Time Capsule: Time Won’t Let Me: Everybody Hates Filling Out Timesheets, But It Beats Being Laid Off
I wrote weekly editorials for a boutique industry newsletter for several years, anxious for both audience and income. I learned a lot about coming up with ideas for the weekly grind, trying to be simultaneously opinionated and entertaining in a few hundred words, and not sleeping much because I was working all the time. They’re fun to read as a look back at what was important then (and often still important now).
I wrote this piece in May 2009.
Time Won’t Let Me: Everybody Hates Filling Out Timesheets, But It Beats Being Laid Off
By Mr. HIStalk
One of the least-popular yet most useful things I’ve done in IT management was to implement an electronic timesheet system. I thought it would add a defensible layer of transparency and accountability to our otherwise black hole of IT projects and maintenance activities (it did), but I didn’t expect the staff to resist (they did).
It was for their benefit, after all. Executives were complaining about IT costs because they had no idea what we were working on (coddling those same PC-illiterate honchos armed with the highest-powered laptops and cool PDAs that never got used except to mess them up was a lot of what we did). They couldn’t figure out why we kept needing more people (forgetting all the cool new applications they went out and bought without allocating operating funds to keep them running). They figured we must be screwing around since we rarely emerged from our IT hole to encroach on the rarefied air of their windowed, couched, and conference tabled offices (because we were trying to keep outdated servers and applications running on a shoestring instead of chatting on our couches).
I pictured the day when, under snotty cost pressure from the bean counters, I would triumphantly wave a slickly printed labor allocation pie chart and proclaim, “Sure, we can cut IT costs. Which of your financial applications would you like to shut down?” (it actually did kind of work out that way).
Employees still resented the “getting into my business” aspect of accounting for their time. They made it clear with eye-rolling and begrudged compliance that the whole timesheet thing was invading their personal, company-paid space.
I’ve done this twice. The arguments are always the same:
- I’m too busy to track everything I do (suck-ups)
- I multi-task, so it’s impossible to record time accurately (excuse-makers)
- I don’t want to have to drop everything just to record a two-minute phone call (whiners)
- I would need at least 200 time codes to fully represent my broad contributions to the enterprise (opportunistic night shift computer operators)
Here’s a given. At the meeting where the timesheet idea is first floated (carefully masked under the working title “effort tracking,” which fools no one) and employee resistance first rears its ugly head, someone who considers themselves a master of cynical wit will invariably say, “How do I record the time it takes to record my time?” Ha ha, that never ceases to amuse even after hearing it 100 times.
Everybody hates recording their time. Software is often old and clunky (I see somebody has modified Twitter into a timekeeping system – you Tweet when you change activities and it records the elapsed time. That must really tear at the soul of Twittering geeks who still hate having their time tracked).
But the thing is, it works beautifully. Even given the inevitable fudging and one-upmanship involved (did you really work 112 hours this week?), it’s amazing to find out where employees really spend their time. You find out how long it takes to upgrade the payroll system, develop a new CPOE order set, and apply the latest server patches. You can then plan for next time.
The faint Big Brother overtones help, too. Folks who don’t mind goofing off but are too honest to lie on a timesheet might work a little harder rather than perjuring themselves.
And at least it’s not the Soviet-inspired problem tracking system, which forces employees to stop co-workers mid-sentence to announce, “I can’t talk to you until you open a ticket.”