KPMG has reignited the longstanding timesheets debate after angering employees with its new policy to fine staff £100 if they fail to submit their paperwork on time.
KPMG’s new policy to encourage timesheet punctuality has unsurprisingly irked some employees. According to the FT (paywall), some employees have vented how the firm's overbearing approach "treats them like children".
KPMG, noting that its aim is a 100% completion rate, said that it has emphasised to employees why time sheets are important. In a statement, KPMG reasoned that by introducing a fine the firm can “accurately track our revenue, record our work for clients and plan our resource effectively”.
The Big Four firm will dock the £100 out of employees’ individual bonus. Those that submit their timesheets on time will surely be rubbing their hands as each fine means the overall bonus pool increases.
Whether the £100 fine is dished out to those who breach the policy depends on the partners who run the individual business areas. KPMG will offer some deadline flexibility to staff members who are unwell or out of office for other reasons.
KPMG’s method is sterner than their Big Four cohorts; EY's policy does not include monetary fines, Deloitte opts for email reminders, while late submissions at PwC have to be authorised by the employee’s manager.
“What a way to treat your staff”
News of KPMG’s stick approach as a management style incited robust criticism on social media and invited a debate about the relevancy of timesheets.
“This outdated managerial behaviour has no place in the profession,” said Cheap Accounting’s Elaine Clark. In a series of tweets, Clark advocated for “an examination of this outdated concept which existed back in my Big Four day over 30 years ago”.
Time for an examination of this outdated concept which existed back in my Big Four day
Recording every minute, holding huge WIP balance only to be W/O when the bill won't take hours accrued = wake up call to anyone calling themselves a trusted advisor
— Elaine Clark (@cheapaccounting) January 3, 2019
She added: “If large organisations can't manage staff without timesheets then they need to look at why. Teams are "small" enough to manage people without fear of them hiding.
“Why should there be a difference between big firm and small firm managerial behaviour and style? I don't want to exist in a world where my manager (if I had one) needed a timesheet to know what I was doing, if I did a good job, if I made a profit for the business, [and] wanted me to account for 100% of my time so they could waste time doing later write offs.”
AccountingWEB blogger and founder of bookkeeping practice But the Books Zoe Whitman also raised an eyebrow over KPMG’s employee engagement: “We keep timesheets because they give some good stats and make sure our charges are right, not to monitor hours the team are working. I have staff working remotely and it's about mutual trust.”
Still an essential part of the process?
Not everyone disagreed with KPMG’s punishment logic, per se. Responding to Elaine Clark’s tweets, Helen Brennan, a director of audit quality at KPMG (who, it's worth noting, is not involved in the decision process of this measure and only became aware of this story once it was picked up in the press), said: “It probably does look that way from the outside. But the regulator looks at our time recording and this is the consequence.”
She did later add that penalty regimes tend to have unintended consequences. “In this case, for example, the need to simply get it filled in ASAP won’t necessarily mean accurate reporting. And it would be a good idea to have a proper look at why people aren’t doing it on time.”
Timesheets remain an essential part of the process then it is reasonable for a firm to sanction its staff if they don't bother comply.
Jonathan Smith, a portfolio CFO and adviser to CXOs, commented on LinkedIn: “If consulting firms don't bother with timesheets they won't get paid. It's not realistic to expect such firms to drop them, and as timesheets remain an essential part of the process then it is reasonable for a firm to sanction its staff if they don't bother [to] comply.”
But as a recent Any Answers highlighted, firms are now exploring clocking-in app alternative. Tech-first former practice owner Della Hudson naturally leaned towards using an app to see where she spends her time instead. “As a ‘new’ business I want to know when it’s worth outsourcing admin, which work generates best hourly. They’re approximate as I have better things to do with my time than track every single minute,” she tweeted.
The longstanding debate continues
The wider debate around timesheets has rattled on for many years. Just last year AccountingWEB regular atleastisoundknowledgable investigated the practicalities of dropping timesheets altogether. Even then, the discussion had characterised timesheets as inflexible and time consuming when viewed against fixed fees.
Foreshadowing KPMG’s aforementioned tactic, KevinMcC found from his experience in a mid-tier firm that timesheets were “used as a stick to beat people with and can be divisive”.
In a similar story, Jennifer Adams shared her relief when she joined a firm that no longer used timesheets, which had become a much-derided bugbear amongst her then mid-tier colleagues.
“What did you record when you went to make a cup of tea for everyone?" said Adams. "I remember we had an allowance for 'personal' time but at the end of the week you found yourself having to 'dump' time on one client or another just so the timings worked.”
Everyone wants fixed fees until there is a fees dispute and then they immediately want time records
But for every negative comment directed at the “strict time sheets” approach, the Any Answers thread provided a “yeah, but” rebuttal.
“My experience is that everyone wants fixed fees until there is a fees dispute and then they immediately want time records,” countered James Green. “If the dispute goes the whole way, it tends to be the very first thing small claims judges ask for and they never seem to accept fixed fees.”
However, there is a silver lining for KPMG employees. Those rocked by the late submission fine can feel relieved to know that the Big Four firm has dropped another equally unpopular policy following staff feedback where employees were charged for some lost IT equipment.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.