Only a Matter of Time: Punctuality and attendance in multicultural workplaces

Rosie Ramirez

21 September 2018    |   

Multicultural workplaces are now the norm for many businesses. With more fluid borders, people are more likely to move to other cities, and even countries, for work. Some stay for short or medium-term contracts, while others relocate to capitalise on business and career opportunities. Either way, this movement has created culturally rich environments that is a new and exciting frontier for workforce management. But bringing together people from different backgrounds isn’t always easy. Cultural traits, often subconscious, surface in everyday interactions. In this series, we’ll look at multicultural workforces and what makes them tick. It’s no secret that we’re all different, and in many cases this diversity enriches the work environment. But when this diversity is not handled correctly, this creates tension and results in unproductivity. The most common source of tension in multicultural workplaces is time. We’ve all heard stories about Japanese firms becoming frustrated with their American associates if a report is delayed by 15 minutes. Or American managers adding in an hour to make room for their Italian counterparts who are usually late. Yes, different approaches to punctuality can send even the most seasoned managers on a tailspin. To understand this problem better, we need to look at time itself. Punctuality as a cultural trait Every country can be placed on a scheduling spectrum, according to Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map. A country’s place on the spectrum is affected by a number of historic factors, and indicates how time is perceived by people in that country. Yes, how we understand time itself is a product of our culture. And because this affects how punctual we are, it’s a common source of frustration in multicultural offices. The Germans and Japanese are renowned for their punctuality, often even arriving earlier than scheduled. Brazilians and Indians on the other hand are already expected to come in late. Technically, none of them are wrong: they are behaving exactly as their cultural norms dictate. To understand why this difference exists, we need to look at monochronic and polychronic cultures. Linear versus flexible time Monochronic cultures treat time as linear: everything is sequential, and one task must be completed before beginning the next. Lateness and interruptions are heavily frowned upon. Time is a resource, and it must be allocated logically and precisely. These cultures typically have a history of heavy industrialisation, where organisation and deadlines are key. The US, Canada, and Northern Europe are common examples. In contrast, polychronic cultures see time as flexible. Tasks can change as opportunities arise and interruptions are considered normal. Multi-tasking is the norm so things do not have to be done step by step. Many of these cultures have agricultural roots, where adaptability and flexibility are vital to success. Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa are often included in this grouping. Asia is more varied, with monochronic Japan and polychronic China, for instance. There can be other factors in play too. In India, keeping people waiting is a norm, because being late is a sign of importance. This is referred to, in jest, as Indian Standard Time. Another example is urban Southeast Asia, where public transportation systems are slow, if not completely stalled, so being late is a part of everyday life. One only has to recall the infamous Jakarta traffic jams, or Manila’s 6 million-dollars-per-day losses from traffic, to understand the seriousness of the problem. Bridging the time gap Clearly, cross-cultural differences in perception of time is a compelling and complicated topic. It is being researched by academics and business firms alike, towards the same goal: managing multicultural teams. While cultural differences need to be respected, workplaces still depend on schedules to deliver products and services. Thus, bridging the time gap in multicultural environments relies on solutions that address the issue without offending sensibilities. Differences in time perception may be deeply rooted, but employees can adapt given the correct guidance and tools to do so. Managers need to enhance their communication skills to be able to relate to staff from different cultures, and align them with the company’s values and goals. At the same time, they also need to look towards modern solutions such as time and attendance software to facilitate the desired new culture. Read more: The Digital Workforce Success Revolution: Why you need to shift to cloud-based HR today Time and attendance technology Time and attendance software like Tanda make it easy to coordinate a multicultural staff, because it sets the expectations that the company has regarding time. Because each week’s schedule displayed on the employee’s app, it establishes exactly when they need to come in. Plus, managers have a fool-proof way of communicating updates and changes via SMS, email, or in-app notifications. This minimises misunderstandings and aids work culture in general. Employee attendance is also accurately tracked and transferred to timesheets, so you always have a record of when staff are working. This comes in handy when a manager needs to talk to a staff member about their punctuality or attendance. Technology cuts ambiguity out of the process, and allows everyone to approach time objectively. In short, it sets the tone for a fair and consistent work environment. Read more: Show up for success! A step-by-step guide to rewarding employee attendance Many exciting changes are happening to workforce management. Trends point toward automation to facilitate many administrative processes. But technology doesn’t just solve administrative challenges, it also has implications on the overall work environment. And in an increasingly globalised and multicultural world, shifting to technology to address modern business challenges is only a matter of time.

Multicultural workplaces are now the norm for many businesses. With more fluid borders, people are more likely to move to other cities, and even countries, for work. Some stay for short or medium-term contracts, while others relocate to capitalise on business and career opportunities. Either way, this movement has created culturally rich environments that is a new and exciting frontier for workforce management.

