Tracking Employee Time: A Long-Term Problem

BY JUDITH KATZ
Tracking employee time: A long-term problem
Biometrics technology makes employee time management easier and more efficient
When it comes to managing staff time and attendance, the long-term care industry is not alone in its struggles to achieve an accurate account of employee hours. Regardless of wages, benefits, and other perks, employees often believe they are entitled to be paid for their scheduled hours rather than those they actually work. Even the most dedicated employees admit they occasionally “squeeze out a little longer lunch break,” or perhaps “roll in a bit late” or exit “just shy of 5 p.m.” And while a few minutes here and there may seem like no big deal, reports from the American Payroll Association (APA) show otherwise. In recent surveys, employees reported stealing an average of 4.5 hours each week through tardy arrivals, early departures, and extended lunches or breaks. This is the equivalent of a six-week paid vacation.

While traditional time-tracking methods such as electronic time clocks and manually compiled time sheets provide a record of employee hours, they do so without the checks and balances that ensure accuracy. Concerns about employees rounding up hours or failing to report sick, vacation, or personal days are not unfounded. And there is no mechanism to protect against unscrupulous employees punching in for tardy or absent coworkers, an act commonly referred to as “buddy punching.”

Timely High-Tech Trends
With recent advancements, automated time-tracking has entered the marketplace, bringing more efficient, more reliable options, such as card-based software systems, which function much like credit cards. Here, users clock in either by entering a card and PIN (personal identification number) or by swiping a bar-coded or magnetic-striped card through a terminal.

Proximity cards, which are also popular as tokens that may be designed to fit on key fobs, offer another alternative. These contain a radio frequency (RF) chip that emits a signal read by an RF reader. The primary advantage of this technology is that it requires no physical contact between the card/token and the reader. As long as the individual is within range of the reader, it is a hands-free process that provides a quick read rate. While considerably more costly than other card-based technologies, readers may be a good choice for large enterprises seeking to expedite the employee log-in process, as they allow employees to clock in by waving their tokens as they pass a sensor rather than having to stop and enter a card or code into a terminal.

All of these methods streamline payroll preprocessing and ensure accuracy of reported hours. However, because they identify an accessory rather than a user, they can be shared-which allows buddy punching and its consequence of compromised data integrity. Another concern with accessory-driven systems is their high probability of loss or theft.

Among the most sophisticated applications for employee time and attendance are those incorporated with a biometric interface, which combines speed and accuracy along with the convenience of never having to worry about loss, theft, or sharing, because the item identified is the actual user. The term “biometric”-derived from the Greek words “bios,” for life, and “metron,” for measure-applies to any unique, measurable physiological or behavioral characteristic that can be used to automatically recognize or verify an individual’s identity. While the technology has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, it has been around for decades. In particular, law enforcement agencies used fingerprint biometrics long before the advent of computers and IT biometrics came on the scene. And as progressive digital technologies continue to adapt biometrics, a whole new generation of processes, applications, and functions are being born. In fact, biometrics has grown from the sole method of fingerprinting to more than 10 additional methods, including hand geometry, iris, retina, and voice recognition. And like fingerprints, these biometric characteristics are now analyzed through new data-collection readers such as sensors and scanning devices.

Uses of Biometrics
Today, biometrics technology is common in all types of government and business applications, which apply it in two distinct ways: for identification and for verification. With identification, the task is to determine who a person is by finding a match from a database. In cases where the database contains hundreds or even thousands of records, the search can take substantial time and processing power. The second approach, verification, involves taking new input and comparing it with that individual’s original sample-which, when achieved, authenticates that the person is who he says he is.

In a typical IT biometric system, a person is enrolled by providing a sample of his/her trait. While fingerprints continue to be regarded as among the most reliable and cost-effective, others, such as voice patterns, iris or retinal patterns, and visual pattern recognition-including facial, hand, and full body-have entered the field of personal identification. There are also nonphysiological characteristics that can help identify and authenticate a person, such as keyboard dynamics and handwriting dynamics. This unique trait is then processed by software, which converts it into digital format and enters it into a database for future comparisons with new input, which is analyzed to determine a match. This comparison occurs each time the individual logs in with the system. Ideally, the features from each recurring log-in will match 100% with the original sample. When this does not occur, the system refuses the log-in, which means there cannot be positive verification of identity and more than likely, that an unauthorized individual is attempting to use the system.

Benefits of Biometric Time-Tracking
Windows-based software integrated with biometrics is providing the nursing home/long-term care industry with solutions to a variety of business challenges, such as controlling facility access and computer access. However, the most popular systems are the employee time-tracking packages. These computerized systems meet many of the demands that come with managing employees who work varied shifts, in varied job roles, and at varied pay scales.

These applications also enable multifacility providers to cost-effectively schedule personnel, contain overtime costs, and maximize operational efficiencies. The success of these systems is also attributable, in part, to the objective control it brings to the process of managing, scheduling, and appropriately compensating staff. HR issues, such as favoritism and payroll disputes, become things of the past, while reliable documentation of wage and hour compliance is achieved automatically.

Other major benefits of particular interest to industry providers are applications that provide seamless integration with leading payroll and accounting packages, such as QuickBooks, Peachtree, ACCPAC, and Paychex. The advantage of this integration is substantial: First, it eliminates the time-consuming administrative tasks involved in payroll preprocessing, and second, it prevents the inevitable human errors that occur during calculations of time card hours, which can be significant. According to the APA, adding and auditing employee time cards takes about five minutes per card. Then, factor in the time employees waste compiling and collecting time sheets, tack on additional time to recalculate errors, and the cost, according to the APA, can be as much as 8% of a company’s gross annual payroll.

Implementing these systems requires little more than Windows-enabled computers, a Pentium II processor, and a LAN network, which are standard features in virtually any business environment. Software packages generally come bundled with a sensor or other data-collection device, and many are priced at low entry costs with upgrades available for organizations that have more than 50 employees, or that may require additional accommodations for multiple workstations, departments, or facilities.

These user-friendly applications are intuitive, are easy to install and, according to many industry users, deliver an immediate return on the investment through increased staff productivity and morale, elimination of human errors, accurate reporting of employee hours, simplified scheduling, reductions in overtime, and improved attendance, punctuality, and accountability-all with two finger taps on a digital sensor.


Judith Katz is President & CEO of Count Me In, LLC, an award-winning developer of business software solutions that enable businesses to cost-effectively manage their people, processes, and operations. For more information about Count Me In, LLC, contact Neal Katz at (847) 981-8779, (800) 958-8779, or neal@countmeinllc.com; or visit www.countmeinllc.com. To send your comments to the author and editors, e-mail katz1206@nursinghomesmagazine.com.

Topics: Finance , Staffing , Technology Trends , Uncategorized