One of the projects that we are engaged in is a great Estonian initiative – Family-Friendly employer. In this program consultants, HR and technology experts help companies become better employers. The program looks at a variety of improvement areas, but one of the most difficult ones for many is attendance management and flexible work environment.
This area is difficult to improve for the blue-collar workforce but also quite ambiguous in the case of office employees. When we do employee interviews the common conversation track with the office crowd is:
Me: “How happy are you about the work-time routines you have in your company?”
White-collar: “Well, I guess it’s good. I can start and end my day when I want to and sometimes work from home.”
Me: “But something seems to be bothering you?”
White-collar: “Yeah, there is just so much work. It often feels like I am overloaded and there is no end to it.”
And this is a huge problem. According to many studies, burnout is growing across most industries and no amount of free fruits and corporate getaways seems to be helping. The main reason for burnout – significant amount of extra work hours, which multiplies the effects of otherwise manageable work-related stress.
Employees affected by burnout lose productivity, suffer from health issues and poor work-life balance.
Companies are getting higher turnover rates among the best performers and see the degradation of workplace happiness, as well as losses due to absence among other things.
Simple solution? Start tracking time of office employees, especially their overtime.
Most employers shrug this off as blasphemy (or plain stupidity) but there is actually a lot to gain for both employers and employees.
1 Improved costing and budgeting
While the time office workers spend is a relatively fixed cost from a payroll perspective, what it gets spent on might vary. Employees might be working:
In order to optimize budgeting and costing calculations for the abovementioned and any other dimensions, it’s essential to know which share of employee payroll is being spent on each. Without tracking the actual time, a company will always be speculating/making assumptions like “Mary spent 30% of her time here, 20% there and 50% elsewhere”. This in return will affect how precisely you can budget your projects, customer work etc.
2 Improved performance
In many office environments, workers move on autopilot through an endless chain of tasks and meetings. They clock themselves against lunch break and leaving work not considering time spent on other activities.
By introducing an opportunity to track time spent on various activities employer will gently push employees towards thinking about efficiency. Employees will start self-evaluating the way time has been spent and likely doing some improvements and adjustments.
Tracking time is also likely to help employees become better at planning their work days.
These two elements will subtly lead to improvement in performance.
3 Improved invoicing
In businesses, which do not operate with strict “billable hours” policies, time of office employees is often not billed to customers. Or it is billed based on estimates or an agreed lump sum. While there might be some pros to this approach it is also a potential reason for losing revenue.
Higher level managers typically have a higher benefits package thus making their time more expensive. Without actually tracking their time companies might end up in a silly situation like this:
“A junior consultant with a payroll of 20 euro/hour spent 4 hours helping a customer, which the customer was billed for. That consultant though needed help from his manager with a payroll of 40 euro/hour who spent 2 hours helping a junior colleague.”
At best, failing to account for manager’s time on this particular transaction will distort the costs of providing service. But possibly, the customer should’ve been billed 2x as much for the service, because there has been more work done.
4 Improved planning
For many companies, especially larger ones, increasing headcount is an issue, both from approval and administration perspective. Without an exact picture of time allocation for office workers, it’s difficult to argue, why the extra hands are needed.
At the same time, if a company plans to grow by adding more projects, customers etc then there is a need to evaluate the available resource. If an existing resource is objectively on 95% capacity, then taking in more work without adding extra resources could prove disastrous. A company might end up overpromising to customers and then rather than making more take a hit in reputation and revenue.
5 Reduced costs
While this is not the main purpose of tracking office employee time, it’s still important to acknowledge. With flexible hours comes a higher risk of employees slacking off. It may even be o.k. for someone to “drift” between full-time and part-time at their own convenience. But a company probably doesn’t want to pay full-time salary package to someone who works half-time pretending to be pulling in full hours.
It is perfectly fine to use summarized working time for office employees, just as it is being done for blue collars. If your employee is aware that he is doing fewer hours this month then they should compensate in the following month or take a slight hit in payroll.
This levels the field and creates an open dialogue first and foremost, but might actually reduce payroll costs, if workers knowingly work fewer hours each month.
6 Clearer expectations
The common stance on time in the office is that everything should be done by a certain deadline. But as the unfinished work piles up and priorities are becoming blurry, employees start struggling to figure out what to do. Having to constantly make decisions about your next step is another source of stress.
Rather, by providing their managers with info about their activities, they can source the decision-making. There are only so many working hours in a period and it’s imperative, to be honest when deciding what can and will be done. Most reasonable managers wouldn’t go as far as saying:
“I can see that you’ve spent 20 hours on this task and need 10 more. Could you please squeeze these into the 176 hours of the planned working time of next month?”
And even if they do then this a clear (payable) overtime request.
7 Better control of their time
You cannot improve that which you do not measure. This saying applies fully to office workers who generally do not measure their time. By doing so, they will be able to better plan, schedule and control their activities.
Flexible hours and side projects are great, but if you have several tasks, which need some serious hours and only a week left to deliver then it’s obvious that there needs to be more control. This also signals respect and trust from the employer, as they demonstrate that they believe that their employees are adults, who can control their own time.
8 Better promotion/bonus arguments
Coming earlier every day and leaving later to demonstrate your dedication? Well, what better proof than a timesheet report showing those extra hours spent on important projects?
An employee can use the information about their activities to better argue why they should be entitled to a promotion or receive a bonus. The proof is in the numbers for one. Secondly, the mere fact that an employee is being strategic and disciplined shows their dedication to personal and company goals.
9 Honest pay for honest work
With shortages of labour force becoming more and more acute, doing overtime is no longer optional, but a must in certain companies. It is unfortunate, yet unavoidable in certain situations. When employees decide to sacrifice their personal time and do more hours, they should be paid for it. It is not only a matter of fairness but also – of building up a trusting and loyal relationship between the company and the employee.
The overtime pay will be minuscule in many cases, but the impact of acknowledging this overtime may be the difference between a dedicated employee staying or leaving to a less stressful place.
As you can see, both employers and employees can benefit from tracking time of office workers and those on a monthly wage. But the biggest benefit of this approach is a clearer picture of the time expenditure. Having this information at hand is great for having a serious and honest dialogue about performance, pay, goals etc.
Just because a company never tracked time of employees with a fixed salary, doesn’t mean that it should stay that way. Or that is was a good idea in the first place.
Begin has an easy self-service environment and a mobile app, which employees can use for tracking their time and projects.