How do you get your agency employees to do their time sheets?

What do you do about late (or non-existent) time sheets?

Did I hear an echo? It seems that this question is asked again and again, year after year.  The only modification in the conversation is whether or not you should do time sheets at all.  (Watch for that discussion later this week.)

The attitude of agency management (you) towards the problem is the solution, or non-solution. If you set and enforce a policy of completing time sheets on time, the question is moot. If you tolerate tardy time sheets, that’s what you get. Your attitude is reflected by your employees. It boils down to rewarding the behavior you want. Remember, the greatest management principal? If your agency has the tardy-time-sheet illness, it is because you’ve rewarded the tardy time-keepers by not making a stink about it.

I tend to run a relatively easy going shop. But many years ago, I realized I had to take a stand on time sheets if we were going to be able to accurately track our work, our profitability and our workload. I had a choice — the carrot or the stick.

Most bosses would go for the carrot like JWT Casa did.  They created a direct correlation between filling out and getting something you desperately need at the end of the workweek: a fridge full of beer. Guess what? Everyone filled out their time sheets. On time. Suddenly, time sheets weren’t a problem anymore.

I went the way of the stick. I told my employees that I would fine anyone who did not complete their time sheet before they left the office for the day. I’m not sure they believed me. It was an unusually strict response from me. Until about two weeks later, one of our junior art directors neglected to do her time sheet. This is where I began to feel uncomfortable. $50 to this employee was a big deal.

I could either honor my threat or kiss daily time sheets goodbye. So I took a big gulp and called her in. I made her write us a check right on the spot. I felt like a complete jerk. I confessed to the rest of the team that I felt like a jerk. But we cashed her check.

But…I’ve never had to fine another employee in all the years since that happened. Because they got that I was serious and would make good on my threat.

If it’s important to have your employees get their time sheets in on time (and it is), then set very clear expectations along with a policy that has some teeth in it if they don’t meet those expectations. Either stock up the fridge or put on your Scrooge face. But make it clear that time sheets aren’t optional.

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