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Need some ideas to motivate employees to complete required daily paperwork.
June 27, 2012 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I need advice as to how to motivate employees to complete their mandatory daily paperwork. Difficulty: tradesmen.

My husband and I currently employ 8 tradesmen in a welding and machining shop-- and we're growing. From the start it has been an endless frustration (requiring an unhealthy amount of babysitting) to get them to complete their daily paperwork.

A couple of examples:


Timesheets: If they're submitted at all, they're frequently incomplete. They also struggle to write down all of the material they've used on the work orders, which makes billing frustrating and often costs us money. We have had numerous meetings and each time they're better for a couple of days and then it rapidly goes downhill again. I have to constantly hound them-- and sadly, our shop foreman is the worst of the lot!

Vehicle Inspections: We have a small fleet-- the guys are required to do a safety walk-around check every time they drive a truck off of our site. This has been really frustrating to enforce, but needs to get under control now. We've thought about holding all keys in the office and handing them over after the form has been submitted, but we're a 24/7 shop and the trucks have to go out at all hours, so that's not feasible.

There's other paperwork too, mainly safety program-related, and that's just as much of an ongoing frustration. We need all of it completed in order to pass annual audits in order to maintain a certification required by most of our customers-- in other words, our ability to get work depends on it.

The urgency now is that there's about to be a pretty large increase in their required daily paperwork. We are currently acquiring two new major certifications and both have numerous forms that have to be completed on a job-by-job basis (and we'll be audited for these as well). One of the certifications is held to ISO 9001:2008 standards, if that gives you a sense of the required detail and level of importance. We are pretty concerned about how this is going to play out given the quiet resistance (or forgetfulness) that we've dealt with thus far, and if was was mission-critical before, it's about to be even more so very soon.

So I need some ideas as to how to get these guys to complete this paperwork each day with the least amount of babysitting required on my part. I know that the timesheets thing is a problem in many companies that bill by the hour (and when I worked in advertising I was one of the worst at it*), and I'm open to any and all ideas to ensure motivation AND compliance -- from both you employer and employee MeFites alike. What works to get you (or your staff) to complete paperwork in general? What methods have you seen in various companies that worked for them? Though I wish it weren't necessary, I'm inclined to find a positive-reward solution (prizes? contests?) but can't figure out what that would look like in practice. I am using timesheets as an example but like I said, there's a lot more coming their way so I'm looking for ideas for daily required paperwork in general.

Couple of details:
-- By federal and provincial law, I cannot withhold pay for not turning in timesheets (I did a bit of research in a moment of desperation).
-- We have already made it abundantly clear that paperwork is part of their job description.
-- Though it would be great, unfortunately we can't automate/computerize the process (say, where time is entered before the next job can begin) because of the nature of our business-- guys often switch back and forth between jobs as their priority levels are constantly shifting.
-- I try to make it as easy as possible for them-- all the forms are at the main paperwork counter in the shop and completed paperwork all goes in one slot for me to sort out daily.
-- These guys are highly skilled, immensely qualified, and educated/trained in their trade, but the reality is that only a couple of them completed high school and most of them are only marginally literate. I don't care about spelling and grammar here, though, and they can write well enough to fill out the necessary forms.
-- None of them have ever held a desk job and most of them leave household paperwork to their wives/girlfriends, so they don't have a lot of discipline or even necessarily the sense of urgency and importance associated with paperwork, and that's turning out (for me, so far at least) to be kind of challenging to instill in adults.

So-- ideas?

*Payback-- believe me, I know
posted by mireille to Work & Money (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you have room in your budget for a walking floor clerk who could do all of these things for your tradesmen, and just have them sign off on all the paperwork?
posted by Oktober at 9:28 AM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Or, if you don't, do you have room for a (relatively serious) "paperwork prize", like a vacation or a cash bonus?
posted by Oktober at 9:29 AM on June 27, 2012


Are we thinking Carrot or Stick? I personally think Carrots work better, but my mind likes sticks because, we discussed this when you were hired and dammit I shouldn't have to PAY you extra to do what's already part of your damn job. Um. Sorry about that.

