Workplace Culture

10 employee timekeeping best practices to reduce lateness

By Dan Whitehead

Nov. 23, 2021

Poor timekeeping is an enduring problem for U.S. businesses.

The estimated cost in lost productivity alone runs into the billions of dollars each year, and 16% of workers admit they’re late for work at least once a week.

That’s a lot of late employees—and a lot of dollars lost. And while there’s no way to completely eradicate lateness, there are plenty of ways you can prevent it from becoming endemic in your company and minimize its impact on your bottom line.

Here are 10 employee timekeeping best practices you can use to encourage timeliness and efficiency at your business.

1. Keep precise records

Accurate time and attendance data is the foundation of any timekeeping initiative. Without knowing exactly who is on time, who’s late, how often, and by how much, fixing the problem feels like working in the dark.

Use time and attendance software to put this informational bedrock in place from the start. Once you know that you are accurately recording attendance data in a usable form, you’ve made any new timekeeping initiative much easier to manage.

2. Track data regularly

Manual entry timekeeping is prone to errors. The longer you leave gaps in the data, the greater the chance that employees will forget what time they arrived or left.

If your company is still using manual timecards, you should be collating that data daily when possible, or weekly at the very least. Don’t get complacent if you’ve swapped manual methods for a software system. Be sure to generate attendance reports at a similar cadence, at least once a week. The sooner you spot a problem, the more quickly you can address it.

3. Spot problematic patterns

Consistent data tracking helps you spot the problematic patterns holding your business back.

Once you have your regular cycle of time and attendance data in place, take a holistic view of what it is showing you about your business over time. Look for deeper recurring patterns related to particular shifts, managers, or locations. There may be a simple fix for hotspots of poor timekeeping, but if you don’t know the hotspot exists, you’ll never be able to address it.

4. Have a clear point of contact

A clear management hierarchy means there’s no confusion over attendance issue reporting.

Assign someone responsibility for timekeeping, either on a per-shift basis or per location or department. Make it clear their role isn’t simply to punish late arrivals but to work with employees to resolve issues that might be affecting their attendance. An open-door policy allows employees to bring up and resolve problems that might otherwise cause them to be late.

5. Lead by example

Creating a company culture in which timekeeping is valued starts from the top.

Hold yourself, managers, and even executives to the same standards as other staff. Make it clear that being at work on time is expected of everybody. If management rolls in at 9:30 am several times a week, don’t be surprised if staff start to view prompt attendance as a moving target and follow suit.

6. Normalize healthy working hours

If staff constantly expect to work late, they’ll be tempted to claw back those minutes from somewhere.

This is the flip side of making sure everyone arrives promptly. Show staff they’re expected to leave on time as well as arrive on schedule, while still encouraging those who actually want overtime hours.

The WHO recently released estimates of a 29% increase in deaths from heart disease and stroke brought on by long working hours. Even if those figures are off, the days when people would tolerate overwork are on the way out. Be ahead of the curve in this area, and staff will notice.

7. Introduce and automate break times

Offering breaks means staff have fewer reasons to be late in the first place.

Breaks and paid meal periods are not required by law in the U.S., but they benefit employees and employers alike. Staff who take lunch breaks are more productive, loyal, and engaged.

51% of U.S. workers feel they can’t take their allotted breaks; this is another area where leading by example can pay off. If managers are seen taking their lunch break away from their desk or workstation, that gives employees permission to do the same. An effective staff management system should allow you to automate these breaks, sending staff reminders when it’s their break time. These reminders encourage staff to actually take their breaks, unlike in non-automated systems where properly timed breaks can often go overlooked.

If staff feel the company values their time, they’ll value the time they give to the company. When they know they’ll have an opportunity during the day to make that important personal phone call or just grab a sandwich, there’s less reason for them to cram those things in before work, making them late.

8. Use predictive scheduling

Often lateness occurs because people are trying to accommodate their lives around erratic working hours.

Predictive scheduling is already legally required in some states, but it’s worth considering even if it’s not mandatory. Setting schedules two weeks in advance gives employees time to plan. By reducing the number of frantic childminding emergencies and other last-minute problems, you reduce the reasons for people to arrive late to work.

9. Allow shift swaps

Shift swap systems allow problems that may have caused lateness—or worse, a no-show—to be resolved between employees before they cause disruption.

Give employees the ability to swap shifts with their co-workers if they’re going to struggle to attend. If you use an app-based time and attendance software, managers only need to approve the proposed swap with a tap of their finger, saving time and headaches.

10. Set and reward goals

Rewarding staff for being at work can be seen as a false economy, essentially paying them twice for doing what they are already contracted to do. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to incentivize good attendance.

Applying bonuses to teams rather than individuals helps boost morale while maximizing engagement and attendance. Rewards don’t need to be financial in nature: consider offering employees an early finish on Friday for prompt attendance during the week, for example, or even a reward as simple as praise in the company newsletter or being given control of the workplace Spotify for an afternoon.

Identify and address timekeeping warning signs before they become big problems

Timekeeping is about more than just reprimanding people for being late. Patterns of poor timekeeping are a warning. Addressing them is a health check for your company’s staff engagement and an opportunity to create a happier, more productive working environment.

Use staff management software like to fully integrate these ideas into your business.

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