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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Employee Scheduling Tanda    |   

How to Eliminate Time Theft

Time theft is an unfortunate reality for many business owners. It can have huge impacts on labor 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 the time they have not worked or accepts remuneration for the 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 unauthorized overtime or allowances. Staff taking extended breaks.   Where 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? Labor is often regarded as one of the biggest expenses in running a business, alongside the 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 schedules to meet labor 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 $362.50/ month, and over $4350/ year (based on the average federal minimum wage for 2017). How to eliminate time theft? While most employers would like to believe that their staff is 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 ensure accurate staff attendance records, verify that the correct staff member finished at the correct time, and ensure staff is 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 customizable 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 optimizing your labor costs. The second step works to improve your labor 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 labor 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 utilizing 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

Tanda    |   

3 Reasons Why a Tablet Device is the Best Device to Clock-in

Providing an easy-to-access Time Clock device at all times is one of the most essential ingredients of implementing a successful attendance policy. For fixed location businesses, the Tanda Time Clock App installed on a tablet device is the best method to ensure that employees always remember to clock in and out of their shifts. Over 100,000 staff clock-in each day with their app installed on a dedicated tablet. Using a tablet is cost-effective and frictionless compared to other methods, e.g. a point of sale terminal, a PC, or old school attendance devices like fingerprint scanners. Here are a few of the many benefits of using a tablet: 1. A tablet is a dedicated device Providing a dedicated device means less excuses. Placing the Tanda Time Clock tablet in a location where employees congregate prior to their shift commencement is the best way to ensure employees remember to clock in for their shift. Unlike a PC or POS system, there is no room for excuse that someone else was using the device. Clocking in takes just a few seconds per employee, and unlike other software that runs exclusively on employee mobile phones, there is less room for unfortunate incidents that hinder employees from logging their attendance, such as losing their personal mobile device. Service interruption is also a possibility for other systems; since a PC or POS system also serve multiple functions, it can also become distracting for employees to actually remember to clock in from time to time. For an effective attendance policy, you want to ensure there is no confusion when it comes to legitimate reasons for not clocking in, such as someone else actively using your attendance device for purposes aside from clocking in and out. A dedicated device makes enforcing the attendance policy fair and transparent, and makes it easy for anyone in your team to log in their hours. 2. Tablets are cost-effective The global popularity of the tablet device has slashed prices worldwide. The first tablet to hit the market at a global scale, the original iPad, retailed for around $800.  Today, consumers can get its competitor brand, Samsung, for around $160 a tablet. It’s now a lot more accessible for all business managers of any business size to acquire a device. Traditional workforce software vendors supply their own expensive branded devices, which they make money from, and strategically only their device will work with their software. Time and attendance software like Tanda makes no money from providing hardware, and gives clients the flexibility to select their own devices without hindering them from managing their workforce. 3. Tablets unlock additional functionality compared to old devices And because Tanda doesn’t limit employers the way they would maximise their device, there are also additional functionalities that can better help solve workforce management problems beyond recording attendance. For one, Shift Questions can record the reasons employees deviate from their roster, helping management identify the source of variances on timesheets. One such example might be when employees clock out later than their rostered finish time. It’s useful for the approving manager to know if that employee was directed to stay back, or had clocked off later for a different reason. With the Tanda Time Clock App, employees can be asked exactly this question, among many others, when clocking out later than scheduled. Another feature is Instant Onboarding, which allows a new employee to be rapidly deployed into Tanda by a manager using the Time Clock App, ensuring that new employees aren’t forced to hold parallel records until they are entered into the system. By getting rid of paperwork for the new staff, they’re able to get to work faster. Multi-breaks allows employees to easily nominate when they are taking breaks.  This is especially useful to businesses where employees might take more than one break. Team picker allows employees to accurately record when they change team or department using the Tanda Time Clock. This keeps cost reports accurate, and ensures employees who receive different rates for different roles have their payroll calculated with the highest degree of accuracy. In terms of security, the Facial Recognition Auto-approval is an optional measure to save time and add security to the timesheet approval process. Tanda leverages facial recognition technology to build a profile of the employee, ensuring that clock-in photos are given an additional layer of verification. Ready to take advantage of Tanda and its features on tablet?  Start your 14-day free trial today, no credit card required.

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Rosie Ramirez

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

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