After months of research, countless hours considering the possibilities, late nights planning the best roll-out and more pots of coffee than you can remember, you finally have your new employee time tracking software installed. Only then do you realize you have an entirely new problem: how do you get your employees to actually use it and submit their timesheets on time?

It’s said that old habits die hard, and employees not tracking their time is one of the hardest of all. Additionally, getting them to submit their timesheets on time isn’t exactly easy. So, let’s look at three ways you could consider to make this happen. The first will be the proverbial carrot, the second will be the stick and the third will be a combination of both.

Explain Why It’s Important

“Time tracking is a subject that causes many a manager’s eyes to roll,” says Kelly Totten, Accounting Consultant & Virtual CFO for Creative Service Firms. “The concern is understandable.  Most of us have experienced the negative consequences that occur when bad time tracking practices are employed.”

The reality is that employees really don’t enjoy tracking time (shocking, I know). An important step in overcoming this understandable attitude is to thoroughly explain why it’s so important. Ms. Totten goes on to explain that accurate time-tracking helps keep projects on budget, helps you to understand the value of work-in-progress and more accurately estimate future projects. The end result? Your company is healthier, more profitable and able to provide better pay and job security to your employees. So explain all of this to your employees so they aren’t in the dark about why this is important.

There are also really clever incentives you can offer your employees to drive home the point of how important tracking their time is. Consider Midwestern ad agency Colle + McVoy; they took the worst timesheet slackers in the office, gave them a photo shoot with the opportunity to say why they track their time in the office, and then blew the photos up into posters, tacked the quotes on top, and hung them all around the office. Phrases like, “I believe in two things: doing my timesheet every day and Dungeons & Dragons,” or “Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m billable” were displayed for all in need of a little encouragement to see.

If you’re sensing that your employees need something slightly more in-their-face than friendly encouragement, you could take a page from Razorfish’s attempts to get all of their employees to track their time:

“Razorfish had the right idea a couple of years ago when it shamed timesheet slackers by posting their photos in the building lobby with straightforward lines like, ’I haven’t done my timesheet in three weeks.’”

It was harsh, but it lit the flame under the feet of the more wayward employees and massively helped out the accounting department in the long run.

Do It or You Don’t Get Paid

On the “stick” side of the equation is your right to stand up for what you know is in the best interest of your company. If your company has already spent the time and money investing in a time-tracking system, and you’re doing this so you can improve the health and profitability of the company, you have every right to require employees to track their time.

Unfortunately, making this transition isn’t easy. There’s always the possibility that some employees will never cooperate, or will only do so reluctantly.

So what do you do? Make it clear upfront that if they do not turn in their timesheet, their pay cannot be calculated and their paycheck will be delayed. Money is a powerful incentive for everyone.

Move to Hourly Employees

Moving your employees to hourly pay, rather than salary, is one of the best ways to ensure everyone tracks their time. This is also the “carrot and stick” motivation.

All too often, both employer and employee enter a salaried arrangement with unrealistic expectations. For the employee, it’s easy to look at a salaried position as a way to get paid the same amount regardless of how much or how little (with the emphasis on little) work is done. Come in late? Get paid the same. Leave early? Still get paid the same. The reality is often quite different.

“At another job, I was told that being on salary meant that ‘if we close the office early, you’ll still get paid,'” writes April Dykman, for Get Rich Slowly. “But we closed the office maybe two or three afternoons out of the year, and there were many, many events that required 8+ hour days. Once I put in a 22-hour day for a particularly big event.”

Many times, the reverse is also true. Employers may look at salaried employees as a way of getting extra work without paying overtime. Again, the reality doesn’t always match the perception. Especially if an employer abuses the situation, he/she may find that, salaried or not, the employees simply aren’t delivering the equivalent of what they’re being paid.

If timesheet compliance is an issue, moving employees to an hourly position often solves the problem as everyone wants to make sure their overtime is calculated correctly.

Use a System of Rewards

More and more often we’re seeing companies use the rewards system, finding that it encourages an environment of openness and honesty while also pushing employees to do what needs to be done.

JWT Brazil made headlines for using this very method of ”encouraging” their employees to fill out their timesheets. The tagline was simple: “Do your timesheet and we’ll give you free beer (and soda, too!)”. How did they manage to implement this?

They constructed a vending machine in the office connected to their time tracking software. If an employee had successfully filled out his timesheet and submitted it on time (by end of day Friday of each week), then the machine would unlock and a party would immediately commence.

Okay, so maybe they used a mixture of a rewards system along with a shameless ploy with free alcohol, but it worked. According to the executives at JWT, “We know filling out timesheets is mandatory, but it can also be fun.”

Without a doubt, getting your employees to track their time can be a challenge, especially if it is a new process for your company. Use these methods however, and you can help your personnel make the transition and set up your company for future growth and profitability.

 

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