But bringing together people from different backgrounds isn’t always easy. Cultural traits, often subconscious, surface in everyday interactions. In this series, we’ll look at multicultural workforces and what makes them tick. It’s no secret that we’re all different, and in many cases this diversity enriches the work environment. But when this diversity is not handled correctly, this creates tension and results in unproductivity.

The most common source of tension in multicultural workplaces is time. We’ve all heard stories about Japanese firms becoming frustrated with their American associates if a report is delayed by 15 minutes. Or American managers adding in an hour to make room for their Italian counterparts who are usually late. Yes, different approaches to punctuality can send even the most seasoned managers on a tailspin. To understand this problem better, we need to look at time itself.

Punctuality as a cultural trait

Every country can be placed on a scheduling spectrum, according to Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map. A country’s place on the spectrum is affected by a number of historic factors, and indicates how time is perceived by people in that country. Yes, how we understand time itself is a product of our culture. And because this affects how punctual we are, it’s a common source of frustration in multicultural offices.

The Germans and Japanese are renowned for their punctuality, often even arriving earlier than scheduled. Brazilians and Indians on the other hand are already expected to come in late. Technically, none of them are wrong: they are behaving exactly as their cultural norms dictate. To understand why this difference exists, we need to look at monochronic and polychronic cultures.

Linear versus flexible time

Monochronic cultures treat time as linear: everything is sequential, and one task must be completed before beginning the next. Lateness and interruptions are heavily frowned upon. Time is a resource, and it must be allocated logically and precisely. These cultures typically have a history of heavy industrialisation, where organisation and deadlines are key. The US, Canada, and Northern Europe are common examples.

In contrast, polychronic cultures see time as flexible. Tasks can change as opportunities arise and interruptions are considered normal. Multi-tasking is the norm so things do not have to be done step by step. Many of these cultures have agricultural roots, where adaptability and flexibility are vital to success. Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa are often included in this grouping. Asia is more varied, with monochronic Japan and polychronic China, for instance.

There can be other factors in play too. In India, keeping people waiting is a norm, because being late is a sign of importance. This is referred to, in jest, as Indian Standard Time. Another example is urban Southeast Asia, where public transportation systems are slow, if not completely stalled, so being late is a part of everyday life. One only has to recall the infamous Jakarta traffic jams, or Manila’s 6 million-dollars-per-day losses from traffic, to understand the seriousness of the problem.

Bridging the time gap

Clearly, cross-cultural differences in perception of time is a compelling and complicated topic. It is being researched by academics and business firms alike, towards the same goal: managing multicultural teams. While cultural differences need to be respected, workplaces still depend on schedules to deliver products and services. Thus, bridging the time gap in multicultural environments relies on solutions that address the issue without offending sensibilities.

Differences in time perception may be deeply rooted, but employees can adapt given the correct guidance and tools to do so. Managers need to enhance their communication skills to be able to relate to staff from different cultures, and align them with the company’s values and goals. At the same time, they also need to look towards modern solutions such as time and attendance software to facilitate the desired new culture.

Read more: The Digital Workforce Success Revolution: Why you need to shift to cloud-based HR today

Time and attendance technology

Time and attendance software like Tanda make it easy to coordinate a multicultural staff, because it sets the expectations that the company has regarding time. Because each week’s schedule displayed on the employee’s app, it establishes exactly when they need to come in. Plus, managers have a fool-proof way of communicating updates and changes via SMS, email, or in-app notifications. This minimises misunderstandings and aids work culture in general.

Employee attendance is also accurately tracked and transferred to timesheets, so you always have a record of when staff are working. This comes in handy when a manager needs to talk to a staff member about their punctuality or attendance. Technology cuts ambiguity out of the process, and allows everyone to approach time objectively. In short, it sets the tone for a fair and consistent work environment.

Read more: Show up for success! A step-by-step guide to rewarding employee attendance

Many exciting changes are happening to workforce management. Trends point toward automation to facilitate many administrative processes. But technology doesn’t just solve administrative challenges, it also has implications on the overall work environment. And in an increasingly globalised and multicultural world, shifting to technology to address modern business challenges is only a matter of time.

