Desk-time culture – where attendance is all that matters

The phenomena of “desk-time” culture is becoming more widespread in countries all over the world. This is a name for the type of workplace culture where employees feel obliged to stay at their desk for more than the time-span in their contracts.

A survey from MAXIS Global Benefits Network discovered that 70% of the UK workers they questioned worked for companies with this kind of culture. On average, UK workers worked 17 extra hours in a month.

Many companies consider that staying late at your desk is a sign of a hard-working and loyal employee. However, this survey showed that many employees have entirely different motivations for prolonged attendance.

A fifth of the employees surveyed said that being expected to stay late made them feel less motivated to work hard. Nearly 30% of them said that they would not take on extra work in the extra time they spent at their desks, but instead would merely spread their existing workload out over the longer time period.

Many employees (more than a fifth) believed that this desk-time culture was actually damaging to their mental or physical health. This could mean that far from getting a more productive workforce, companies that do this are actually dealing with a higher rate of sickness absences than they would otherwise be.

If there is a view within the management of a company that people who stay late are in some way better performing than people who do not, it is no surprise that 12% of the surveyed employees said that people in their company who do not stay late are “marginalised”.

A rigid insistence on looking at clocking times rather than at quantity and quality of work may well lead to employees who don’t value those things either – thus a drop in the companies’ productivity. It may also produce a high turnover, as hard-working staff who can’t or don’t want to stay late end up finding new jobs where their skills are appreciated more than their unpaid overtime record.

Dr. Leena Johns, Head of Health & Wellness at MAXIS Global Benefits Network, said, “All organisations should look to create a nurturing and supportive environment that encourages productivity. It is important that managers distinguish between employees simply sitting at their desks and working harder. They need to measure real productivity and output.

“A strong workplace culture can help motivate employees and deliver improved financial performance, with a measurable increase in revenue. Unhealthy or stressed employees are a cost in terms of decreased productivity, rapid staff turnover, increased healthcare costs and absenteeism. There are a number of factors that impact workplace culture, from the physical environment of the office to the benefits and corporate wellness programmes offered by the employer, all of which have the potential to foster a healthier and more productive workforce.”


Here at Tensor, we regularly stress that it is important to collect time and attendance data, since not doing so can hamper your ability to see patterns in employee absences, and can make it difficult to gather reliable evidence for disciplinary procedures.

However, it is not enough to simply collect the data! You should be regularly reviewing your data and running reports. Are there patterns? What do they suggest?

A recent paper by BrightHR on understanding the impact of staff absences revealed that 82% of their surveyed small companies do collect attendance data, but that only a third of those companies actually use that data to monitor the impact of absences.

A time and attendance system is a tool, and a good manager can use it in many different ways.

For example, you could choose to focus on clocking data just to make sure that core hours are being met. If you have a desk-time culture, you might use the data to take note of employees who regularly stay late.

However, you could choose to dig down into the data to find out if there are reasons that your employees are staying late. Many reasons may not be positive, and fixing these can create a happier and more productive workforce.

  • Do they find the commute traffic more convenient at that time of day, but haven’t realised that they are allowed to request flexible time?
  • Do they find it difficult to concentrate at certain times during the day, and have reshuffled their workload to account for this?
  • Do they have too much work on their plate, and are struggling to fit it all in?
  • Do they fail to manage their time and workload effectively during the day, leading to a frantic race to get it all done in the evening?

You can see that identifying and solving these sorts of problems can take a good deal of human effort, and as a result many companies do not want to invest their time and people in this way. But with mental health problems a huge reason for sickness absences, it absolutely pays for companies to start seeing the people behind the numbers.

Our WinTA.NET time and attendance system makes it easy for you to start examining your time and attendance data using customisable reports, emails notifications, and careful control over who can access the clocking data.

For more information on our fully integrated time and attendance system, which can be operated by either RFID smart cards or employee fingerprints, please get in touch today.

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