Time Management

It’s a Matter of Time: How to Get Employees to Track Hours

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It’s a Matter of Time: How to Get Employees to Track Hours
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It’s a Matter of Time: How to Get Employees to Track Hours

When she first met him, Alice was enrapt with the Mad Hatter. Perpetually trapped at six pm, he swept her off her feet, dancing away with his unbirthday celebration.

Eventually, however, his deluge of senseless poetry and riddles drove her away.

A manager with an overbearing fixation on time has a similar effect on employees. When every keystroke is recorded and overseen, it really jeopardizes a company culture that values individual motivation and accountability.

Yet, remote working has become commonplace, and it’s created a dangerous blind spot for managers.

They’re having a rough time finding solutions to questions such as: How is it possible to know if an hourly employee really works 40 hours each week? How can I approve overtime pay? How can I know the amount of time going toward a client or project?

It’s tempting to wish for a “drink me” potion that magically reveals all the data around work hours, but doesn’t interfere with team motivation

There is a strategy, but it’s delicate. The right solution for each team entails carefully looking at all the issues around how to motivate employees to track time.

Anytime you’re ready, let’s dig in.

Give Them an Easy Time

1. Give Them an Easy Time

It’s so simple for employees to just forget to track their time. Yet, it’s information the manager needs: to bill clients, to track projects, and sometimes, to pay employees!

If you want employees to track time consistently, make the process as easy as pie.

Some time-tracking systems are pretty dang complicated. When it takes a lot of digging to figure out where to enter hours, people look for excuses to put it off, and then it doesn’t happen at all.

It’s important to find a simple system where time is recorded with just a click or two. Having the capacity to enter time from a phone really helps.

Friendly reminders work, too. Sending them out every few days, around the end of the day, might be just the jolt people need to get into the software and record daily hours.

Providing incentives is another good idea. Acknowledging perfect time-tracking at weekly meetings, with an award such as a small gift card, motivates people to get on board.

Make a Stitch in Time

2. Make a Stitch in Time

Have you ever had trouble sleeping at night, and the doctor’s advice was simply to do things like turn off the lights, roll down the shades, wear warm pajamas, and sleep in a quiet room?

Sometimes, employees get hung-up just because the basics aren’t covered. Or they’re hazy about the overall process: they want to understand the “why” behind the system, and now just the “how.”

Particularly when onboarding employees, but also at least once a year, make an effort to explain time-tracking expectations thoroughly and completely.

In order to eliminate miscommunication, it’s important to explain the process in person. Then, follow up with an email. Here are some points to address.

  • Time-tracking software is complex and overwhelming! Never assume that anyone can just figure it out on their own. Provide thorough instructions as to where everyone is expected to clock in and out. Using spreadsheets helps to illustrate the process to visual learners. Also, make the process as simple as possible. This way, it can be quickly learned and remembered.
  • Get everyone clear on the process for overtime approval. Let them know whether it goes through human resources or the employees’ manager.
  • Sometimes it isn’t necessary for exempt employees to track time, so clarify to everyone in the company who will and won’t be using time-tracking software.
  • Explain how time-tracking benefits both employees and managers.
  • Let employees know that it isn’t necessary to be precise: time-tracking is a gauge, to give managers a ballpark. Being fifteen minutes off isn’t a big deal.

These are some key areas to cover. Communicating the information verbally, visually, and with text makes it digestible to a variety of learning styles.

Being Ahead of One’s Time

3. Being Ahead of One’s Time

In a transparent culture, employees receive as much information about the company’s decisions and processes as possible. This open communication makes employees trust managers, and increases their willingness to cooperate with procedures.

In an instance where a company updates to a new time-tracking software, employees rightfully may want to know something about it. Answering all questions thoroughly, in full transparency, increases the likelihood that they’ll play along.

It’s important to provide clarity around the following points, and any other questions that arise.

  • Time-tracking software uses various methods to monitor employees as they work. Some take photos of the desktop at random times of the day and monitor mouse pad activity, while others track all keyboard activity, and take videos of the employee throughout the entire workday. To prevent a paranoid “big brother is watching” atmosphere in the work environment, it’s important to fully disclose to employees how their work is monitored.
  • Explain why the update is taking place: what does the current software offer that the previous software did not?
  • Be clear with employees about the consequences of failing to track time. Will this result in negative feedback from the manager, and be reflected in their performance score? If so, be sure they understand this.
  • Why did the company choose this particular software, and what other software did they consider?
  • It’s not uncommon for employees to work overtime at certain times of the month and year. In these instances, what is the process for having overtime approved?

