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Gamification can help tackle your biggest time tracking challenge

Are you finding it hard to close your employees’ weekly timesheets? Or are you “the bad guy” whenever they must submit their time registrations? If so, then gamification may well be the solution. 

2 Feb 2022 | 6 min read
Karsten Rasmussen
Founder and CEO of TimeJam. Inspiring better time tracking via gamification, team spirit and a spot of humour.

Here’s the biggest challenge you need to tackle if your company registers time. 

If you’re a manager, a bookkeeper, or a project manager, you probably have to spend far too much time nagging people to get them to file their weekly timesheets on time.  

Meanwhile, your employees aren’t overly motivated to turn in their timesheets because they can’t see that it makes much difference to them.  

So they usually put it off until the absolutely last minute. 

And when they do register all their hours for the week immediately before leaving the office on Friday afternoon – or worse yet, at the end of the month – they have to work with guesstimates. You doubtless have no trouble imagining what it means for the data quality when you have a team of 30 or more people registering their hours in this way. 

You can turn the time tracking issues on their head if you add an element of gamification to the mix.
Karsten Rasmussen CEO, TimeJam

And added complication in having your employees working in such a slapdash manner is that many of them will almost certainly give your customer the benefit of any doubts that arise. In practice, this means that they will be more likely to register hours as “internal time” than as time spent on a customer project if they can’t quite remember if they spent 2 hours or 2½ hours on a given task.

A study published in the Harvard Business Review shows that it costs companies significant sums when their employees fail to prioritise time registration highly on a daily basis.

But how about if you could motivate your employees to compete in being the best at registering time?

This is the fundamental idea behind the concept of gamification of time registration.

We’re not keen on chores – and time registration is principally a chore

Before I show you how gamification can help deal with the problems linked to time registration, it’s worth taking a look at why otherwise highly competent people seem to have such trouble handling something as simple as registering time properly.

None of your employees submits imprecise weekly timesheets – often late – on purpose, because they are a bit dim, or because they cannot see the point of doing so in the first place.

Rather, they do so because for the majority of people, time registration is a chore – and no-one is overly keen on chores.

Time registration is a chore competing with everything else that motivates and interests your employees: customers, projects and the professional challenges they face every day. And it’s a chore that doesn’t produce the immediate payoff that is crucial to whether activities are considered worth doing, and thus given higher priority on the “to do list” during a busy working day.

When you have 50 emails in your inbox and customers calling you up every five minutes, it’s hard to find the motivation to make room for time registration.

But you can turn this situation around if you add an element of gamification to the mix.

Gamification appeals to what is already important to your employees

If there is one thing that interests most people – it’s other people.

We are all keen to be part of a community, we love competition and it gives us a real kick every time we receive a reward or turn in a good (or better) performance in relation to our colleagues.

The concept of gamification feeds into our innate desire for community, play, competition and reward to make apparently dull and boring tasks seem fun and appealing.

In the context of time registration, the idea is to transform the task from an irritating chore into a competition with a strong social element.

Our test shows that it works.

Gamification translates into 30 more hours per employee per month

Here at TimeJam, we’ve tested gamification at several different companies, and it has returned highly positive results.

For example, all the employees at Frankly – a digital agency based in Copenhagen, Denmark – registered an average of 30 more hours per month.

While at NoA Ignite, the experiment meant that more-or-less all timesheets for the previous week are now closed when the staff arrive for work on Monday morning.

Similarly, Kolme Group noted a nine percent increase in turnover in the months immediately after they started using TimeJam, because the employees had registered more billable hours.

And the time registration geeks at TimeLog could see that the accuracy of time registration increased by fully 53 percent.

At the same time, feedback from the employees themselves suggests that they’re having fun competing with their colleagues. Best of all, more hours are being registered across the board.

Five principles you can use to gamify time registration

There are several ways to apply gamification if you want to nudge your employees towards improving their habits.

For example, in TimeJam we’ve created a bot we call TimeBotto, which automates an internal competition among the company employees.

But if you want to have a go at bringing gamification into your time registration practice yourself, here are five principles you can use to make a start.

Principle #1 – Fast feedback when it’s done correctly

The long-term benefits of time registration will inevitably lose out to the immediate drawbacks if the time registration process is complex and inconvenient.

Therefore, the reward for doing it correctly should be almost as immediate.

If your time registration system features the option of providing immediate positive feedback, switch it on.

If you are running an internal competition, make sure that the prizes are awarded regularly and that you celebrate the winners on a weekly basis – not just at the end of the year.

Principle #2 – Make it social, and make it a competition

Most good time registration tools can generate statistics on how accurately you register time.

However, if your employees cannot see these time registration statistics, they won’t have any impact on motivation.

Statistics shared openly with the workforce in the form of a competition, on the other hand, can be extremely motivating. Especially if you divide your employees up into teams and have them compete with the other teams.

It is human nature to go the extra mile for the benefit of the community.

It is also a good idea to change the teams and prizes on a regular basis, as this keeps the dynamism alive and prevents the game from becoming a stale routine.

Principle #3 – Be generous with badges and titles

Why is it that people who play games like Candy Crush and Fortnite keep on playing “just five more minutes”?

And why do people who use the Nike running app keep on lacing up their running shoes?

It is because the creators of these games understand that when people can see a new badge or title on the horizon, they tend to keep going until they reach it.

Although your employees shouldn’t devote a disproportionate amount of time to their time registration, if you are creative with the badges and titles you prepare for them – and make it fun – when they register their hours and submit their weekly timesheets on time, you may be surprised at how much of an impact it has on their behaviour.

Irrespective of the size of their monthly paycheck.

Principle #4 – Set up clear goals for how your employees can “win the game”

Am I doing well enough? Am I winning the game?

If your employees can’t answer these two questions, you probably need to clarify the objectives of your time registration process.

Set up clear goals for the time registration – for example, that the average period between the time the work is carried out and the time the hours are registered should be less than 1 day (and the shorter, the better).

Principle #5 – Make it fun!

The whole point of gamification is that it should be fun and it should be a game.

Even though different people have different ideas about what makes a game, we all love to play.

So if you want to apply gamification to your time registration process, it must never carry the whiff of an irritating chore, nor be littered with poorly concealed reprimands.

For example, you could use GIFs or humorous messages when you provide the fast feedback. Or include a “winner dance” when someone wins the competition. Whatever it takes.

If you think this sounds too difficult, you can always team up with a colleague or involve the employees themselves in shaping the framework.