I guess treating everyone like kids would be the best way to go about it.

1. Give plenty of time and plenty of notices about when you expect the paperwork to be done. Just like you ease a kid into bedtime, you might want to start walking around before the end of the day to check with everyone to be sure that it's up to date.

2. You might want to be liberal with praise. "You're such a GOOD helper."

3. One thing I did when I had to have people do a training was to have a working lunch, I'd provide lunch and we'd all sit and do some on-line training together.

It sucks, but there it is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:38 AM on June 27, 2012


These guys are highly skilled, immensely qualified, and educated/trained in their trade, but the reality is that only a couple of them completed high school and most of them are only marginally literate. I don't care about spelling and grammar here, though, and they can write well enough to fill out the necessary forms.

One of the things that college trains you to do is turning in lots of forms and getting them in on time. Without that experience, you can't expect employees to have that specific training.

My advice: find some other way to do this. Instead of timesheets, implement a "punch in/punch out" system. Hire a separate "forms specialist" whose job it is to deal with paperwork.

The only alternative is to treat your employees as though they're part of a long-term paperwork-training program and figure that after a lot of experience with this, they will get the hang of it, while you must expect that new hires will not have this skillset.
posted by deanc at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know about the vehicle inspection aspect but maybe a scheduled meeting where everything has to be completed by the end of it?
posted by Carillon at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2012


Tell your foreman his job is on the line? I don't want to be so harsh, especially in this economy, but maybe that sort of threat is what will give them all the push to get it done? Caution: if you set an ultimatum like this yu have to follow through.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:44 AM on June 27, 2012


For new employees, frame their job description and pay differently. Assume you are paying these tradesmen $50/hr. Tell new employees that they are getting $80/day ($10/hr) for paperwork, plus $40/hr for their trade work. Tell them how important the paperwork is to the company and its ability to stay in business and keep paying them. Existing employees could have a grace period before you implement the new pay structure.

Regardless, I think you have to be relentless in pursuing the paperwork until it becomes routine for them. I think you have to constantly remind, constantly walk around asking about it, and constantly call them on missing paperwork.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:52 AM on June 27, 2012


These guys are highly skilled, immensely qualified, and educated/trained in their trade

Explain to them that you, as a business owner, are also in a trade. In order for any tradesperson to be as you mentioned above, they require tools - not just any tool - but tools that are proper for the job, of high quality, and in working condition. Their tools are hammers, saws, trucks, belt sanders (whatever they are), and yours is paper, forms, numbers, and training stuff. In order for you to do your job, and to help them do their job properly, you need them to provide to you your tools (paperwork, courses, truck exams) in a timely and accurate manner, just as they expect you to provide to them their tools; otherwise the job can't be done properly.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know if this is an option for you, but my job has an electronic time clock. Everyone has a swipe card - swipe in when your shift starts, swipe out when you're done. Zero paperwork involved on the employee level. The time clock is attached to a computer that knows who is scheduled and who isn't, and the time clock responds accordingly. The information is then saved in the computer. If someone forgets their swipe card there isn't retribution; we just have a manual-sign-in binder and those hours get entered later.
posted by janepanic at 9:58 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a college degree and I irrationally hate doing my timesheet. The biggest reason is that we have 7 digit job codes that are hard to remember and it takes forever to look them up.

In other words, make sure that the forms are as accessible, painless, and necessary as possible. For example:
Vehicle Inspections: We have a small fleet-- the guys are required to do a safety walk-around check every time they drive a truck off of our site.
Does this really need to happen every time it's driven off-site, or just once a day (we do our vehicles once a day)? If you have a small fleet, can you have one person who's job is to do this at the beginning of every day or every 'shift'?

