Time Theft: Who is Really Doing the Stealing?

12/7/16 7:00 AM Natalie Appleton

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Most of the time, when we talk about time theft, we’re hearing it from the point of view of owners: Employees are skirting the rules to show they’ve worked more hours than they really have, and that’s costing me money.

What we don’t always think about is the other kind of time theft, the kind where staff are being stolen from.

To understand the economics and all sides of time theft, in this Q&A piece we hear from Ameego Co-Founder - Jason Wagenaar.

Q: What are some of the common misconceptions about time theft?

A: I think a lot of people might not recognize that time theft can and does happen on both sides of the fence. We tend to picture staff members clocking in early or not signing out for a break, but in some cases managers can be responsible for time theft as well.

Q: At a really basic level, how do managers do that?

A: Managers are expected to drive results - in most cases working towards a labor goal, whether it's a labor % or productivity goal ($/man hour).  To make the numbers more favorable, shaving 15 minutes here and there can go a long way to making sure goals are achieved. Essentially they’re skewing hours worked, often just a little time spread across employees which makes it in almost unnoticeable if nobody is paying attention, but it can add up.  

Q: You mentioned managers trying not to go over their labor costs. What are the pressures managers face that drive them to want to ‘steal time’?

A: Managers do face a lot of pressure when it comes to meeting their labor targets. Everything is so cutthroat right now. Did you hit your numbers? What are your numbers at? They’re constantly being held accountable for labor costs. And with costs like minimum wage always on the rise, it's become even more of an issue in today's restaurants.  Owners might not even realize that this is an issue - unless ofcourse they are the ones shaving the numbers. 

Q: Are there any processes you recommend to help keep hours worked accurate—for everyone?

A: Absolutely.  We always say you can’t rely on just one system.  With today's technology and low acquisition cost we always recommend: 1) An electronic time tracking system which could be a part of your POS - and ties in with your restaurant scheduling software.  And 2) A manual time tracking sheet.

The reason why we always say track in two ways is because during the course of the day, when restaurants get busy, it’s easy to forget to sign out for a break or punch out at the end of the day. And then what? You have to try and guess what time that person started their shift or was actually off at?

To keep both sides honest we recommend managers using a daily labor sheet to manually track when people are coming in and going off shift based on their start and end times. If for some reason they forgot to punch out, you’ve got that start and end time in your scheduling as a base for hours worked.

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Sample Time Sheet from Ameego

There’s even a column on the daily labor sheet for staff to initial so everyone’s on the same page: We both agree these are the actual hours I’ve worked, and that’s what I’ll see on my payslip.

We also encourage setting up ‘punch rules' with the POS. Once the schedule is 'pushed' in the POS system, employees can’t log in until the start of their shift. For example, if Julie’s schedule says she’s going to start at 10 am, Julie can’t punch in until 10 am.

Q: Is time theft really an issue among restaurant employees?

A: In our experience, and almost all of us at Ameego have spent a lot of years in the restaurant industry, yes and no. No because it’s not malicious or intentional. 

It’s more the result of the industry. Everyone is always crazy busy. They’ve got six orders in their head and they’re waiting on that, and they’re humans who need to eat and take bathroom breaks too. So they forget to punch out for their break.  

Q: So maybe we should think of it more like ‘time control’ or ‘time accuracy’ rather than ‘time theft’?

A: Well, it is time theft, but it’s the other way around. It’s managers stealing time from their employees. Usually it’s not much, but still.

On the part of employees, it’s usually just being forgetful, but that doesn’t mean owners and managers shouldn’t be concerned.

Even if accidental time theft of 15-minute increments happened twice each shift, and you multiple that by two shifts, you’re losing an hour every day. In the course of a month and certainly a year, you’re losing a lot of money. So it’s worth investing in systems and processes that are going to eliminate that lost money.  

Q: Employees must also appreciate the accuracy, aside from just the money they lose.

A: Of course. It’s hard finding good employees and no one’s going to work for a restaurant that’s shorting them hours, so if staff know their hours are correct and the process is fair, they’ll respect that.

Q: With Ameego software in particular, how do staff experience that transparency with hours?

A: What they can do is log in through the employee portal, which is mobile-friendly, and see their tracked time. That way it’s easy for them to see the hours their manager has tracked for them and they can review that to make sure it jives with what they are tracking.

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If for some reason something’s amiss, they can click on a button to notify the manager that there’s a discrepancy with their hours.

In the end, the irony is that sorting out mistakes with time tracking and time theft actually costs more time and money. So, having easy, accurate and transparent processes are better for everyone.

Looking for more ways to run a tighter ship?  Download your free copy of our Ultimate Restaurant Operator's Kit.  It contains free templates to help organize your operations and drive great profits!

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Topics: Restaurant Culture, Time and Attendance