and that’s time theft, plain and simple.

You may not be that concerned about the odd bit of downtime here and there, if it’s not excessive and doesn’t impact on overall performance and output.

But what about staff who are deliberately duping you about their working hours? Pretending to be at work when they’re not? Can that ever be good for your business?

In this blog we look at the dark art of buddy punching, a widespread and financially damaging practice in businesses across the land.

Read on to find out how buddy punching works, how it could be costing you thousands, and how you can punch back.

How does buddy punching work?

Buddy punching happens when an employee clocks on (or off) on behalf of a colleague. Their friend may be running late, need to leave early or just be feeling work shy for the day.

But they don’t want to lose pay, call in sick or be disciplined for lateness or non-attendance. They need another solution. Buddy punching.

It’s a bit like the school kid mumbling ‘yes miss’ when his skiving mate’s name is called out from the register. An old trick, probably still popular in classrooms today. No-one wants to get done for truanting, and it’s a lot easier than persuading your mum to call you in sick.

Buddy punching in business can take many forms:

  • John clocks in using Jane’s time card at 0730. It looks like Jane’s now at work. She isn’t. She’s still in bed.
  • Marie logs on to the system at 0900 using Sanjeev’s user id and password. But Sanjeev’s stuck in traffic and doesn’t get in for another hour.
  • Jim scans his own and Sam’s i-d cards against the reader as he leaves the building at 1800, the end of their shift. But Sam snuck out of the building at 1500 to watch her son play football.
  • Dave, who works from home, stays logged into the system while he heads to the airport at 1400 for a stag weekend. His partner logs him off at 1800.

What are the impacts of buddy punching?

Buddy punching in business is causing huge financial losses to companies globally. It may seem harmless to those doing it, but for bosses, every ten or fifteen minutes of paid non-attendance mounts up.

In salaried roles, employees tend to have some flexibility around the particular hours they work. You may not worry if they show up late as long as they get the job done.

But what about time-intensive businesses, like restaurants, shops and call
centres? Your staff are paid by the hour and/or specifically hired to cover a
shift for a set number of hours. Shirkers can cost you big bucks, impact on
customer service and dampen staff morale: how many workers really want to pick up the slack for a lazy colleague?

A 2017 survey in the US found that 16 percent of the staff questioned admitted they’d clocked on for a colleague. Which, the survey concluded, equated to a potential loss of $373m annually to American companies. Buddy punching is obviously a massive problem, with huge financial implications.

  • You pay Geri, a shop assistant, £9 an hour for an eight-hour shift, five days a week.
  • Geri clocks in and out at the start and end of each shift, but leaves 15 minutes early every Thursday to go to Pilates.
  • Toni clocks Geri out at the end of the Thursday shift.
  • Over a year, the cost to you is £108 (allowing for four weeks’ paid time off).
  • You may also have to conduct a disciplinary process for both members of staff and, if you choose to dismiss them, recruit replacements. All this adds to the buddy punching cost.
  • Multiply that cost by the untold number of staff who are pulling the same trick, and you’ve got a big bruising to your bottom line.

Other negatives of buddy punching:

  • Impacts staff morale. Just because some employees are covering for their mates, doesn’t mean all your staff condone the practice. What they see is a colleague getting away with deception and being paid for it, while they’re having to cover for the work that’s not getting done. It’s not good for morale.

  • Creates team friction. Buddy punching can result in team dysfunction and conflict. You may even lose staff who no longer want to be a part of an organisation that’s not dealing effectively with deception.

  • Embeds a culture of dishonesty. If you allow buddy punching to continue unchecked, you’re basically saying to your workforce: it’s okay to be dishonest.

  • Dishonesty breeds dishonesty. If deception is given the green light in the time and attendance arena, what’s to stop it spreading into other areas? How might that affect reputation, customer relations, revenue?

  • May be masking unresolved ER issues. Why are your employees not working the hours they’re contracted to? What does that say about your workplace? In a perfect world, your staff should feel motivated to come into work – and not just because they’re paid to attend, but because they enjoy their job.

Okay, the world’s not perfect. But what can you do to develop a greater sense of loyalty in your workforce? How can you create a feeling among staff that it would simply be wrong to let their employer down by buddy punching?