Timesheets: Do they have to simply record start and end of work? If so, why not use a punchcard? Do they have to put job codes? If so, is there an easier system to use? Are they incomplete because they're not sure how to bill, say, travel hours? In other words, are they fully trained on the timesheet system.

Materials for work orders: How accessible is this form? Instead of writing things down, could it be a checklist with quantity tallies? Could there be an inventory specialist who 'checks' materials out to jobs? Again, are they fully trained on how to fill out a work order?
posted by muddgirl at 9:59 AM on June 27, 2012


Some clarifications just because many of the answers have questions (and thanks for all of the ideas so far!)

Do you have room in your budget for a walking floor clerk who could do all of these things for your tradesmen, and just have them sign off on all the paperwork?

--Oh, I wish! Not currently, but maybe a couple of years from now. We're still at the stage where every employee (except our shop hand) has to be fully billable. As we scale in the coming years we'll have more options, but we've only existed for less than two years.

Or, if you don't, do you have room for a (relatively serious) "paperwork prize", like a vacation or a cash bonus?

--We're willing to throw some money at the problem, but can't quite figure out how to "judge" such a prize, especially because each of the guys is required to do different amounts of paperwork based on their job requirements.

The only alternative is to treat your employees as though they're part of a long-term paperwork-training program and figure that after a lot of experience with this, they will get the hang of it, while you must expect that new hires will not have this skillset.

--This is an interesting way of re-framing it for me-- pretty helpful, actually!

Tell your foreman his job is on the line?

--Oh, man, different rules apply up here (see my location in my profile). We struggle to get good staff because it's such a small town and very remote and not particularly desirable (though the work is lucrative). Overall our foreman is excellent and we can't afford to lose him.

For new employees, frame their job description and pay differently. Assume you are paying these tradesmen $50/hr. Tell new employees that they are getting $80/day ($10/hr) for paperwork, plus $40/hr for their trade work. Tell them how important the paperwork is to the company and its ability to stay in business and keep paying them. Existing employees could have a grace period before you implement the new pay structure.

--This is a really interesting approach too. I'll have to think about how that could work in our company but that might be a good re-framing for them as well as a way to help them mentally connect it directly to their paychecks.

I don't know if this is an option for you, but my job has an electronic time clock.

--Electronic would be great, but because we bill hourly all timesheets have to be cross-referenced against specific work orders (meaning the time has to be written on both forms)-- we pay the guys off of their timesheets and we invoice from the work orders, and I go through all paperwork each morning to make sure it all matches. The work orders are posted on a board right above the time ticket counter for easy reference.

Materials for work orders... could it be a checklist with quantity tallies?

--That would be very neat and clean-- but we have close to 900 inventory items.

I'll try not to thread-sit but just wanted to clarify what I could!
posted by mireille at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2012


Do they have a dedicated amount of time for doing paperwork, or is the paperwork currently being seen as extra work that they have to do on their way out the door?

If they're working an 8 hour shift, find a way to structure their day so that it's clearly 7.5 hours of doing tradework, and 30 minutes of paperwork (either at the start or end of their shift). Adjust their workload expectation so that they only have to produce 7.5 hours of tradework output. Make it clear that this is not breaktime, their job is to do paperwork during that period. Have them hand their paperwork in to the foreman before going onto the shop floor. Have the foreman harass anyone on the shop floor that he doesn't have paperwork from. Maybe if everyone is doing paperwork at the same time, they can crib off of others on the same job and/or ask for help (Joe, what's the number for X again?).
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since you currently have to cross-reference the timesheets and work orders to make sure the hours match, can you eliminate the timesheets? You could manually fill out the timesheets for each worker using the data from the work orders, then have them review and sign the official timesheets at the end of the week.
This does two things for you:
1. eliminates duplicate work for employees (i.e. why am I writing down the same info twice?)
2. If they know the work orders are the source of their paycheck, they will be more diligent about filling them out correctly.


