Buddy Punching: A Hidden Killer of Productivity Unmasked

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As a manager, your role includes ensuring your team is working efficiently and effectively. Their productivity reflects on you and determines the overall success of your location or unit.

However, one issue that has a consistently negative impact on both productivity and labour budget is "buddy punching.". This has nothing to do with rough-housing in the office. Rather, buddy punching is when one employee clocks in or out for a coworker who is absent or running late. Buddy punching artificially inflates attendance records, which can lead to overpayment along with unnoticed issues regarding team performance.

Once it starts, this practice quickly becomes a habitually problem that, if unnoticed, can cost your team both money and productivity in growing time theft. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind buddy punching, how it impacts your business, and the strategies modern managers can implement to stop buddy punching in its tracks and boost productivity.

Why Employees Start Buddy-Punching the Timeclock

Factory Timeclock Roots

Buddy-punching has deep roots in the authoritarian time-clock culture of traditional business and factory life. Consider an ancient time-clock in which each employee has a punch-card with their name on it. Each employee much punch in within a few minutes of whistle-time or face severe penalties, even if their lateness is due to bad traffic or an early morning family emergency. In these circumstances, a caring friend might punch a buddy's card to make sure their record isn't marred. As long as they're on the factory line in time - if a bit breathless - all is well.

Buddy-Punching of Convenience

Here in the 2020s, buddy-punching occurs when circumstances are similar. Shift-work, lateness penalties, and shared timeclocks can lead to friends punching in for one another. It can start casually. If two people arrive together and only one visits the timeclock while the other grabs two coffees, that's time saved, right? But the more lenient buddy-punching becomes, the more time is lost. Then a morning emergency comes up, and a friend punches for their buddy to cover for a few moments of lateness. 

Over time, buddy punching becomes habitual and can lead to increasing work hour inaccuracies - even covering for missed hours of lateness or leaving early. Employees can even be bullied into buddy-punching in more toxic team dynamics.


How Buddy-Punching Impacts Your Business


What starts as a harmless favour between friends can quickly snowball into hours of time theft and lost productivity every month. What happens when a friend punches in their buddy, who is then an hour late instead of just a few moments after the start of their shift? What about when someone wants to leave early, so their buddy punches them out at the correct time long after they leave?

Losing Money and Productivity

Buddy punching costs the company money when no work is being done. A few minutes at a time rolls into hours of labour that is paid for but not performed. As any manager knows, just a few minutes a day can equal large sums of money over time. Buddy punching then results in less work being done each month and can even eat into the available overtime budget.

This type of time theft both requires more overtime to complete the workload and denies the labour budget for your team or department to cover that expense because someone - or several someones - is being paid for time they are not working.

Fostering a Slipshod Work Culture

Worse, however, is that buddy punching is a slippery slope that can damage your company culture. Once two people start doing it, others may follow. Once a few minutes of timeclock leniency are created, soon a half-hour, hour, or two hours of punched-but-not-present time may occur. Employees get the idea that they can be paid for not working, and some will take advantage of this.

The more people begin buddy punching, the slipperier the slope as each person then enters the justification cycle of taking a few more minutes off each day or leaving a little earlier if they know a buddy will be there to punch for them. This can lead to ever more productivity loss while paying the same for labour. In fact, it can even lead to one person working overtime and clocking for two.

Buddy Punching and Toxic Pressure

In fact, it can even lead to toxic environments where some employees are pressured to punch for others when they don't want to. What begins as a friendly favour can quickly get out of hand, especially if management has chosen to tolerate buddy punching in the past.

If an office bully begins socially maneuvering to show up late and leave early while someone else who arrives and leaves on time must punch for them, this is not just costly and damaging to productivity - it is also building a toxic work culture where those holding up the team are more likely to quit.


5 Strategies to Stop Buddy Punching and Boost Productivity


The best way to stop buddy punching and prevent it from developing in your teams is to remove easy buddy punching access. Make it too difficult or even impossible for one person to punch in for another, and buddy punching will be forced to stop. This move also aligns with the latest data security measures being adopted by most businesses regarding IAM (identity access management) and new authorisation protocols.

There are several possible methods you can use to stop buddy punching and address buddy punching as a systemic problem. Explore ways to track employee time and ensure that each person is able to only clock in for themselves. This creates as system so that neither friendship nor bullies can result in clocking in for someone else.

1) Device-Dependant Time Clocking

The first method to prevent buddy-punching is to require time clock entries to be done through an employee's personal device. This may be their phone, laptop, or assigned on-site workstation. By eliminating the shared timeclock device or requiring an additional device-interaction with the time kiosk, it becomes impossible for an employee to pretend to be their friend without access to their friend's personal device.