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Why Fingerprint Scanners Don’t Work for Time and Attendance

The ability to quickly identify and verify individuals has been a crucial skill in human society, since the start of civilisation. Where previously face-to-face recognition would have sufficed in tribes and small villages, thanks to today’s rapidly growing global population we require more tools to quickly identify who someone is. In the workplace, the need to identify individuals is particularly important, as it’s often tied to staff attendance, payroll, and workplace security. Throughout the years various solutions have been used to verify staff attendance from paper time sheets, to the Bundy Clock, to fingerprint and biometric scanners. Despite the best efforts of some die-hard fans, the fingerprint scanner has reached its limit, being surpassed by the electronic time clock. With so many other solutions available at our fingertips, why are some people so desperately clinging to their fingerprint scanner? Surely we’ve all seen enough spy movies to know fingerprint scanners aren’t foolproof, let alone feasible in today’s day and age where most of the fun comes from trying to fool the system. And yet, it’s something that we still occasionally hear, “why don’t you have fingerprint scanners?” So to put the debate to rest once and for all, here are three reasons why fingerprint scanners don’t work. And before you start saying, ‘but what about this…” here are three great reasons why the electronic time clock has surpassed the fingerprint scanner. 3 Reasons why fingerprint scanners don’t work to track staff attendance 1. They’re Expensive No matter which way you look at it, fingerprint scanners are expensive equipment. Despite the fact that the technology has been around for years, the cost of the device still remains relatively high, potentially setting you back a few thousand dollars. In addition to the device, the cost of the integration between the scanner and corresponding system can be expensive to build. The scanners are delicate and aren’t always built to handle the hundreds of fingerprints pressed onto them throughout their lifetime. Which brings me to my next point… 2. They’re Unreliable Unlike your favourite FBI crime-show encryption-grade biometric scanners, workplace fingerprint scanners are notoriously unreliable. In order to correctly identify and record an individual, fingerprint scanners require a clear image or impression of your fingerprint. Fingers that are dirty, greasy, cold or wet for example, often don’t register on the scanner, making it hard to both clock out and verify the individual. Employers who prefer to use fingerprint scanners, do so because they think it’s easier than remembering a passcode. However should the fingerprint scanner fail to register the scan, some systems will request a passcode. Not only is this an additional hassle to staff who are trying simply to clock in or out, but it also opens the window to time theft through buddy clocking. 3. Maintenance is a pain As previously mentioned, fingerprint scanners are not cheap. They’re a costly purchase and are even more expensive to repair or replace when they wear out. Repairing a broken scanner requires a specialised technician and often costly parts. On the occasion that it is easier to replace than repair, users often run into more problems as they are not readily available at your local JB Hi-Fi or electronics outlet. On top of this, users often experience issues around the device’s durability, which lead to additional maintenance costs and ultimately a new device down the track. Introducing the 21st Century solution Electronic time clocks are the most robust, user-friendly, and affordable solution to record staff attendance. According to Statista, 38.59 million British people are expected to own a tablet device this 2017.  Leveraging this statistic, a tablet-based time clock like Tanda can provide an effective and consistent solution to time theft, streamlining your entire payroll process. 3 Reasons why electronic time clocks are the market leading solution: 1. Affordability Tablets in their various forms have started to become more commonplace in businesses of all sizes. This is thanks to more core business functions such as POS, inventory, and payment processing, becoming available on tablet devices. This technology is providing business owners with greater mobility to engage with customers, as well as streamlining core business activities in one device. Time Clock tablets are easily accessible, affordable and present a number of additional benefits to a business looking to improve their customer offering. 2. Robust and reliable. Thanks to the prevalence of tablet usage, most people are familiar with how to use a tablet and how they should be treated. Tablets are touch-screen based and as such built to handle lots of little fingers pushing and tapping the screen. Tanda’s Time Clock verifies staff attendance through photos and PIN code verification. Which means that unlike a fingerprint scanner, it doesn’t matter if staff have dirty or wet fingers, they’ll still be able to clock out the first time around. The timestamp and photo verification also make it quick and easy for managers and business owners to quickly check that the right person has clocked in and out for the correct shift. 3. Cloud-based for more options Using a cloud-based Time Clock solution like Tanda provides users with more options, which enable rather than restrict the user. Software maintenance and upgrades are not required, as they’re done automatically in the system. Devices are easy to replace and interchangeable, and should the system connection be disrupted, all clock in data is stored locally and uploaded to the cloud later. In addition to this, as a backup, users can access the Time Clock app through a browser on a desktop. Using a cloud solution to track staff attendance provides unparalleled opportunities to streamline additional business administration tasks, as well as providing greater insight into labour costs, staff punctuality and staff engagement. Workplaces are busy places, and managers have much better things to spend their time on than trying to get the fingerprint scanner to work. Using electronic Time Clocks to track employee attendance allows staff to clock in quickly and efficiently, so that they can get out of the backroom and working in your business. Because at the end of the day, you need a system that is affordable, reliable, and accessible, so that you can get on with paying staff and focusing on your business.