As for inventory - have your shop hand, or yourself, sign out each piece of inventory to a specific employee. They then are responsible for marking those down on each work order. Any inventory signed out but not logged on a work order is considered an employee purchase from the warehouse, at cost, and billed accordingly to them as a deduction from payroll.

For the other safety paperwork, agreeing with those above that it's best to put aside time to do the paperwork during each shift. Also, love the idea that a portion of the hourly wage covers paperwork...didn't do the paperwork, don't get paid that portion of the shift!
posted by trivia genius at 10:44 AM on June 27, 2012


Could you have a meeting discussing the paperwork and taking suggestions about how to make it easy and efficient to complete? You could emphasis how important it is that it be completed correctly and enlist their help in doing so. Always better to take the team approach.
posted by griselda at 10:47 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The next annual pay raise should not be a raise at all - it should be an incentive program. "sorry guys, the paper work is screwed up that we can't afford raises - but we will institute a paper work incentive policy."

If all your paper work is done correctly each week, then you get a $20 paperwork bonus in your check - or whatever.
posted by Flood at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2012


I'm in advertising, and one of the ways I've gotten people to bill is to explain T&M to them. You are pretty literally talking about a Time and Materials set up here, so you might break it down pretty simply: In order to pay YOU (very literally, in order for money to come in here so that I can make payroll), I must bill the client. The client requires that we account for time and materials spent servicing their account, and without that information, I cannot bill. If I cannot bill, the client will not pay, and none of us will have jobs or get paid. Cause and effect.

When I say, billing Client X keeps the lights on and more or less writes your check, people get the picture.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2012


Dunno if this would work, and would require a lot of setup on your part, but:

Employees get their assignments printed on big envelopes, one per work order. Start working on a job? Time clock punch an index card and throw it in the envelope. No writing. Need to pull something from stores? Everything there already has cards on the shelf near it, pull the item pull the card at the same time. Throw it in the envelope. Vehicle inspections, safety checksheets? Filled out as far as you can ahead of time (job information, dates, etc.) and paperclipped to the envelope when they get it. Attach a ten cent pen to each envelope too. Then they just have to drop the whole thing off. It cuts way down on the writing, the distractions (stopping what you're doing to go find the form you need, etc.) and plain old forgetting what was needed (it's right. effin'. there.).
posted by Freon at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2012


It's hard to us to give specific suggestions because, well, we don't work there. But I think the spirit of these comments is:

(1) Training for paperwork doesn't end - make sure the more-experienced (or the most-compliant) workers are helping the less-experienced/less-compliant.
(2) You will have to ride people to do something they're not getting paid for (I get a reminder email about my timesheet every morning).
(3) Stuff that looks like busywork to tradespersons (ie, everything that's not part of the trade) needs to be either minimized or incentivized, or both.

Another idea:
In the military-related civilian trades, IME paperwork compliance is solved with more paperwork - essentially a checklist is created that has to be completed every day. For you the checklist might be per-jobsite and look something like:

At office location:
* Perform vehicle check
* Gather tools and supplies
* Record job code:
Travel to jobsite
* Record jobsite start time:
* Record materials for work order:
* Record jobsite end time:
posted by muddgirl at 10:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, I've discussed this thread with my husband and we're particularly drawn to JohnnyGunn's pay differential idea. That could be easy to implement (but we'll have to work out how to track compliance stats per employee); giving a grace period for existing employees is a good plan too.

Additionally we really like muddgirl's advice about how the military handles it-- we can put a checklist of all of our various forms on the back of the timesheets, and they would have to go through and check off (or mark as n/a) each before submitting. This would do double-duty in reminding them that they need to get the paperwork in before they leave and also serve as a daily reinforcement of all of the various paperwork requirements they need to think about during their shift.

I think, too, that to kind of balance out the pay differential being introduced we might have some sort of small (one-time) bonus based on compliance over, say, a three-month period.

