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Time theft is another name for the practise of not working during usual paid work hours. It is very common across practically all industries.

Time Theft Behaviours

  • Buddy punching (falsely recording their prescence in the premises times due to swapping their clocking ID with a co-worker)
  • Taking longer breaks and lunches than scheduled
  • Using work computers for personal tasks in normal working hours
  • “innoccently” rounding their timings (e.g. claiming they clocked in at 08:30 when actually it was 08:35)
  • Claiming overtime that never happened.

Why Does Time Theft Matter?

Many of these can seem inconsequential at first glance. Most managers understand the disadvantages of employees taking a 90-minute lunch instead of 60 minutes, but what difference does being 5 minutes late make, anyway?

If you have one employee turning up late once or twice a year, no, there’s not much of a difference. The problem is that the occurrence level is never that low.

A 2018 survey by BrightHR showed that over 20% of the people who were late blamed traffic. We can all sympathise there, surely?

Let’s say that you are one of the 1.4 million small businesses in the UK which is large enough to require more than one staff member. You could be a micro business, with between one and 10 employees, a small business with between 10 and 50 employees, or a medium-sized business with between 50 – 250 employees.

You pay your employees the National Living Wage, which as of the time of writing (August 2019) is £8.21 per hour for over 25s.

Only Five Minutes Late

According to the BrightHR survey, the average amount of time employees turned up late in 2018, a year admittedly plagued by failed train timetables and freak weather, was over 36 minutes late.

Let’s not assume such glaring lateness from your staff. You would have noticed if that was going on regularly!

Let’s say that, on average, each of your employees is 5 minutes late on arrival or early to leave once a week.

This is about 68p (£0.68) of pay awarded for not working, per employee.

  • A microbusiness might lose up to £6.80 per week, if they had the maximum of 10 employees. That’s approximately £353 in a 52-week year.
  • A small business could lose up to £34 per week if they had the maximum of 50 employees. That’s approximately £1,768 in a 52-week year.
  • A medium business could lose up to £170 per week if they had the maximum of 250 employees. That’s approximately £8,840 in a 52-week year.

Remember, these numbers only assume your employees are individually doing this once a week, whereas in fact this is the sort of behaviour which, if it is not spotted and stopped immediately, can very quickly increase.

It is all too easy to imagine employee complacency spreading (because what does 5 minutes matter? Nobody has said anything). Soon they’re coming in 5 minutes late on Monday mornings and leaving 5 minutes early on Fridays.

Hopefully, this has helped you to better understand the implications of time theft on your business.

Why Does Time Theft Happen?

It is all too easy for employers to panic and assume that employees who do this are automatically lazy or ‘out to get them’, but actually there are many reasons why employees might start to perform these behaviours, and a good manger can work with them to bring time theft to a halt without causing bad feeling.

Accidental Lateness

According to the BrightHR survey of employees in 2018, lateness categories were as followed:

  • Medical reasons: 8.4%
  • Oversleeping: 11.3%
  • Traffic: 11.4%
  • Transport: 20.8%
  • Other: 48.1% (which including amusing reasons such as “My dog ate my train pass.”

All of these reasons for lateness are perfectly understandable if they happen once or twice. It is when they start to happen more often that managers need to take note.

Sometimes an employee might benefit from a discussion about flexing their hours, such as when medical issues or unavoidable public transport snarl-ups are involved, while others might simply need reminding that they need to figure out a way to reliably get themselves up in time for work.

It is vital that your employees know they should be accurately recording their timings. Draconian punishments for lateness might backfire here, as people would lie to keep themselves out of trouble.

Innocently rounding their numbers

Employees may see no problem at all in writing 08:00 on their timesheets, rather than 08:05, if the situation is a one-off.

You could show them the numbers above, to help them to understand, or put it in terms of total numbers of minutes wasted over a longer time period.

Being un-engaged at work

Time theft can be one of the earlier signs for observant managers that an employee is no longer giving their best to their work. Do they feel undervalued? Not challenged enough? Is there an interpersonal problem?  Catching this early on could stop the decline and allow you to change the situation to engage the employee again.

One unengaged, time-thieving employee can quickly become more, as coworkers resent taking up that employee’s slack, and sees that there aren’t any visible consequences for wasting time. This could lead to an unacceptable drop in workforce morale.

Time theft is not only a monetary wasting issue, it can also become a morale issue. To stop it from happening, you need a happy, engaged workforce who do not feel trapped by draconian timing policies.

It is also helpful to invest in a method of time monitoring which cannot easily be falsified or swapped between employees.


Tensor plc offers a biometric clocking terminal with clocking options of varying security, up to 3-factor authentication of smartcard, PIN and biometrics. The biometrics offered are a hand scanner or a fingerprint scanner.

The hand scanner terminal captures an image of the hand each time the employee punches. The hand’s size and the shape are used to verify their identity with unparalleled accuracy. No finger or palm prints are utilized.

The biometric fingerprint reader is designed to give absolute peace of mind that the correct person was present when scanning. Once registered on the fingerprint scanner, the image of the patterns usually found on the fingertip is converted into a code through a secure algorithm, which is then stored on the system database for future comparison and authentication.

To learn more about Tensor’s secure and affordable biometric time and attendance systems, please give our dedicated team a ring and they will be happy to help you with any queries.




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