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How can I motivate my employees to register their hours?

This is probably the question we’ve been asked most often over the 20 years we've been advising companies about time registration.

It’s also the question I aim to answer for you in this post, taking as my starting point one of the popular management tools from the behavioural theory toolbox: nudging.

My post this time centres on two Danish women – Henriette Diernisse and Kathrine Springborg – and their thesis about time registration and how behavioural theory and nudging can encourage more employees to register their hours.

Their thesis is based on register and survey data backed by interviews completed over six months at a Danish company with 600 employees.

I’ve added practical knowledge that we’ve built up progressively since 2001.

Your article takeaways:

  1. A short introduction to nudging
  2. Insight into when nudging is needed
  3. Four suggestions for how you, as a manager, can use nudging to encourage your employees to register their time

What is nudging?

The original version of the concept of “nudging” was developed by two American professors, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

Many define a “nudge” as a gentle push in the right direction. Here is the professor’s definition:

A nudge ...is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. (...) Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.”

The concept stems from their 2008 book Nudge, which the international news magazine The Economist named book of the year that same year.

nudging

“There’s a fly in my toilet”

One of the most famous examples of a nudge in the world is the fly in the urinal. This particular nudge was introduced in 1999 at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, and entailed simply sticking a reproduction of a small fly in the urinal.

It resulted in up to 80 per cent less “spillage” to the sides of the urinal, to the delight of the cleaning staff and everyone else who had to use the toilet.

In their thesis, Henriette Diernisse and Kathrine Springborg suggest that nudging is a powerful management tool if you, as a manager, are experiencing that:

  • Your employees face complex decisions when they are to register their time
  • Your employees lack information about the consequences of failing to register their hours correctly
  • Your employees are unaware of the personal benefits of time registration

The advantage of nudging is that it’s an inexpensive management tool that is easy to implement and that you can use in pretty much all contexts where you aim to help your employees make good decisions.

There are significant differences from one person to another with regard to what motivates them to register time. You, therefore, need to understand the behavioural bias that governs your employees to ensure that your nudge will have the desired effect.

Understanding the behavioural bias of your employees

Behavioural bias has to do with our propensity to make irrational decisions. In other words, we take mental shortcuts such as omitting essential details and are often motivated by the short-term perspective (thesis on time registration and nudging, 2021).

There are more than 100 behavioural biases, but which ones have an impact in the context of time registration? In their thesis, Henriette and Kathrine argue that “the present bias” in particular, can affect time registration by your employees.

Present bias and continuous time registration

“Present bias” is another way of saying that an individual prioritises the present over the future. For example, your employees may have a tendency to say, “I just need to go through my mail—I’ll get to my time registration later.”

If your employees are subject to present bias, you can use continuous time registration as a nudge to encourage them to register their hours.

You can register time in several ways. Some companies have regulations stating that it has to be done every month, while others register weekly. We do it daily—before or after meetings, for example, or while the customer is on the phone.

In our thesis, we discovered that the employees who were best at registering their time were the ones who did it daily, as it wasn’t such a daunting task for them.
Henriette Diernisse and Kathrine Springborg
Master thesis time registration and nudging.
 

Five great benefits of continuous time registration

One of the benefits of constant time registration is that it eliminates duplicated work. In our experience, many people habitually record their hours on paper and then register them in whatever system they use later.

Another advantage of continuous time registration is that it prevents your employees from finding themselves in the following situation: It’s 4 p.m. on a Friday, and they suddenly have to remember all the work they’ve done over the past week. Hand on heart, I can barely remember what I was doing at 2.30 yesterday. How about you?

Present bias and shorter time registration periods

If continuous time registration fails to motivate your employees to register their hours, you could consider giving them shorter periods for time registration. For example, you can ask them to register daily or weekly.

This can be a good nudge because they are then required to register time for shorter intervals, which makes the whole process seem more manageable. 

 

How others nudge their employees to register time

A reminder can serve as an effective nudge. One of our customers has the following message on the front page of their TimeLog set-up—it’s the first thing employees see when they log into TimeLog.

Make it easy for your employees to register their time

To motivate your employees to register their time, you must make it as easy as possible.