Product Updates Rota & Compliance UK    |   

How to Eliminate Time Theft

Time theft is an unfortunate reality for many business owners. It can have huge impacts on labour costs as well as staff productivity and morale. Without the correct tools and systems, time theft can be difficult to catch, and even harder to stamp out. What is time theft? Time theft occurs when an employee bills for time they have not worked, or accepts remuneration for time that has not been attributed to work. The most common causes of time theft include: Staff running late to work and fudging start times. Staff staying late after work to accrue unauthorised overtime or allowances. Staff taking extended breaks.   A team member clocks out for another team member. Staff not submitting correct hours for leave requests or sick pay. How much is time theft costing your business? Labour is often regarded as one of the biggest expenses in running a business, alongside cost of goods and utilities. For industries that rely heavily on high staffing numbers, such as hospitality, it is particularly important that managers are not only creating rotas to meet labour budgets and KPIs, but also take control to enforce the schedule. Unfortunately, when time theft is left unchecked it can cause unexpected additional costs, including reduced staff productivity, profitability, and can negatively impact staff who do the right thing. Even time theft that isn’t malicious can add up. For example, according to a study conducted by Tanda, the average business has approximately five minutes misappropriated every shift, just from staff clocking in or out late.*  While five minutes may sound negligible, it can quickly add up over a month and even a year. For example: A team of 30 employees working five days a week could rack up an additional 50 hours/month in misappropriated time. This could end up costing the business approximately £227/ month and over £3,324/ year (based on the average minimum wage for April 2017). How do you eliminate time theft? While most employers would like to believe that their staff are honest and trustworthy when filling out their timesheets, there are unfortunately a few who ruin it for everyone. Systems such as paper timesheets, excel spreadsheets, or outdated Bundy clocks, are highly susceptible to allowing time theft in a business. They fail to accurately track staff attendance due to their lack of verification and functionality. This is because there is no way to confirm that staff finished and started when they say they did, or that they were in fact the ones who signed off their timesheet in the first place. Using a cloud-based time and attendance system is the only way to get accurate staff attendance records, verify that the correct staff member finished at the correct time, and ensure staff are not overpaid for work that wasn’t completed. So what should you look for when implementing a time and attendance system to combat time theft in your business? 5 Must-have Time and Attendance System Features to Eliminate Time Theft 1. Time Clock with Photo Verification A  time and attendance system must have a time clock device, and use both photo verification and a PIN code to confirm that the correct staff member has clocked in. This provides an indisputable solution to prevent staff getting their friends to clock in for them, or clocking in late. Fingerprint scanners will not stop time theft, and have many issues that will prevent it from working effectively. 2. Smart Rounding Now you might be thinking, surely staff could still tinker with a time clock system, if they clock in early claiming to have worked? Enter the beauty of smart rounding. Smart rounding prevents staff from taking advantage of clocking in early or late when they haven’t been working. It is customisable and can round to the minute for staff clock ins and outs. This stops “accidental” time theft from staff clocking in before their shift starts, and clocking out after they have stopped working. 3. Complex Award Interpretation As time and attendance is closely linked to payroll, it’s extremely important that your system is able to comprehend any number of complex pay scenarios. For example, staff that stay back late, skip their break, or work over night may incur overtime or penalty rates. Thus, an Award Interpretation system must be able to transparently identify different types of overtime, penalty rates, and allowances if it is to prevent time theft. 4. Predict Correct Staff Ratios A great time and attendance system should be able to not only record when staff start and finish work, but how many staff you need for the shift. Paying staff for the hours they actually work is the first step in optimising your labour costs. The second step works to improve your labour efficiencies by predicting the optimum number of staff required for the shift, ensuring that you’re not over or understaffed. This type of predictive analytics software is the latest method for businesses to ensure their labour costs are under control. 5. Fast & Simple Timesheets Using an electronic time and attendance system is pointless unless you are able to immediately generate timesheets from it. It is also vital that the system is cloud based, allowing you to easily approve timesheets from anywhere. These timesheets should be easy to use and quick to approve by utilising technology such as autosave, fast editing, and cognitive payroll. This will allow you to complete your payroll in minutes, not hours or days. Time theft, if not managed accordingly, has the potential cost business owners thousands of dollars every year. It is therefore important that business owners implement simple, yet effective measures, such as electronic time-keeping devices, and integrated time and attendance systems to combat time theft. Improving staff attendance tracking results in greater productivity and profitability, and can provide valuable insights into how your team works.

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About the author

Rosie Ramirez

Our team's goal is to provide practical advice for business owners and managers across industries.

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Time theft is an unfortunate reality for many business owners. It can have huge impacts on labour costs as well as staff productivity and morale. Without the correct tools and systems, time theft can be difficult to catch, and even harder to stamp out. What is time theft? Time theft occurs when an employee bills […]

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