Time and attendance systems
25 August 2021
The collection of payroll data is increasingly automated and the lines between the payroll function and human resources (HR) are becoming evermore blurred.
One feature of the modern workplace that falls under both those aspects is time and attendance (T&A).
So, how are T&A systems impacting the profession? To find out, I asked the following key figures in the field:
Nicole Bello, group vice president, SMB and channel, EMEA at UKG
Louise Chandler, payroll manager at FedEx
Will Jackson, managing director of Zalaris
Julie Lock, commercial director at Mitrefinch.
What are the benefits of a T&A system?
Louise Chandler: In an ever-changing business environment, many can find managing workforces a challenge due to aspects such as increased flexibility in working arrangements and hours.
However, T&A systems enable the employer to collect and report on accurate data, which, in turn, gives greater insight into their operations as a whole.
Additionally, it allows the employer to manage their workforce through the seamless scheduling of increasingly complex shift patterns and working hours. It also assists with absence tracking which highlights trends and allows for more proactive management, ultimately increasing productivity.
Tracking T&A via an automated system removes manual processes which are prone to human error or open to misuse. This results in cost savings for the employer, but also increased employee satisfaction due to heightened levels of payroll accuracy. Accurate reporting also has compliance and audit benefits across the business, whether monitoring working hours or being able to quickly access records to resolve queries.
Julie Lock: Organisations that use technology to drive efficiency often look to T&A as a smart way to manage their workforce requirements. The benefits of T&A directly impact an organisation’s profit and loss and the security of their premises and assets. It is estimated that an organisation of 1,000 employees can expect to make a cost saving of £250,000 per year by introducing T&A technology. There are major benefits to payroll teams, people managers and employees.
T&A will cater for the automatic, accurate calculation of very complex and multiple payment rules, up to gross pay, saving valuable time and removing human errors, ultimately improving the accuracy of pay.
Data gathering can be a challenge for payroll teams, who rely on people managers to accurately document timesheet data in a legible format and submit it to payroll on time. With T&A, there is no data gathering requirement, and payroll are no longer reliant on people managers to accurately record timesheet data. The T&A solution understands the shift plans for each employee and will accurately record their clocking in and out times and calculate payments. Where an employee unexpectedly fails to clock in or out, the solution will flag an exception to the reporting line manager to resolve, thus capturing late starts, early finishes, overtime worked and absences.
Absence entitlements are automatically managed by the T&A solution, ensuring that employees never exceed their entitlements. Accurate payments for absences are automatically calculated, removing the administration burden off the payroll team.
Gathering payroll data outside of a T&A solution runs the risk of it being lost, missed or arriving too late into payroll to be processed on time. T&A solutions eliminate these risks; as the solution collects, calculates and formats the data, ready to be transferred into the payroll solution automatically, on time.
Exceptions to normal shift payments, such as overtime, are flagged to line managers for approval, ensuring that they authorise or reject the additional payments before payroll is processed.
Will Jackson: The top three benefits of utilising an efficient T&A system would undoubtedly be the reduction and associated costs of manually capturing and administrating time and attendance data. Most T&A systems integrate to workforce management, HR, and payroll software too so the benefits of integration result in less transfer of information between those crucial systems.
Accuracy is also one of the key benefits as electronic capture, automated calculations output, auditable adjustment functionality and accessible reporting accelerate efficiencies for the benefit of all areas of the business. The benefits extend to such things like adoption of cloud-based software, general data protection regulation (GDPR) compliance, increased forecasting of labour and costs, and ultimately, increased employee trust and experience.
What methods of T&A data collection are available?
Nicole Bello: Numerous methods of T&A data collection are available, from hardware and software terminals to web browsers and mobile devices – including time clocks, web entry, telephony, and mobile apps. These collection points enable employees to input and save critical labour data whilst on site or on the go, therefore reducing errors, increasing flexibility in data collection, and enhancing the employee experience.
Offline availability also enables devices to continue collecting and storing necessary work data even when disconnected. Once the connection is re-established, the device sends the data back to the server, which satisfies a critical requirement for many customers to track their workforce while offline due to reasons such as power outages, network errors, or database problems.
LC: T&A systems have certainly evolved over the last few years. Gone are the days when an employee would simply clock in and out. Not only do we have swipe cards, but we now have biometric fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, global positioning system (GPS) tracking, and mobile apps for smartphones and tablets.
Data collection through such a variety of electronic devices and options ensures that employers can be increasingly flexible and their solutions as mobile as the workforce itself. Self-service options also add benefits for the employees, who can manage their own schedules and feel empowered as a result.
Technological advances enable systems to adapt to our changing needs and have proved invaluable, particularly during the pandemic, where we saw remote working become a necessity and therefore had to adapt quickly.
