Hounding employees to report their billable or project hours—accurately and on time—has been the task of payroll practitioners since the invention of the timesheet. Most companies resort to nagging and many have flirted with half-hearted reward and punishment programs, but any improvement is usually short-lived.
How can you motivate employees to fill out their timesheets on time? The problem may lie with your system rather than your employees. Here are some proven methods to make late timesheets a thing of the past.
Related reading: Pros and Cons: 3 Ways to Enter Timesheet Data into Payroll
Know Who (or What) to Blame
Don't assume that your employees are lazy or uncooperative. It’s possible that your time management process is genuinely difficult and painful to use. Many well-intentioned employees are absentminded and others are juggling so much project work that it’s difficult to find the time to submit their hours.
Rather than blaming your workers, consider how you can help your employees to be more successful. Ask them if there are improvements that could be made to the system or procedural changes to make it easier to submit timesheets.
Keep It Simple
Timesheets are notorious for being labor-intensive and onerous. Many companies put the burden of determining job rates or enforcing labor laws on the employees or supervisors. Bottom line—if it takes half an hour or more for employees to fill out and submit a timesheet, you’re wasting money each pay period on busywork that could have gone toward billable hours.
Automate Time Tracking
An automated system cuts a lot of the onerous manual entry out of your time-and-attendance process. Automation makes it easier and quicker to submit timesheets, so workers are less likely to put it off till later. Find a time management system that aligns with your pay policy needs. If you’re currently using Excel or paper timesheets, look for a solution that’s simple and quick to use. If you need to track multiple shifts and schedules or calculate overtime, your business needs a more robust time-and-attendance system.
Also consider including automated reminders. If forgetfulness is the culprit, sending an automated email reminder the morning that timesheets are due can be very effective.
Handpicked related content: 6 Signs You Need to Automate Your Unique Payroll Policies
Explain the Benefits
Clarify the time management process and explain why accurate time tracking is integral to the billing cycle, cash flow and overall health of the company. When your team realizes why you track their hours and how it benefits your company—and ultimately their paycheck—people will be more motivated to contribute.
Make Timesheets Fun
Gamify your timesheet submissions. Here are some ideas:
- Give a prize to the first person to submit their timesheet each pay period.
- Hold a drawing for gift cards for everyone who submits timesheets on time.
- Keep a leaderboard of top timesheet submitters throughout the month or quarter. You could give point values for different achievements, such as first submitted, submitted on time, submitted without errors, etc. Reward the top performer at the end of the month or quarter.
- Make it team-based by rewarding units. Track performance throughout the year and hold an annual recognition party.
Set goals for the company or for teams and celebrate when the goals are reached—then set new goals.
This company in Brazil made timesheets fun by installing a beer fridge that wouldn’t open until everyone submitted their timesheet.
Prizes don’t have to be monetary. Get creative and consider rewarding employees with time off, free lunches, gift cards or a fun plaque.
Some organizations withhold pay if timesheets aren’t turned in on time. Many resort to public shaming or withholding privileges. Punishments for late timesheets will only hurt your company. Negative reinforcement doesn’t work. The message you communicate is that you don’t care about employees’ needs (timely pay is a legitimate need) and it erodes trust, leading to lower productivity and higher turnover. And you may be setting yourself up for a painful lawsuit. Penalties hurt everyone, including the company itself.