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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why Do You Actually Track Employee Hours?

I had an employer who required everyone at the company fill in time sheets. These were supposed to be filled in as work was done on projects and then submitted for 'approval' at the end of the week. Approval is used abstractly because I'm not really sure what happened as there was never any feedback on it…except for one time when the accountant came up to me…



Accountant: "The hours are incorrect on your time sheet."

Me: "Really?"

"You only put in 10 hours this week"

"I only actually worked for about 10 hours this week coding, I spent most of my time with busy work like meetings & email."

"You're assigned to work on projects 'X' & 'Y', so your time should be 40 hours split amongst those.'

"…won't the client get over billed?'

"Don't worry about that, when everyone submits their hours I pad the hours to fit the budget."

"What?! So the hours I put in don't matter at all?"

"Well we need to know what you're working on!"

"…let me get this straight, you tell me what projects to work on, I put in hours, you use those hours to figure out what projects I'm working on, then you change the hours to 'fit' the budget of those projects?!"

"..."

I didn't stay at the company much longer after that.

doveryai, no proveryai

The previous anecdote taught me something: time tracking is often used as tool by management to make sure employees are not cheating them. Instead of 'cheating' I was tempted to say '…to measure performance' or '…to keep track of what projects they are working on' but instead I chose 'cheating'. This is because it's about trust - these managers don't trust their employees.

If employers wanted to use time tracking as a metric of capabilities or help improvement, then there would be some dialogue around it. An example would be a manager saying:

"You worked lots of hours on X when Joe did a similar task real fast, did you have some problem...is there anything we can do to help you...are there other tasks that are more fun for you?'

If it was about project management, there are better tools for that.

When you trust your team and work closely with them, you don't need to spy on them and you know when they are either having trouble or lacking motivation.

results are remembered, efforts are forgotten

Even when the effort is known in retrospect (remember we're talking about time tracking on what you did), does it matter? The customer doesn't care if it took 1 hour or 100 hours. If they have what they want at an acceptable cost…they don't care how it happened - just that it did.