Anyhow, this is shaping up to be what seems like a solid multi-pronged approach!
posted by mireille at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2012


There are a lot of great ideas above to deal with the motivation part of the paperwork problem, but I wanted to also address this comment from your question:

These guys are highly skilled, immensely qualified, and educated/trained in their trade, but the reality is that only a couple of them completed high school and most of them are only marginally literate. I don't care about spelling and grammar here, though, and they can write well enough to fill out the necessary forms.

It's amazing how intimidating tasks like filling in forms can be for people with low literacy--and many people's literacy levels are lower than you would think. (Recent figures found that about 40% of adult Canadians function below the minimum level of literacy needed for most jobs.)

Have checked your forms to see if they are clear and simple and easy to understand? Here is a checklist to see if your documents meet plain language guidelines.

(Obviously, people with high levels of literacy can be dismal at completing paperwork too--as I know from personal experience [sigh]--but since you mentioned it specifically, there might be a chance low literacy is an issue.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:52 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could make the incentive into a peer pressure thing. If everybody turns in complete paperwork for 5 straight days, everybody gets $x bonus. Otherwise, no bonus for anybody. This might also get them to help each other out.
posted by lakeroon at 4:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Timesheets.

The problem is that you are asking people to do significant amounts of work that doesn't actually help them get a job down. At my work, we fill in a timesheet that then needs to be signed by our supervisor (in a different building) and then delivered to yet another building, where it is filed and then is essentially ignored. I then have to enter the same information into a company wide database. And I resent it. It takes forever. It's a stupid waste of my time and must cost the company a lot of money in lost productivity as every person on site looks up the cost code for random thing for the tenth time. They used to have a secretary that did the database entry, and I would have been much more likely to do the first timesheet if I knew there was someone else waiting for it AND I didn't have to do the stupid redundant work.

So, yes, incentivise it. But please, please, make it as easy as possible for them. Have a nice place to do the paperwork. Have intuitive forms. Remove redundancies. Have all the stupid codes easily accessible. Talk to the guys about how to make it easier for them. Expect to have to do a bit more of the legwork. (But if this reduces errors/non-compliance it will be worth it) Also consider changing your billing system to give the guys a bit of time at the end of the day to do all this paperwork. Even though the paperwork is obviously part of a job, it often feels like it's extra work. I would suggest making an "admin" timecode that the guys can use for the time they spend at the end of the day doing paperwork that you then split across the clients. It sounds stupid, but that would make the time I spend doing the paperwork seem more recognised to me.

And if at all possible, make it essentially impossible not to get away with not doing the paperwork. Have them hand it in everyday before they go home. Call them as soon as you find an error (during business hours obviously), something missing, and insist they come by and fix it as soon as they get in. Do that enough times, and people will start doing it properly to avoid having to do it again. Anyone who buggers it up too many times has to do the training again.
posted by kjs4 at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


As much as possible, convert reading and writing tasks to physical tasks. For example, can the time sheets and work orders both get stamped by the same time clock? It's easier to stamp/punch than to consult a clock and write a number. For inventory, can each item have a tag with a small sticker showing its identification code, and when you use the item you pull the sticker off and stick it on the work order? Any kind of writing or record-keeping that's very repetitive, see if you can do it via printed stickers or rubber stamps or even specially-shaped hole punches instead of by having people jot down strings of numbers and letters. For the safety walk-around of the trucks, can you do something to reinforce the physical act of walking around the truck? For example, if the driver would normally approach a parked truck from the front, store the key in a box on the wall behind the truck.
posted by Orinda at 9:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


sadly, our shop foreman is the worst of the lot!

This is why you're having so much trouble with this. Sorry, I know you said you don't have much leverage here, but you need to get the foreman on board.

You should not have to waste your time on conduct matters like blowing off required paperwork. That's what a foreman is FOR. Also, his conduct is the real standard in your shop, no matter what you say. His actions speak much louder than your words.

If you can't have a sit down with the foreman and make a believer out of him, you might as well count on doing all the paperwork yourself.
posted by ctmf at 11:26 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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