A staggering number of U.S. workers are involved in time theft.

According to a recent survey by Software Advice, 43 percent of hourly workers admitted to exaggerating the amount of time they work during their shifts.

One-quarter of those surveyed even said that they consistently report more hours than they actually work, as often as 76 to 100 percent of the time.

While overpaying for a few minutes here and there may not seem like much, the fact is that these minutes can add up significantly over time; especially for companies that have a number of employees. In fact, it’s estimated that time theft costs billions of dollars in lost productivity annually.

For companies of any size, this is an issue that should be taken seriously.

If you have employees, here are a few things that you should know about time theft and the impact it can have on your business.

What is Time Theft?
Time theft occurs when employees claim time that they didn’t work. Because this type of theft doesn’t involve physically stealing something off the premises, it’s easy to overlook it as something petty, but time theft may be more serious than you might think.

Time theft is a serious problem in the workplace, and according to studies by the American Payroll Association (APA), it’s something that nearly 75 percent of U.S. businesses are affected by. Furthermore, the APA estimates that it can cost companies up to 7 percent of their gross annual payroll.

The APA also reports that the average employee “steals” anywhere from 50 minutes to 4.5 hours per week by showing up late, leaving early, and taking extended breaks and lunches. At the high end, this means that up to six weeks of time per employee are stolen each year. Time theft certainly adds up.

How is It Committed?
Time theft can be committed in a variety of different ways, making it difficult to track. Still, it represents a serious problem for companies today –and it’s one that’s worth solving.

Here are a few common ways that time theft is committed.

  • Rounding Off
    A relatively common form of time theft, rounding off may be more common than you think. Whether it’s rounding forward and leaving early or rounding back when showing up late. Either way, you are paying for an employee who wasn’t at work.
  • The Buddy System
    One of the more blatant forms of theft, some employees will get a coworker to clock them in. That way, they can show up later, or not at all, and still get paid for it.
  • Personal Time
    Another area where time theft can come into play is the overuse of personal time. Checking email, making phone calls, and texting often happens at work, and if workers are spending too much time handling personal matters on the clock, it can quickly add up.

How Do I Prevent Time Theft?
Fortunately, preventing time theft is easier than you may think.

By putting the right systems in place, you can prevent your employees from taking advantage of traditional time cards and clock systems.

A web based employee time tracking app is a great solution. Unlike manual timesheets that can easily be tweaked in their favor, online work time clock software will be harder for employees to hack. It’ll show you exactly what time they sign in, and will also log their location –particularly useful if you have teams working in the field. This, of course, will prevent them from padding their sheets and overestimating the amount of time that’s spent on projects. Not only that, but it can also prevent them from having coworkers punch in for them, especially if you choose an employee time tracking clock in clock out system that features a log in confirmation, via webcam, as proof of who was logging in at the time.

An online real time employee tracking system can help keep things running smoothly, while eliminating the easy ways to cheat the clock. This helps to keep everyone honest, and saves you from paying for hours that haven’t been worked.