2021-12-18_13h17_29

One of Henriette´s and Kathrine´s thesis findings is that some employees fail to register their time because they think the process is too complicated and overwhelming.

It is essential to focus on simplicity regarding:

  • The level of detail in the time registration
  • The user-friendliness of the time registration system

Keep the level of detail to a minimum

If too many tasks are linked to a project, your employees will quickly lose their overview regarding registering time. It would help if you also considered whether requiring your employees to link comments to their time registrations is indispensable.

By keeping your time process simple, you add structure to complex choices for your employees - and this is precisely what a good nudge should do ( Danish thesis on time registration and nudging, 2021). 

Focus on user-friendliness

How user-friendly is the time registration system you already use or are thinking of using

  • For example, does it feature an automatic stopwatch function?
  • Does it automatically send a message to your employees reminding them to close their weekly timesheets?
  • Can employees register time in various ways?

In your hunt, you can use our “5 things you should ask about” guide for a user-friendly time registration system.

Use framing to present the purpose of time registration

In their thesis, Henriette Diernisse and Kathrine Springborg examined why employees forget to register their time.

One reason is that they do not understand the purpose of time registration.

So, how can you use nudging to help your employees understand that purpose?

Framing is a specific tool you can use as a nudge. Briefly put, “framing” has to do with the way you present your message.

For example, you can highlight the positive aspects of time registration. This can be effective because people tend to choose options with positive framing.

Some employees may think that time registration is for control and monitoring. By using framing, you may be able to limit or even change this perception and help your employees understand that time registration makes a positive contribution.

 

‘What’s in it for us’?

Time registrations can document a high level of activity at a company and thus contribute to the management focusing on the imbalance between resources and workload.
Henriette Diernisse and Kathrine Springborg
Master thesis time registration and nudging.

 

As a manager, you can use framing to discuss the benefits of time registration for your company.

Our experience indicates that it is not unusual for a company:

  • To experience an increase in the invoicing percentage shortly after the introduction of time registration
  • To gain insight into the customers on which it is losing money, following the implementation of time registration

‘What’s in it for me?’

Many employees also understand the importance of time registration from the company's perspective, and self-interest is another key motivator.

Remember that some people may view time registration as monitoring. Therefore, it is essential that you, as a manager, help your employees understand the personal outcome of their time registrations.

Alignment with expectations: An excellent place to start is to ensure a good alignment. Here, you clarify what you, as a manager, plan to do with your employees’ time registrations. For example, you can explain that the objective is to remove friction—in one form or another—from their everyday work.

The employee appraisal interview: You can also use your employees’ time registrations for their employee appraisal interviews and pay negotiations.

Flexitime scheme: If any of your employees are on flexitime schemes, this should encourage time registration because timely registrations can translate into time off.

 

Establish good habits and a healthy culture regarding time registration

As a manager, you should take the lead and establish good habits and a healthy culture regarding time registration. In their thesis, Henriette and Kathrine put forward three convenient suggestions for what you can do:

  1. You can use reminders: send your employees an email reminding them to register their time
  2. You can call your employees in for a “have a good weekend” meeting on Friday, where you remind them to register their hours.
  3. You can hang a poster on the door reminding them to complete their time registrations.

If you don’t already have a time registration system, look for systems incorporating nudging features on the market.

The six key takeaways from this post:

  1. Nudging has to do with changing someone’s behaviour by giving them a gentle push in the right direction
  2. According to a new Danish thesis about time registration and nudging, there are three main reasons why your employees fail to register their time:

    • They don’t understand the purpose of time registration
    • They don’t understand the personal outcome of time registration
    • They find it unnecessarily complicated and daunting
  1. If your nudge is to be successful, you need to start by understanding the behavioural bias of your employees.
  2. You can use framing as a specific tool to present your employees with a good narrative about time registration so they understand the purpose.
  3. Make it easy for your employees to register their time. This applies to how user-friendly your time registration system is and how detailed the time registrations need to be (number of tasks, comments, etc.)
  4. You can also use reminders and posters as nudges to establish good habits and a healthy culture towards time tracking. 
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