WJ: The most common method of T&A data collection (believe it or not) is via paper timesheets and paper punch cards. Many organisations still have a fully manual process until the data needs inputting to core HR. However, wall-mounted electronic solutions (often using a badge, fob, or card) are commonly used in larger organisations, which feed data to a user platform for supervisors and managers.
I am seeing an increased adoption of things like biometrics (via fingerprint, hand or eye), which negates the need to remember passwords. Mobile (including the use of GPS) and web-based portal devices to capture T&A are probably the industry staple and the obvious next step after fully manual capture.
How do workers respond to implementation of T&A recording?
NB: Outdated processes, manual workarounds, and an inability to view data like hours worked are all things that can create a negative experience for managers and staff. This includes a lack of visibility and transparency into employee performance, which can impede real-time decision-making and create opportunity for manager bias.
Automated processes and accurate payroll can boost staff productivity levels, by ensuring they spend less time on manual processes such as data collection and return to work more quickly. Put simply, automating T&A is a critical step in helping organisations to manage their people, while also removing hassle for individual employees and creating a culture of trust with technology.
LC: When implementing new systems and processes, you always need to be mindful of the impact these changes will have on all stakeholders.
Change management is crucial in preparing the ground for implementation, ensuring communication is at the forefront of any project and getting the buy-in of all those affected. Implementation of new systems will only go ahead after consultation with labour relations and ensuring compliance with the appropriate regulations – GDPR and local.
In this instance, the benefits of a T&A system far outweigh the negatives for employers and employees alike. Employees welcome an automated, accurate and flexible system. Self-service tools increase their engagement by simplifying manual processes, allowing them to view timesheets, schedules, hours worked, and annual leave. Wariness of T&A tracking in the past has been replaced by positive acceptance as systems evolve and develop and the inherent benefits become more apparent.
WJ: Depending on the solution being adopted, and what the employees have previously been accustomed to using, the uptake is generally positive as it’s a sign of progress or improvement. However, if there has never been a T&A solution or process prior to implementation, it can be seen as a negative and the common reasons are around management trust or the feeling that ‘big brother’ is now watching you.
Remember, for employees who are required to interact with T&A systems, they need it to be as seamless and quick as possible as it is the one stopping them from starting work or leaving for home. As with any new implementation, the key to achieving a positive response is in the communication, change management, training, and support.
To what extent can T&A systems be integrated into attendance management, scheduling of work times, and data collection for payroll and HR?
NB: T&A systems can be fully integrated with attendance management, scheduling of work times, and payroll software; and this can have a major impact on the wider business. Selecting a solution that has it all in one unified system, for example, ensures that even as your business grows and needs change, you maintain one database, one employee record, and one single source of truth.
A range of solutions can meet T&A requirements in one system. These include flexible pay rules for managing true labour costs, self-service tools to help enforce leave policy tracking, and real-time visibility for better exception management, all of which enforce your pay and work rules by knowing who is doing what, when, and why.
LC: T&A systems have evolved to such an extent that they are now invaluable to a business which needs to manage its workforce.
Attendance management was previously a laborious task for managers, payroll and HR alike. However, T&A systems allow employers to report on absence levels accurately, highlight trends, and have access to accurate data whenever a query or issue arises. Automation allows pro-active management, identifying employee welfare concerns and cost savings for the business through absence management.
Systems are now capable of handling a multitude of complex shift patterns and scheduling employee hours to ensure an employer has the most efficient and effective work patterns in place. T&A systems can be fully integrated with payroll by providing a direct interface to the payroll system itself. Therefore, human error is removed from the equation and both employee and employer reap the benefits of accurate and timely data collection and reporting.
WJ: The main advantage of many T&A systems in the market today is the advantage of integration. Enabling true ‘turnkey solution’ functionality within your business instantly brings with it substantial benefits. Most of the solutions available are cloud-based and offer easy integration to most of the main HR solutions and if it does not, question why.
T&A capture is only the start. Using scheduling tools to support plan versus actual and managing missed or error in time is key to managing your workforce from a human planning and cost perspective.
Equally, integrating time and absence is vital to the HR function for such things as adhering to terms and conditions, working time directives, law, entitlement, reporting and so on. And not forgetting integration to payroll. Time exceptions impact pay – such things like additional payments and deductions, missed shifts, late starters, early leavers, overtime, allowances, standby, call out, time accruals etc. And finally, the need to integrate to finance and reporting functionality across the business.
So, the question shouldn’t be to what extent it can be integrated, because in today’s market it must do.
JL: T&A solutions will manage attendance, scheduling of work times and data collection for payroll and HR – this is the essence of a good T&A solution. Modern T&A solutions will integrate into most payroll, HR and finance solutions through flat files or application programming interfaces.
Featured in the September 2021 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.