  • Geofencing

    • Geofencing tracks an employee's location through their phone or other device. This is a device that likely goes home with them, but must also return to the workplace each day. If the device is outside of the geofenced region when the timeclock data is entered, the clock-in or clock-out is rejected. Geofencing works well for large facilities or where worksites may change, where an employee will need to be on-site, but their specific clock-in location is not always the same.

  • GPS Tracking

    • GPS tracking is similar to geofencing in that it tracks the location of an employee's device, but more precisely. GPS tracking is typically limited to phones (or fitness devices) with an internal GPS function. If the phone is in the correct GPS area, the time-clock entry can be accepted.

  • Personal-Device Dependant

    • You can also limit clocking in to work only with a specific registered device. For example, you may require the MAC address of an employee's work phone or laptop in order to enter time clock data. Therefore, a friend who is not currently holding their buddy's phone cannot clock in for them.

  • IP-Address Authorisation

    • IP address authorisation requires that the employee clock in from a preassigned IP address, which is usually specific to their connected device. Using router configurations, this can be a wireless device or a wired workstation, but must come from the recognised IP. Possibly even an internal business network IP only available to wired on-site computers.

2) Biometric Time Clocks

Biometrics are biological data like your retina or fingerprints that are unique only to one person. Using biometric data for timeclock punching means that employees can't even hand their phone to a friend to clock in while they hang the coats.

  • Fingerprints

    • Fingerprint scanners have been used to prevent buddy-punching for over a decade. The good news - if you are familiar with fingerprint timeclocks - is that scanning technology has vastly improved over the last decade. Unless the buddy is a super-spy with a latex print of their friend's finger, only the assigned employee can clock in for themselves.

  • Eye/Face Scanning

    • Retina scanning or facial recognition is a quick and easy way to use biometrics without the challenges of a fingerprint scanner, but can sometimes be fooled with a high-quality photograph or cause trouble if someone has a bad hair day, black eye, etc.

3) Complex Passwords and MFA

You can also simply make it more difficult for buddies to punch in for one another, which will remove the punch-of-convenience that often starts the trend. By increasing log-in requirements, you can increase the challenge of buddy punching.

  • Complex personal passwords

    • The more complex a personal password is required to clock in, the less likely a buddy will bother to learn it.

  • Unique MFA Challenges

    • Some MFA challenges, like puzzles and personal questions, increase the difficulty of buddy punching beyond the 'worth it' threshold.

  • Device One-Time Codes

    • You can require employees to use their phones through typical one-time-code (OTC) features.

4) Workstation Login and Activity Awareness

You can also simply tie clocking in to being at an assigned workstation. If employees need to work at company-provided computers, registers, or manufacturing stations, you can clock them in when they reach their station. This is a device-dependant approach that indicates the employee is officially on the clock and ready to work. Tied with activity tracking, the station-based time clock makes it increasingly difficult for buddies to clock in for one another and cover their tracks.

However, this approach only works if there are no 'warm up' duties in which an employee should legally be on the clock before they reach their workstation.

5) Develop Buddy-Punching Policies and Penalties

Lastly, develop a clear buddy punching policy that outlines how and why buddy punching is not permitted. Make sure everybody is fully aware that buddy punching is not an acceptable workplace practice. Explain why it's harmful and, if you are dealing with a buddy punching problem, express understanding as to why it might have started in the first place.

Then create and enforce penalties for those who attempt buddy punching in the future. If it is understood that punching for a friend can get both parties in trouble, friends won't want to jeopardise each other, and attempts at the behavior are much more likely to stop.

IAM Transparency and Buddy Punching

IAM is the latest data security approach, creating a unique employee account for each person that becomes their universal login. Each IAM employee account tracks activity, creating a log of employee behavior within the company data systems. It is used to determine which files, workstations, and resources each employee is able to access based on their role and the projects they handle. 

As your company upgrades your data security policies, it's only natural to overhaul your timeclock measures to be unique to each IAM account, as well. If you desire to stop buddy-punching in a grand policy sweep, integrating these measures into your IAM upgrades is a practical move.


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Harness the Power of Shiftbase to Eradicate Buddy Punching

In the modern business era, effective workforce management software is crucial to prevent such productivity pitfalls like buddy punching. That's where Shiftbase comes into play. As an advanced SaaS for workforce management, Shiftbase offers comprehensive solutions including employee scheduling, time tracking, and absence management. By incorporating smart time tracking, Shiftbase minimizes the chances of buddy punching, ensuring accurate attendance records. Moreover, with meticulous employee scheduling, managers can avoid overlaps and unnecessary gaps, improving overall productivity. Its robust absence management feature allows real-time insight into absenteeism, eliminating any unnoticed issues regarding team performance.

Are you ready to take the next step towards efficient workforce management? Sign up for a 14-day free trial of Shiftbase and experience first-hand how it can revolutionize your productivity landscape.

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