Is buddy punching legal?

For an employee to intentionally and dishonestly represent to their employer that they’re working, when in fact they’re not, is fraud. Both the skiving worker and their buddy-puncher could be getting themselves into very hot water legally.

It may not seem like that big a deal to the staff involved, but it’s very likely to be a case of gross misconduct and grounds for disciplinary action, which could result in dismissal.

It’s really important your workforce understands how serious buddy punching is. It’s a breach of their contractual obligations to you, which could have damaging consequences for them. You should have a clear policy <link to section below> on buddy punching to ensure your employees know it’s not acceptable.

How do you know if buddy punching is a problem in your business?

Obviously, those involved in buddy punching won’t be shouting about it. It’s an under-the-radar activity. But here are some easy-to-spot signs and symptoms of buddy punching which may indicate you have a problem:

  • Flawless punctuality. Your suspicions may be raised if there are no signs on your system of staff arriving late – especially if you’re aware that employee lateness seems to be creeping up.

  • Reduced turnover, output or performance. There could be many reasons for this. But one may be that a team is performing without a full compliment of staff, even though all the hours are being logged.

  • No or low absenteeism. We’re all absent once in a while; it’s perfectly normal. But if your absence records show unusually low levels of absence, it may be that staff are taking time off, but using buddy punching to avoid having to declare it.

  • Cranky time-tracking systems. The older your clocking systems are, the easier they are to exploit by buddy punchers. It’s easy to use each other’s time cards, i-d cards and passwords. It’s less easy to borrow a fingerprint or retina. The technology <link to section below> is out there to make it more difficult for staff to clock in for each other. Maybe it’s time to look into it.

How can you stop buddy punching?

  • So, buddy punching can cause your business financial damage and other serious harm. Luckily, there are steps you can take to stamp it out – or, even better, stop it happening in the first place.

  • Ensure you have a no-tolerance buddy punching policy. Your employees might not even know buddy punching is unlawful. Maybe they just see it as an honourable way of supporting colleagues. A company policy dealing specifically with what it is, why it’s wrong and describing the consequences of doing it, will rule out any doubt.

  • Communicate the policy to staff. It’s vital your employees read and understand it. You want their support and recognition. They need to buy into the importance for the business – and for them – of honest and accurate time recording.

  • Take a look at how you can improve attendance. If buddy punching is an issue in your business, why is that? Why do staff feel entitled to be paid for hours they’re not putting in? What is it about the corporate culture that makes them feel they can get way with deception?
    • Talk to managers, team leaders and staff. Find out what you need to do to improve levels of commitment and loyalty.
    • Carry out staff satisfaction surveys. Are your people happy with pay, management, recognition and career advancement?
    • Consider away-days and team-building activities to engage staff and improve morale.
    • Maybe it’s time to lay on a free Friday breakfast!

  • Investigate what technology is available to bulletproof your existing systems.

    • Use a biometric reader. It’s more difficult for workers to log in on behalf of each other when the reader requires a fingerprint, palm, face or retina scan.

    • Install CCTV. If a camera is recording staff as they enter and leave the premises, it should deter buddy punchers, as there will be filmed, timed evidence of the person who actually punched in or out.

    • ‘Geofence’ your workplaces. Technology exists to put a cyber-ring round individual places of work. Staff who use handheld devices to clock in and out can’t to do so until they enter or leave the geofence area. Some apps automatically log the user in and out as the device crosses the fence. Others send the user an alert so they don’t forget. A geofence makes it hard for someone to log in on behalf of an absent colleague.

    • Use GPS to track your workers. GPS tracking is particularly useful for staff working across multiple sites. Combined with geofencing, it helps ensure accurate recording of hours worked, and monitors time spent between locations. You know where your workers are when they’re working for you, and the hours they’ve worked. Great for the worker too, as there can be little argument over the hours they’ve put in – and the pay they’re due. It also makes it really hard for a colleague to cover for them while they go off radar.

At Thinking Software, we specialise in creating systems to enable you to plan, monitor and report on your staff’s working hours. Find out about our time and attendance software.

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