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Making Every Minute Count

May 1, 1998
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Attendance, Scheduling, Featured Article
Hotel human resources managers know it. And the companies that manage and own hotels know it. The cost of labor is the single largest expense faced in the lodging and hospitality industry. The cost of effectively managing a hotel’s labor pool also is significant. And when a hospitality company is undergoing significant growth, it takes even more effort for the human resources department to accurately calculate employee payroll hours, manage high turnover, develop complicated schedules and monitor attendance habits for full- and part-time service employees.

The Nashville Crown Plaza, along with 26 hotels owned by Memphis, Tennessee-based Davidson Hotel Co., recently improved control of labor costs and reduced costly payroll errors. HR now spends less time scheduling and calculating employee hours and can take on more meaningful tasks. Pay rules are enforced fairly and impartially, and employees and management are confident that paychecks reflect actual work being done. The key to these improvements is a Windows®-based time-and-attendance software package recently installed at the hotel.

No more clocks and calculators.
Carol Cooper is the director of human resources for the four-diamond, 28-story Nashville Crown Plaza, an organization that’s constantly adding new employees to staff its 473 rooms, two restaurants, and 20,000 square feet of meeting and convention space. "Until recently, we used manual punch cards and a calculator to total employee hours and gross pay, and I can tell you it was a real time-waster for supervisors and HR management," she notes. "When a pay period was over, the timecards were bundled up and given to the supervisors. The supervisors then manually checked the timecards against schedules and tallied a total number of hours per employee with a calculator." Cooper and her staff verified those totals and sent them to corporate headquarters where data input sheets were prepared for Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP (Automatic Data Processing). The payroll service printed out the checks and returned them to corporate offices. Supervisors also used manual methods to write out weekly schedules.

"The old system for tracking complicated compensation practices also took a lot of effort," explains Cooper. "For example, housekeeping staff are given incentives for on-time punches, and reception pay rates vary throughout a 24-hour period. Plus, hotel employees often transfer to different departments or do several different jobs with varying compensation schemes. Tracking this all manually was a nightmare."

The manual approach to tracking time and attendance leads to mistakes.
The accuracy of these past methods was a concern, says Cooper, "Not only for us—but for our parent company. Since it was nearly impossible to check employee timecards each day, supervisors relied on their memories when completing missing in/out punches at the end of a two-week pay period. This could lead to incorrect employee hours, so HR staff did a lot of verifying. Rounding had the potential of introducing more errors. Department heads had to round up or round down punch times when calculating pay-period totals."

Duplicate data entry was another problem. The same information was typed at least twice when totals were compiled at the end of a pay period. A missed keystroke or an incorrect figure entered on a calculator could easily throw off totals. HR took great care in verifying employee compensation, but an occasional mistake was inevitable, resulting in costly payroll errors and corrections. It was also difficult for departments to forecast labor expenditures given the company’s complex pay rate practices.

But the key for Cooper and the HR department was the time they spent on these tedious tasks each pay period, especially with a growing employee base. "As we added new employees, HR had to manually prepare new timecards every single pay period. Plus, the time spent recalculating the figures was another drain." Scheduling was a time-consuming task because supervisors created the same information over and over each pay period. Last-minute modifications to the schedule were often written in pencil or not recorded at all. HR was at a disadvantage when it came time to identify employee attendance habits. It was a big effort to wade through punch cards or reports to see who was arriving late, leaving early or taking long breaks. "Now that I look back, it took our HR department an entire day each pay period to assemble those totals," Cooper notes.

Find an automated solution.
At about the same time HR at the Nashville Crown Plaza was experiencing these difficulties, management at Davidson Hotel Co. set up an executive committee to select a single software system to automate time-and-attendance calculations at all of the company’s hotels. Says Fletcher Towell, Davidson Hotel’s director of technology and a member of the initial development team: "Our goal was to eliminate those time-wasting methods the hotel’s HR and management staff endured every pay period. And we wanted to increase accuracy." A key criterion was to find an automated system that would be flexible enough to accommodate the complex hotel compensation practices. The new system had to be easy for supervisors to use because many employees had no experience with computers.

The committee selected Attendance Professional(TM) for Windows, an employee time-and-attendance system from InfoTronics Inc., based in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The committee liked the fact that the system could be modified to handle Davidson Hotel’s unique pay rules, and that the Windows screen design and layout would be easy for managers to learn.

Based on results from a successful beta site at the Nashville Crown Plaza, the program was installed at all Davidson Hotel facilities in approximately four months. Attendance Professional is available through a Novell LAN environment. The software also is installed at corporate offices in Memphis. Each user has access to only the data and functions needed to handle his or her requirements, and proprietary employee information is safeguarded against unauthorized access.

Now, Nashville Crown Plaza managers create employee schedules with a simple point-and-click action. Explains Towell: "The system regularly collects employee punches from badge-based time recorders located throughout the hotel—no more manual effort or paper cards. Punches automatically are compared to the schedules stored in the system. The software tracks employee hours and calculates gross pay with our payroll practices, assigning base wage, transfer rates, shift differentials and premium pay." Managers can edit the electronic timecard with a click of a button, instantly adding a forgotten punch. Changes are recalculated immediately, displaying accurate totals. Pay period totals are then automatically exported to corporate offices, where they’re checked and transferred electronically to ADP.

Getting it right in less time.
After only a few months, Cooper observed more accurate payroll figures. "What we found is that supervisors no longer guess when completing missed punches. We can view timecards online at any time during the day. Missing punches are caught as they happen and can be resolved immediately with the employee." She also notes the rounding-off errors have been eliminated with a corporate rounding policy that’s automatically implemented by the system. Errors associated with duplicate data entry have been completely eliminated. Employee information is entered only once, when an employee is hired. Schedules are more accurate because they’re created quickly and changed easily for last-minute modifications.

According to Cooper, the key benefit is the time savings. "What a relief to no longer spend a whole day manually preparing and collecting timecards and re-entering totals into a calculator. We no longer chase down missed punches or recheck for errors." Assigning premium pay also is done more quickly. Managers use employee tardy information gathered by the software to determine on-time incentives for housekeeping staff. HR also is better able to monitor employee attendance habits. The system tracks attendance automatically, summarizing exceptions such as tardiness, absenteeism or abuse of break or lunch periods. Department managers now have the information they need to correct attendance issues before they become chronic problems. In addition, data are automatically archived as part of the employee’s permanent attendance record, so department heads can quickly and confidently respond to wage-and-hour questions.

Says Cooper: "The information gathered from Attendance Professional also has helped in my analysis of turnover and new hires. For instance, at any time I can see the number of employees hired or terminated per department. If I see a high turnover trend in housekeeping, for example, I can focus on discovering underlying problems and designing motivating retention programs. There was absolutely no way to do this analysis in the past."

Cooper concludes, "With everything else HR has to undertake—compensation and benefits, legal requirements, interviewing and hiring—I can’t imagine spending so much time on repetitive, manual tasks. We have far too many other responsibilities that require our attention. Automating this function frees me up to do more of the projects related to HR management."

Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, pp. 31-33.

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