The hidden costs of paper timesheets

It's well known that tracking employee hours manually on paper timesheets is an unpleasant process. Pestering staff to submit their time and deciphering unclear handwriting is nobody's idea of fun.

Less obvious is how manual time tracking costs businesses time and money. This is particularly true when staff are spread across multiple job-sites, as happens in industries like catering, events, staffing, construction and security.

Below, we explain why manual time tracking is so costly, as well as how companies can save money by moving to an automated time and attendance solution.

How manual timetracking increase payroll costs

The traditional method of tracking time at off-premise events involves an on-site manager recording staff hours with pen and paper. For staff who meet daily at offices, employees may punch-in using a timecard or filling out timesheets, which they then submit to the payroll department.

Because these methods of time tracking involve so many manual steps, costs inevitably occur in the form of lost time and lost money.

Time lost reviewing timesheets and entering information

Reviewing timesheets and punchcards manually is a very time consuming process. Aside from poring over handwriting, payroll managers must compare the actual hours to what was scheduled, line by line.

More potential for human error and less precision

Even the most diligent individuals may make mistakes over the course of reviewing hundreds of timesheet entries and entering them into their payroll platform, miscalculating total hours or forgetting to enter an individual worker's time.

In fact, the American Payroll Association estimates that manually processing time and attendance results in errors that can account for anywhere between 1% and 7% of payroll costs.1

Timetheft and buddy punching

According to a 2009 study conducted by Harris Interactive, 21 percent of hourly employees admit to stealing time. Five percent admitted to buddy punching (i.e., the act of punching in for someone when they're not actually there), and a whopping 69 percent said they punch in and out earlier or later than scheduled. Additionally, 22 percent put additional time on their timesheet, and 14 percent didn't punch out for unpaid breaks.2

What's more, the actual numbers are likely higher - studies show that survey respondents consistently underreport bad behavior because they wish to be viewed favorably by others.3

Electronic time tracking saves time and money

Replacing paper timesheets or punchcards with electronic time and attendance has several benefits.

Save time by discarding manual tasks

Having an automated time and attendance solution vastly reduces the amount of time it takes to record time and attendance. A well designed electronic time-tracking app should allow an event manager to check-in 20 or more people per minute. And if the app is cloud based, there's no need to collate multiple timesheets and key in the data anywhere - it's already done for you.

What's more, some electronic time and attendance tools in the format of any payroll provider that allows for a CSV upload, further reducing the administrative burden of having to manually key in the time and attendance data. This alone can save larger companies several hours per week.

We have done away with paper timesheets as well as time cards not just for events, but for our regularly scheduled employees in the prep-kitchen, café, warehouse and office alike. This has cut down on several hours of totaling and entering hours manually for payroll and accounting.

Alisha Spaulding, Thomas Caterers of Distinction

Eliminate mistakes and increase accuracy

Most mistakes in the payroll process are a result of manual entry. Someone writes down the wrong time, misreads someone else's time entry, or mistakenly keys an incorrect amount of hours into the payroll system. Automated time and attendance virtually eliminates these errors.

And when mistakes are made, a good time tracking tool should automatically identify them by comparing the actual hours to what was scheduled and highlight them to the manager reviewing time and attendance.

Kiss fraud and time theft goodbye

With manual punchcards and paper-based timesheets, it’s extremely difficult to prevent time theft and buddy-punching. Electronic time and attendance solutions, however, can automatically track who checks in and when. Some solutions use photo verification technology, while others use biometric tools like fingerprint scanners. In either case, payroll managers can rest assured that no time theft or buddy-punching has taken place.

What to look for in a timeclock solution

When evaluating potential time and attendance solutions, there are a couple of factors to consider.

Does the platform work for your business?

Having a timeclock that is easy to use is paramount to getting it fully implemented. And what’s easy to use at one business may not be easy at another.

For example, a timeclock that uses photo verification may be more user friendly at a food services business than a timeclock that relies fingerprint scanning, because fingerprint scanners have trouble when fingers are coated in food.

We also suggest you avoid programs that require staff to enter a difficult to remember code, as staff will ignore the timeclock altogether if they have trouble using it.

Is it cloud based?

A cloud-based solution allows payroll and HR managers to access time and attendance data from any computer, so they’re not restricted to reviewing this information only while they are at the office. Further, software updates and improvements are automatic and don’t require any additional work.

Does it integrate with scheduling and payroll?

Integrations with your scheduling and payroll platforms are necessities, not luxuries. Without an integration to your scheduling platform, your timeclock solution won’t be able to identify when staff check in late, or which staff don’t arrive. Likewise, a timeclock that does not integrate with your payroll provider requires a payroll manager to manually enter time and attendance data.

Nowsta’s time and attendance solutions

Nowsta offers electronic time and attendance solutions for event based staff (ex: catering, security, construction) as well as stationary office jobs. To learn more about how Nowsta can save you time and money, schedule a walkthrough with one of our product specialists today.


  1. As cited in the “Stop wasting time with paper; create an attendance system,” Washington Business Journal,

  2. Employers Turn to Biometric Technology to Track Attendance – Workforce Magazine

  3. Phillips, D., & Clancy, K. (1972). Some Effects of "Social Desirability" in Survey Studies. American Journal of Sociology, 77(5), 921-940. Retrieved from