These are just a few of the questions that may come up. The increased surveillance utilized by some time-tracking softwares will be an adjustment. Some employees may find it intimidating and possibly demotivating.

Thoroughly answering all anticipated questions helps to assuage these concerns. Being fully transparent about the system makes the employees feel like they’re part of the process, and they’re more inclined to trust it.

Smoothing a Wrinkle in Time

4. Smoothing a Wrinkle in Time

Culture plays an integral role in how a company works together, interacts with clients, and completes projects. Two central components to building a healthy company culture are employee well-being and appreciation.

The method a company uses to motivate time-tracking impacts both of these areas. It could place pressure on an employee to work long hours, and it may make employees feel unduly supervised.

For this reason, it’s critical that management look closely at its methods, to be sure they’re in alignment with the company’s core values and the culture it aims to create.

There really are no right or wrong answers here, but here are a few topics to consider when communicating with employees about tracking time.

Hustle Culture

Hustle culture has been widely propagated by businesses in Silicon Valley and influencers the self-help industry. It propagates the notion that someone’s productivity is directly correlated to the amount of time they spend working.

When a company fully embraces hustle culture, then, an employee who works fifty hours a week is valued more than one who clocks in at forty.

This makes it impossible for an employee to perform at a high level and still enjoy work-life balance. That is, a company that imbues hustle culture isn’t taking care of its employees.

One way to defuse this mindset within a business is to have policies that measure productivity in terms of milestones and not simply hours worked.

Agile Methodology

The agile methodology for project planning has been widely adopted across many businesses and industries. Its principles of taking an empirical approach to projects has been effective not only with software companies, but in many other areas as well.

The agile method leans heavily on self-organizing teams, and places less emphasis on managerial oversight. A project manager’s role is to facilitate, not oversee.

When a project manager integrates time-tracking into the workday, it can really frustrate this principle of trust.

One antidote to this frustration is to emphasize that time-tracking doesn’t need to be perfect, nor is it a reflection of performance: it’s simply a tool to help understand how a project is going.

Benefits of Guidance and Discipline

Some people are able to get up at 5 am all on their own, while others need an alarm.

In the same way, certain people work best in an environment with little or no oversight. Others, however, need discipline, structure and accountability in order to keep their head in the game.

This is a balance that a manager needs to strike, and time-tracking certainly plays a role.

In sum, it’s important to marry the method for tracking-time with the philosophy and culture within the business. Time tracking is not simply another process, but is a policy that has widespread implications about a company’s culture.

Finding All the Time in the World

5. Finding All the Time in the World

Oftentimes, employees don’t track time because they know they will receive the same salary either way. They just don’t see the incentive.

In these instances, it’s important to communicate that time is a resource, and that it needs to be evaluated and discussed just as you would discuss a budget, or the allocation of any other resources.

Here are a few benefits as to the value of tracking time:

  • In the same way that we tend to save money when we make a budget, we’re more resourceful about how we use time when it’s been recorded. A good time log (developed with time-tracking) indicates areas where time has been wasted. Going forward, a team is able change habits and so use time more resourcefully.
  • When time is closely evaluated, it’s much easier to gauge how long certain things should take. You may think that it takes “forever” to complete a certain task, but when it’s recorded, you realize that it generally only takes 2-3 hours. This knowledge is invaluable in understanding how to set up a timeline and to manage time during the day.
  • When you have a time log of everything that has been done during the week, it can be aligned with all of the prioritized work in the product backlog. This makes it very easy to see if everyone has been spending time on the most important tasks.

When these benefits have been communicated to a team, they’re more likely to develop a consistent practice around it.

Call it a Day

Did this hit you at a good time?

It takes some strategy to develop a method for motivating employees to track time that also maintains integrity with the company’s culture. Each company will arrive at a different solution.

Thorough communication is key. When employees appreciate the value of time-tracking, it’s easier for them to get on board.

What’s your greatest difficulty in getting employees to track time?

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