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The challenges of managing absenteeism in K12

From payroll to pensions, manual and honor-based attendance processes have high cost and morale impact

What’s the real impact of employee absenteeism on your district? In a recent study of K-12 school districts, 50 percent of respondents said they rely on manual processes like three-part leave slips and handwritten time sheets to track and approve time and absence. Consequences include human error and the potential for erroneous absence tracking. But inaccurate time tracking also impacts productivity, FMLA compliance, revenue, and pay-outs upon separation or retirement. This DA Web seminar, originally broadcast on May 24, 2012, addressed the real costs of manually managed absenteeism, and how automated systems can improve efficiency, productivity and the bottom line. 

Larry Fitch
Senior Workforce Management Consultant

As an analyst, I see a lot of information. And one of the things I come away with is that there is no incentive for employees to record exceptions. Employees are paid on the honor system. Why would I want to tell you if I wasn't here on time because you are only going to take a benefit from me.
The other issue is how hours are logged into the system. At a K12 district in the Midwest, I found more than 300 of the audited hours were incorrectly keyed, and more than 50 percent of those resulted in no reductions in leave time being applied.
On average, non-teaching staff utilize 24 percent more leave than the teaching staff. Is that because teachers just never take a day off, or is it because you never receive any paperwork documenting their time? 

Joseph Morris
Lead Analyst
Center for Digital Education

I want to share some findings from a recent survey that we’ve done and tell you how we got involved in looking at this issue. We were seeing something bubble up all across government and education in the form of news articles over and over again regarding spending controls and overtime payments. So we decided to conduct a survey that touched on K12, higher education and state and local governments. And I want to go over some of what we found about K12 education.
There was an article in March where a school district paid $14 million in overtime in the past four years. That’s $3.5 million in overtime a year. We keep seeing this over and over again in education and we wanted to see what steps K12 was implementing to manage absenteeism.
We surveyed 125 decision makers or administrators in senior roles. The survey had 30 questions and was conducted online in late January.
Setting the stage:
• 50 percent of respondents did not have automated time and attendance.
• 40 percent felt their tracking systems were out of date.
• 50 percent rely on employees to track their own absences in a centralized system.
• 80 percent feel they are accurately calculating pensions based on actual hours worked by their employees.
• 33 percent allow employees to apply unused leave to years of service calculations.
• 84 percent believe their tracking systems are FMLA complaint.
• 44 percent believe that absences reduce group productivity by anywhere from 25-75 percent.
First and foremost, our study showed how prevalent aging systems are in the education space. Fifty percent are relying on manual systems; 64 percent do not use automated requests for approval of time off.
The second large issue we uncovered was that time tracking responsibility often relies on the employee to report or document manually. This presents some major challenges.
• 45 percent say self reporting is the norm in their districts.
• 15 percent track manually within a spreadsheet.
• 6 percent track via email
There was no real standardized approach to how K12 is handling absences.
A study by Forrester showed that 12 percent of employees overstate their time worked by two hours each month. So even if you have an accurate way to count time, you can’t validate that the information you have is accurate.
One of our respondents said that they take the issue of tracking absences very seriously because it can impact morale of other employees who see people cheating the system and not getting caught. In fact, it was stated in our study that the best system in place to track employee time reporting abuses was other employees.
Interestingly, we saw much more robust functionality when it came to integrating leave balances with payroll (82 percent) and with absences being integrated into payroll (74 percent).
What is the management cost of these issues? Seventy-nine percent of respondents said that the responsibility for tracking and enforcing attendance policy fell on the direct supervisor and 62 percent reported that up to 2 hours per week were spent by supervisors handling attendance tracking. This is higher than what we found in the government or higher education sectors.

Kathy Adams
Payroll technician
Washington County School District, Utah

Our problems before we had a workforce management solution included:
• We had an all-manual process.
• We are overrun with paper time cards.
• Anyone working over 20 hours didn’t turn in anything unless they had extra hours or time off.
• Very little history was maintained and what existed was not accurate.
• Two and a half employees were needed to manage time tracking.
• Lack of compliance with FLSA and FMLA.
Because of the distance between our locations, we knew that we needed something web based. And because of the legal actions we were facing, it was critical that we have a good audit trail function.
How we overcame problems and objections
• We got administration buy-in first.
• We kept employees notified of all the changes along the way, including a regular newsletter from HR.
• We made sure that all employees’ individual accounting of their own time was entered into the system– whether it was on an email or a sticky note.
• We identified the processes that needed to be changed –such as clocking in. Long-term employees thought they would hate this, but we found that those who were working their hours loved the clock because they could document their time; while other employees were now having to use their leave time to cover absences.
• We identified the processes we couldn’t change - such as paying non-salaried employees on a 12-month basis.
We use Flexitime to track hours for non-instructional salaried employees and we integrate with Kelly to track teacher absences. So we have that cross check so a teacher cannot be gone without us knowing.
The benefits we have seen are how much more accurate leave is and how much easier to track and manage. Now we can tell what an employee’s leave is for. Over the three years we’ve had the system, we have seen leave increases of 11 percent, 62 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
In addition to managing the process and increasing accuracy, we also eliminated 90 percent of our paper costs, saving about $9,000 per year, and reduced payroll processing from two weeks to two days per period, eliminating a half-time position.

To view this web seminar in its entirety, please go to