Most retail employees have heard it before: “I’m running a little late, can you punch me in?” Or perhaps, “I have to cut out a few minutes early today, can you punch me out?” It may seem harmless enough to employees simply trying to juggle their schedules. Even the name we’ve given this practice—buddy punching—sounds innocuous. Who wouldn’t do a favor for a good friend? But realize it or not, when one team member clocks in or out for another, they are committing fraud.
For grocery stores already working with thin margins, the hidden costs of these little white lies can quickly ring up a big total. Moreover, buddy punching skews the data employers rely upon to ensure the accuracy and efficiency of their scheduling procedures. Worst of all, buddy punching is a violation of the trust between management and its employees. Without that trust, a grocery store cannot sustain a productive and profitable culture.
Read on to learn more about the causes and consequences of buddy punching—and how you can mitigate both.
How Buddy Punching Works
Buddy punching is a practice any business relying on hourly workers must monitor and control. In stores still using manual punch-in procedures, oftentimes employees don’t realize helping out a friend this way is against attendance policies. But even with advanced timekeeping solutions, employees who have a mind to game the system will find a way.
Access codes can easily be shared (despite the fact that this private data deserves special protection), and algorithms can be exploited. Even fail-safes such as keycards can be circumvented. For example, an employee may obtain a second card on the pretext having lost the original, allowing them to hand-off their extra to a buddy puncher.
The important thing to remember here is that there is no silver bullet. Technology can deter and even frustrate attempts at buddy punching, but no hardware or software exists that can deprogram human nature.
Why Employees Buddy Punch
Not all buddy punching is malicious. The social bonds between coworkers, as well as the desire to support each other, may override an employee’s normal work ethic and their commitment to their employer’s success. Some personnel may also be willing to “help out” a coworker as a way to impress or gain acceptance, also known as sweethearting.
Management styles play a role here, too. As employees try to negotiate the proper work-life balance, inflexible schedules and rigid leave policies may drive them to buddy punching. A parent may need to slip out of work fifteen minutes early to pick up children from school. A caregiver may be late when an elderly parent is having a rough morning. Ultimately, fear of punishment or lost pay may compel one employee to ask another to clock them in or out.
In these examples, employees are simply following a path of least resistance. However, that path can be a slippery slope. They engage in buddy punching because it appeals to them as an easy way to gain an otherwise unmet personal need. They may even do it without premeditation the first time, only then to fall into the habit of using it as a quick fix to a scheduling problem.
A less “innocent” scenario is the disgruntled employee who intentionally commits labor fraud as a way to “get back” at an employer for some real or imagined wrong. Inherently dishonest individuals can slip through even the most rigorous pre-hire screening tests and reference-checking processes. The more pathological their leanings, the more they may be willing to use deception and manipulation to worm their way into your organization.
How to Put an End to Buddy Punching
Buddy punching has nothing to do with Fight Club. But to their detriment, most employers follow one unspoken rule about the practice: they don’t talk about it. Education here is crucial to reducing if not stopping buddy punching altogether. That education begins with management’s willingness to first acknowledge and then address the issue.
The conversation must expand to include your employees. If staff are able to practice buddy punching without consequences, it becomes easier to continue the practice. After all, a twinge of the conscience can be suppressed when no one seems to be paying attention. Identify then target the rationales your team may invent for cheating the system. Impress upon your employees that skimming a few minutes here and there can add up to serious losses and that buddy punching is a form of theft—akin to, and as bad as, shoplifting. Ultimately those losses can even make the labor costs (and schedules) even tighter.
Next, ask your personnel departments to examine workplace policies to determine what, if anything, might be contributing to employees’ misuse of their self-clocking privileges. What allowances do you make for emergencies? Are the penalties for tardiness excessive? Do your team members feel they can discuss personal needs with their supervisor when it comes to their work schedules? If not, an “us-versus-them” mentality can take root. The best way to prevent that sentiment from becoming entrenched is to promote shared values, mutual respect, accountability, collaboration, and employee recognition.
When paired with initiatives to nurture a healthy workplace culture, innovative technology can go a long way towards controlling the prevalence of buddy punching. TRUNO Retail Technology Solutions specializes in enterprise software developed with the needs of small to medium grocery chains in mind. Scalable as well as customizable, TimeForge employs fingerprint matching, compliance modules, and both POS and payroll system integrations to deliver an unprecedented level of control over your scheduling, attendance, and time-tracking.
Contact a TRUNO representative to learn more about how grocers can leverage the power of our holistic human capital management solution.