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Timesheet Discipline

Dear Dave
Got any ideas on how to get staff to turn in their completed and checked timesheets on schedule? We spend too much time and energy chasing people around the office trying to get them to comply with our policy of submitting a timesheet at the end of the day Friday before going home for the week. I can understand how anyone could slip-up and be late from time to time, but we have individuals who almost never meet the turn-in deadline. Our office manager spends the first several days of the next week hounding folks to get their time into our system. With enough consistent nagging, the offenders get better for a while, but they soon slip back into their old behaviors.

Dear HG
Getting timesheets in on time probably ranks right up there as one of the most common administrative frustrations shared by firms. I hear this complaint all the time.

Recognize what you’re dealing with is, at its root, a behavioral problem based on the individual’s sense of priorities. Those that are constantly late have decided that getting you a timesheet by the end of the day on Fridays is not as important to them as other things they have to accomplish. To change this behavior, you need to change their priorities. You change the priorities of an individual by ratcheting up the consequence (or reward) of timesheet compliance appropriate to how serious you are about wanting timesheets on time. In your firm, the consequence or reward is not getting you the level of compliance you are looking for. You need to change that.

Besides just nagging, firms try all manner of things up to and including terminating the worst offenders. Some firms will hold an employee’s next paycheck for the same number of hours/days the last timesheet was late by. I’ve come across a Florida engineering firm who has a policy that if any single timesheet is missing, the payroll processing day for the entire firm is floated until the final timesheet has been turned in (now - there’s a consequence that might change priorities). Firms on an automatic payroll deposit program will remove chronic late staff from participation and cut them a manual pay check once a timesheet is finally turned in. This results in more work for your administrative staff, so they may not favor this at all. Other firms will make it a point of discussion on performance evaluations, or factor the offender’s behavior into future pay increases or bonus determination. Before you begin to hold back any paychecks or postponing the payroll for the entire firm, you need to check with your attorney to make sure you don’t run afoul of federal or state wage and hour laws.

An architectural client of mine was dealing with this issue several years ago. The firm had just completed a major investment of time and money to set up and implement a modern A/E job costing and accounting software package, in part, to enable them to improve project financial management. The idea was to make sure that project managers would be able to track the up-to-date accumulation of hours and dollars against individual job budgets from the end of one week to the next to spot projects financially veering off-course early enough to react and do something about it before it was too late to recover.

Problem was, too many people at the firm would go several weeks before getting their timesheets turned in. Project managers were getting weekly reports with incomplete information, which is next to useless for meeting the intended purpose. Recognizing the problem, the firm went to work educating staff why timesheets were so important and asking them to make a better effort. This initial process was followed up with memos, e-mails, etc, trying to drive home the need for getting timesheets turned in. Despite all this, there were still too many missing timesheets.

It is the culture and nature of this particular firm to be very hesitant when it comes to making demands and threats, so the idea of punishments for non-compliance did not sit well. It was out of character and just would not fly with the principals. So, we decided to use the carrot and not the stick to influence individual priorities.

In the first week of January, every employee begins the year with one thousand dollars in a special bonus account payable on the last paycheck of that year. A box was reserved on employees pay stubs to reflect their individual bonus accrual. Each week during the year a staff member’s timesheet was missing beyond a specific cut-off time, one hundred dollars would be deducted from this special bonus accrual and the reduced balance reflected on their next pay stub. At the end of the year, the final amount remaining (if any) was added to their final paycheck. This program proved to be effective. It did not solve the problem entirely, but it did serve the purpose by routinely reminding staff, on their pay stub each period, that there is a consequence for decisions each of us makes.

Wahby and Associates