If your company still uses a manual time-tracking system, you are probably losing time and money, as well as opportunities to streamline payroll and labor management. High-tech time and attendance systems can help.

Labor-Intensive Tasks

Much of the extra cost comes from errors and the time that managers and payroll personnel spend on:

-Monitoring early and late sign-ins and sign-outs.

-Complying with federal and state laws, as well as union contract rules.

-Forecasting and scheduling to meet normal staffing needs and high workload periods.

-Tracking tardiness, break times, vacation days and absences, as well as finding employees to fill in.

4 Key Tasks for Time and Attendance Systems

Basic systems provide routine tracking of employee log-in and log-out times, and automatically report each employee’s hours to your company’s payroll processor at the end of the pay period. More advanced software can free up management and payroll time by performing several key tasks.

1. Scheduling

Time and attendance software can take historical and other data and predict staffing needs. It can then create schedules to cover shifts and high-demand periods based on employee availability and skills.

An analysis of forecast data and previous schedules can highlight areas that management may need to strengthen. Managers can also create and maintain schedules for their own departments, as well as set rules governing unpaid or paid break times, holidays and authorized overtime.

2. Containing Costs

Generally, time and attendance software categorizes time into three categories: regular time, overtime or special time, each of which is associated with pay rates and schedules. Time and attendance systems can alert management when an employee’s work hours approach the overtime threshold and allow overtime only with approval.

These systems can also lower time theft by authorizing wages only for employees’ actual schedules, regardless of when they logged in or logged out. Managers can override restrictions to approve additional time.

3. Analyzing Labor Expenses

Time and attendance software can identify individual employees assigned to a job and generate reports by project, department and employee. Management can generate reports on labor distribution, budget-to-actual spending, project overtime and other information your company needs.

4. Strengthening Compliance

Time and attendance systems can monitor various regulatory requirements, such as state or federally mandated breaks, tip reporting, vacation time and hours worked by minors. The systems can also track compliance with union-negotiated terms such as overtime and job descriptions.

Time-Tracking Devices

The core of time tracking, whether it’s a simple time clock or an elaborate time and attendance system, is the device that recognizes when an employee logs in out.

-Magnetic or bar code reader, where employees swipe cards or flash badges at devices.

-PIN codes, which employees enter into a single computer dedicated to the purpose – or into a network through their own computers.

-Biometric devices, telephones and the internet, which enable telecommuters or employees at remote locations to log in their time using voice-mail, touch-tone telephones or their computers.

This can also be accomplished in some cases with wireless PDAs and cell phones that can read employees’ hands, fingerprints or retinas. (This eliminates “buddy punching,” where one person logs in for another, as well as the problems of issuing new cards or replacing lost ones.)