Austin workers: Why are we using paper time sheets?

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City government’s 17-year-old, paper-based time keeping system has drawn the ire of some city employees, who say it’s past time they move out of the paper age and into the digital age.

In anonymous comments sent internally from city employees to their managers, several of Austin’s approximately 14,000 employees working in different large departments said paper time sheets just don’t jive with the city’s goal of being environmentally friendly and the “best managed city in the country.”

“Improvements to timekeeping are woefully behind! Would really appreciate a dedicated, deliberate, committed and expedited effort by City Management to move into the 21st Century (15 years late) with an automated (or at least electronic) timekeeping system,” said one Austin Water Utility employee, in comments obtained by KXAN through the Texas Public Information Act.

“It is shameful that in 2015 we are completing manual time sheets,” said another water utility employee.

 “Many rates-payer dollars are spent on paper time sheets and leave requests; and on employees literally walking or driving from building to building because scanning and emailing signed time sheets is disallowed; not good for the budget or for the carbon footprint,” said an Austin Energy employee.

In a prepared statement, a spokesperson told KXAN that city management takes the anonymous employee comments seriously, the issue of paper time sheets is known and the city has engaged a consultant to assist with improving human resource functions.

“Employee opinions, while valuable, can’t always reflect or account for the complexities that exist in an organization of the city’s size,” a spokesperson said in an email.

City Manager Marc Ott has expressed his desire to make Austin known as the best-managed city in the country. On Ott’s city webpage, he says that goal means city management is “about innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial best practices.”

KXAN asked management from four other major Texas cities if they use electronic time sheets, and all of them do to some extent.

Time sheets around Texas
  • City of Houston uses the electronic Kronos system, except for some classified employees
  • San Antonio uses both electronic and paper-based time sheets and is actively working to transition all departments to the electronic system
  • Fort Worth’s time sheet system is predominately electronic, but there are some paper time sheets used
  • Dallas uses electronic time sheets

*According to spokespeople from each city

The city said paper time sheets remain the city-wide standard for timekeeping, “until an alternative solution is identified and implemented,” according to the spokesperson.

Upgrading to a new system is complex, it would cost millions of dollars and it is “incredibly time and labor intensive,” the city said. The city has also contracted a consultant to look into the issue.

The city said its current system was implemented before the turn of the millennium, and it works well for payroll processing, but isn’t as functional as “modern” human resource systems.

Each employee manually fills out a single, front-and-back time sheet on a biweekly basis. Those time sheets are reviewed by managers and then passed to administrative specialists, who enter the numbers into the current system, the city said.

However, comments received by KXAN indicate several more sheets of paper may be used as copies are made and time sheets work their way through the system.

One Austin Police Department employee said a single 26-person work group generated 155 sheets of paper in a single week, “and that doesn’t count any corrections and changes that needed to be made at the end of the week.”

If two sheets of paper are used by each employee on a biweekly basis, the city would use roughly three-quarters of a million sheets of paper each year for payroll, not including documentation of leave requests and additional copies.

KXAN will be following up with more inquiries on the cost of the city’s payroll system.

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