Keeping track of the hours an employee has worked during a particular day is an important part of successfully managing a company’s payroll expenses. Workers who are paid by the hour instead of receiving a set salary for their position must punch a clock to let their employer know when they have been at work.
Before computers became a workplace necessity, workers were required to clock in on an actual clock at the start of the workday. The worker inserted a card labeled with his/her name into a special mechanical time clock, which the recorded the day and time onto the card. Depending upon the workplace rules and regulations, clocking in and clocking out for breaks and meals may have also been part of what it meant to punch a clock.
Of course, now that most companies are able to invest in sophisticated software programs, it’s quite rare to see a mechanical clock used to keep track of employee time cards. Most businesses now use a computerized method of tracking employee work hours. Other offices keep track of employee time by recording when a worker logs on to his/her computer or a central business web site. In some large corporations with sophisticated security systems, workers punch a clock by using an identification card with a unique bar code to enter and leave the building.
From an employer’s perspective, the biggest appeal of using modern technology to require workers to punch a clock is the ability to eliminate fraud. Software programs that record employee time cards are much more difficult to tamper with than a manual time clock. Employers who are particularly concerned about ensuring an honest recording of work hours can even invest in a biometric time clock that responds to the worker’s unique hand shape in order to prevent a worker from trying to punch a clock for someone else.
In popular culture, the expression "punch a clock" has a somewhat negative connotation. It is often used to refer to a dead-end job or a job that is somehow distasteful to the employee. When you say it’s time to punch a clock, you’re simply counting down the hours until you can leave work for a more enjoyable activity. The term may also be used to refer to someone else’s lack of work ethic. If you describe another employee as looking to punch a clock, you’re implying that he/she isn’t fully invested in performing the required tasks of the position.