Supervisors are the backbone of most organizations when hourly workers are concerned. Typically supervisors have worked up the ranks, learning the business and its processes, and shown characteristics of hard work, honesty, and leadership.

Unfortunately, many times, they have also learned that the company they work for isn’t fair, mistreats its employees, and consequently many are using the time tracking system to reward favorites and/or correct perceived wrongs. All without management or the owners being involved in those decisions.

Think about it. Supervisors are your front-line eyes and ears to the moral, work ethic, and quality of your hourly workforce. They use whatever means possible to increase performance and keep the company running like a well-oiled machine. When company leadership enacts policies that they know are ridiculous or unfairly punish workers, they are smart enough to find a way around these policies. Worse, when high-performers are underpaid, supervisors will find a way to reward them even if the company has no formal program for such rewards.

To be clear, the supervisor is often doing what they feel is right and moral. They see the worker, not the employer, as the group that holds most of their loyalty. However, when the supervisor uses the timekeeping system as their personal slush fund, this can cause major long-term issues with your company.

First of all, how do supervisors game the timekeeping system? It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. Short of a mobile facial recognition time system, with 100% acceptance rate, that also works offline, even the most sophisticated biometric time systems have a fatal flaw that supervisors are or will exploit to help their workers. If the time system isn’t able to easily record a punch EVERY SINGLE time, even when the biometrics cannot be read, or the device loses internet connectivity, or is not GPS geo-fenced properly–you get the point–it creates a scenario where the supervisor has a chance to manually add punches.

If this inability to punch happens infrequently, then it isn’t much of a problem. However, even some of the best biometric systems have significant false reject rates, many as high as 5%. This means that when it can’t recognize the employee, they can’t punch in. The supervisor must now be involved to add the missing punch. 5% is 1 in 20 employees. For large crews, this gives the supervisor ample opportunity to play favorites and claim system failure as the excuse for adding manual time. The supervisor’s friend is late to work? Well, she can tell him no problem and add the time in as if he was there from the start. An employee needs to leave early to beat traffic? No problem, the supervisor can claim the clock was offline and manually enter in a 5pm end time. Worse yet, some supervisors will add “ghost employees”, in other words, people that are hired but don’t work and collect their checks themselves. You get the point.

So, why is this a problem?

  1. Accurate time data is the cornerstone of estimation, job costing, and profitability analytics for most organizations. If you don’t know the true labor cost of a job, how do you know if you made money? Or how to bid the job the next time? Bad data causes bad decisions by leadership, ultimately hurting both the employees and the owners.
  2. If your supervisors are manipulating time data to motivate and manage their team, why doesn’t your organization have a system to do this formally rather than encourage it to happen in the dark? Rather than allowing supervisors unilateral decision making power, without top-level leadership’s input, open a discussion together to find a better way. Your supervisors know your business and what’s happening with your employees; they can usually offer some great ideas.
  3. Supervisor’s who are cutting corners on one hand are more likely to justify dishonest behavior elsewhere. At first, it’s time manipulation and improper rounding. Over time, this can transform the supervisor’s view of their role within the company as a “robin hood” character looking to right the wrongs of the organization and lead to undesirable behavior in other areas of the organization. Not only this but the employees know that the supervisors are changing punches. What kind of culture does this create? Now, the employee will justify lying about quality numbers or other KPIs to the supervisor; all justified because they know this type of behavior is acceptable elsewhere.

The solution isn’t simple but it can be easy to start. First of all, find a time system that works offline and uses a biometric with a 100% acceptance rate, like facial recognition with exceptions for when an employee’s face can’t be read. Have honest conversations with your supervisors and explain why good time data, as well as all other important KPIs, are critical to the long-term success of the company and therefore to them. Share gains in performance with your supervisors and employees and help them understand they are the critical tip of the spear to your organization. Ironically, it is when you take the steps to ensure there cannot be fraud in timekeeping and other systems that you remove any issues of trust and are free to move beyond to greater productivity as a team.

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