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Why Employees Hate to Track Their Time

Why Employees Hate to Track Their Time

Time is an imperfect metric for effort or productivity. Knowledge workers know that managers, who have the power to reward some people over others, often forget the vague and aggregated metrics of real productivity in favor of some simple numbers that are tangible -- such as time records.

By Curt Finch CRM Buyer ECT News Network
04/13/07 4:00 AM PT

My company sells employee time-tracking software that automates client billing, project accounting and payroll. We have implemented these systems for customers repeatedly where the employees previously were unaccustomed to accounting for their time.

Occasionally, this has generated some intense emotions. Some people really don't want to track their time even when their managers are very firm.

Why is this? Why do people find tracking time so unpleasant, or even maddening?

What about you? Do you like entering data into forms? Why or why not? Is tracking time any worse than filling out other forms?

My experience has shown that it often is for several reasons, which are outlined below.

The Clues

Reporting time can threaten status. For salaried people, especially if they've been employed earlier in their life in an hourly "time clock" environment, reporting time can make them feel demoted.

Conventional wisdom (that I disagree with) is that "professional" people are more trustworthy and less in need of supervision than "blue collar" people.

"What if I find out that I don't work as much as I like to think?" Some people, often the most productive, garner self-esteem from the large number of hours they work. However, sometimes they're not sure if they believe their own braggadocio and the thought of finding out the truth is scary.

Time is an imperfect metric for effort or productivity. Knowledge workers know that managers, who have the power to reward some people over others, often forget the vague and aggregated metrics of real productivity in favor of some simple numbers that are tangible -- such as time records.

Managers may take the easy path of rewarding based on time spent rather than develop more subtle and appropriate metrics of real productivity. (Hint: Don't do this.)

"I'm too busy." The most responsible and busy employees -- the most productive ones whose time is in highest demand -- will, sooner or later, always have to stop doing the primary mission of the company to fill out a time sheet.

The star employees tend to procrastinate regarding this task, subordinate it or even refuse to do it. Or worse, they'll create flawed records.

On the other hand, the malingerers and marginal producers will often create perfect time records and never submit them late. This fact of life creates an impression in the minds of both that the whole exercise is worthless.

"I've procrastinated too long and now I don't remember what I did last week." Procrastination results in useless time records. Who remembers what they had for lunch one day last week?

When information -- which was mostly made up -- is eventually recorded about how much time was spent and on what, it often tends to understate the real accomplishments of the work week. Reviewing this record can be demoralizing.

People Don't Like Time-Tracking

So -- news flash -- it's an imperfect world. People hate tracking their time for many reasons. How can you possibly run a project-oriented organization, especially one that bills for it's time, without time accounting?

The answer is that in this increasingly competitive world, you can't -- at least not for long. If you don't get every hour billed that should be, or if you don't know which projects are profitable and which ones aren't, you're going down. Hard. Because somewhere in your numerous and growing array of competitors is a company that's getting it right.

Your only choices are to follow or fail. Or you could lead -- and be the first one to get it right.

There are some ways to overcome all of this employee resistance to time-tracking.

Education and Buy-In

I am a free market capitalist. So naturally I always think that the most effective way to get people to do something is to make sure they understand what's really and truly in it for them.

There must be something -- something that matters -- in it for them, such as the following:

  • In the case of payroll for hourly workers, the desire to get paid fairly for every hour they actually work provides the incentive.
  • In the case of billing automation, it's revenue for the company (i.e., a successful company). Most people can understand this, and they care about the success of their company. If your employees do not care about the success of your company, time sheets won't help you.

    You have to go back to the basics of creating a moral and compelling vision of how your company helps humanity (or fluffy bunnies, or whatever.) In the absence of having that strong vision, "bonusing" employees for their success in some intelligent way is usually helpful, although often fraught with opportunities to misstep.

  • Project accounting is more abstract than payroll or billing. If done poorly, it can lead to unnecessary overtime, stressful blown schedules, bad estimates and canceled projects.

    Relating specific examples from your company -- in which good time collection could have prevented problems -- helps to get employees on board.

Tips and Tricks

An "adoption dashboard" can include graphs that clearly illustrate which departments and people are entering their time consistently and completely, and which ones are not.

This helps managers understand early on who they need to badger about getting their time recorded, or whom to reward for doing a good job in this area.

Adopting a multiphase rollout approach that leads to per-person, per-project profitability allows you to change the culture in more manageable steps.

Linking bonuses or other benefits with complete data collection is often used in customer relationship management (CRM) tools to adjust sales commissions. The same can be done for other forms of data collection.

My company, Journyx, has a patent -- we call it the "frequent-flier patent" -- for automatically rewarding employees on your behalf for timely time reporting.

Getting an automated e-mail reminder when your time has not yet been entered produces results -- usually.

A percentage of people will become more timely with their data entry via this method. However, be careful about overdoing the number of automated e-mails that you send. People will naturally start ignoring them if you send too many.

If you have more than five people in your organization and they are working on many projects or within many processes, it is time to start thinking about implementing time-tracking.

If you have 100 people in an R&D group and you're not tracking time, then you're wasting the lives and work of a significant percentage of your employees.

You might have them working on projects that the market will not reward you for, which are over budget or otherwise in the ditch, and you don't know that today.


Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx, a provider of Web-based software that tracks time and project accounting solutions to guide customers to per-person, per-project profitability. In 1997, he created the world's first Internet-based time sheet application -- the foundation for the current Journyx product offering.


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