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Time and Attendance Systems: A Buyer's Guide

The modern business environment is so competitive that businesses can’t afford to allow inefficiencies to creep in or productivity to drop. Making the most of a workforce and the most of payroll expenditure is essential. But when there’s a large number of staff to monitor and not enough managers to keep an eye on attendance, punctuality and workflow, how does the modern business ensure that money and time isn’t being lost through workforce inefficiency?

The answer often lies in a dedicated time and attendance system. These are purpose built hardware and software systems that not only record the time of arrival and departure of each employee but can also monitor break times and automate the collection of payroll data.

This Buyer's Guide is intended as an introduction to the various types of time and attendance systems available to help with the purchasing decisions of potential buyers.

Benefits of a Time and Attendance System

Apart from eliminating time theft by monitoring time spent on the job, a modern time and attendance system can be beneficial in a number of other ways:

  • Payroll can automatically be sent data in a format that is compatible with their software, minimising error
  • HR can be sent data on attendance to verify leave and sickness information
  • Forecasts of workload, resources and budget can be informed by T&A data
  • Efficiency can be enhanced by identifying problems with non attendance through looking at historical data
  • Remote Working can be facilitated by integration with internet or mobile devices
  • Compliance with work-time directives can be ensured through automatic monitoring
  • Health and Safety benefits from instant reports of who’s on site in the event of emergency evacuation

Choosing the right time and attendance system will allow you to enjoy the benefits you need at a price that suits.

Time and Attendance System Options

Modern technology has come a long way from the clockwork clocking in machines of yesteryear. There is now almost unlimited potential for integrating a time and attendance monitoring system with other systems like payroll, workflow management or access control and various options for how members of staff actually interact with the system.

The options include:

  • Clocking-In Machine
    The most basic time and attendance system works on the same principles as the old machines, i.e. each employee punches in and out with a clock card to which a time and date stamp is applied, but with enhanced digital time keeping, automatic time updates and the capacity for printing additional information.
  • Stand-Alone Time and Attendance System
    A self-contained time clocking system records employee arrival, departure and break times through the use of PIN numbers, ID cards, key fobs or even biometric scanners (see below). They store the data which can then be downloaded from the machine in a format that is compatible with your database or spreadsheet software. More than one terminal can be linked together to cover multiple entrances/exits.
  • Software Time and Attendance System
    A purely software based system is only appropriate for a company where all employees have a dedicated computer workstation and time and attendance can be based on log-in times. Data can be viewed and reports created within the software package or data can be exported to another HR or payroll programme.
  • Integrated Time and Attendance System
    A fully integrated T&A system will consist of clocking-in terminals which monitor attendance times with a card, PIN, fob or biometrics and send this data in real-time to a central computer. The integrated software can then be used to calculate payroll, manage employee absence, forecast future workloads, monitor work-time directive compliance and generate a host of other statistical measures. The terminals can be integrated with an access control system or with pieces of equipment on the shop floor for accurate workflow visualisation. Various alerts and reports can be generated automatically so that time otherwise spent monitoring employees can be directed at higher level business operations. An integrated time and attendance solution can gather data from many terminals at different locations and remote workers via an internet connection.
  • Employee Self-Service Time and Attendance
    Because many modern businesses employ job shares, flexi-time and work from home schemes it might be necessary to allow for off-site time and attendance monitoring. By allowing employees to access a web portal via remote workstations or mobile devices to report time and request leave, admin can be reduced and efficiency improved.
  • Biometric Time and Attendance Systems
    Biometric clocking in systems identify a member of staff based on a unique physical characteristic. These range from relatively inexpensive fingerprint readers, through the mid priced hand or face recognition readers to the expensive machines with iris scanners. The chief benefit of a biometric system is that it eliminates ‘buddy punching’ where one member of staff will ask another to clock in or out for them.

Choosing a Time and Attendance System Supplier

When choosing a system and a supplier to purchase it from there are several important factors (beside cost) to consider:

  • Suitability: Does a particular system meet all your requirements without causing you to pay over the odds for features you’ll never use? Is the expense justified by the size of your workforce? To decide, consider that losing 5 minutes of time per employee per day, even at the minimum wage, could cost you well over £100 per employee per year.
  • Compatibility: Can the system be used with your existing payroll or HR software? This will allow you to make the most of the efficiency benefits available.
  • Installation: Can the supplier provide a specific installation plan and time frame? How much disruption will be caused? Will they provide training in the use of hardware and software?
  • Support: Will the supplier continue to provide after sales hardware and software support including a telephone helpline? Do they charge extra for this?

As a general rule of thumb any business with over 15 employees can benefit from a time and attendance system. However, care is needed in choosing the right system to maximise the return on investment. Try to work out as accurately as you can what you stand to gain from a system in terms of improved efficiency and reduced losses in order to make a sound, financially justifiable decision.

Let Approved Index help you find the best Time and Attendance Systems for your business.


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