5 Things Learned in Studying How Long It Takes To Manually Calculate A Timecard

5 Things Learned in Studying How Long It Takes To Manually Calculate A Timecard

Doing Time Cards Manually Study

Whether you use a manual time clock, spreadsheets, online software, or digital time clocks, the most important thing in tracking time is to ensure accuracy. You are, after all, responsible for correctly paying employees for hours worked and thereby possibly affecting the ability of someone to be able to take care of their family. Additionally, you want to ensure the process is reasonably efficient for whoever calculates the time worked for your business. How long does it take you or your managers to calculate timecards?

It takes 5:16 or 5.27 minutes to calculate a timecard manually

(But we also learned 5 things you should know)

Let's start with why we wanted to study manual timecard calculations

We were talking as a team in our conference room one day about our competition and it occurred to us that we have a lot of customers using manual punch clocks and we really knew nothing about them. A couple of our employees had used them years ago in previous jobs, but when it came down to the function they offer, the accuracy, the prevention of time theft, and accountability, we couldn’t speak on it. So the idea was born to buy one of them, stick it on the wall, and get punching to get the true experience from the actual punching to the reading and totaling of time cards. 

Our goals with studying manual time clocks were:

  1. Understand the time it takes for someone to total time cards manually.
  2. To understand the pain points, accuracy, and function.
  3. To learn how the setup and unboxing works to compare to online clocks and the time it takes to get up and running.
  4. Assist our team in truly understanding our competition.
  5. Use this as a benchmark or template to study other time tracking methods.

The details and method we followed

Setting Up

Two people went through setting up starting at 8:30 am and had several observations on that process. 


We then tested the Green Machine in two waves. First, we had seven employees simulate one week of punches within approximately two hours. The second wave was four employees who punched over the course of one week for roughly the same in, out, and lunch breaks. We each got one timecard and would punch for the morning, punch out for lunch, punch back in after lunch, and then out for the day. One employee moved the hands on the clock ahead to various times after everyone punched in the first wave for each shift to simulate the one week and with various times, as that simulated the potential challenge of reading and converting different times. The second group of testers punched on separate days, letting the clock change time by itself.

Insights from punching with the Green Machine

The Noise

We plugged it in, and it made a loud, obnoxious click on every minute. Employees in the area had shut doors to block it out.

Changing the Time

You must unplug the machine to set the time, and when you do, you set it in pumps of 5 minutes at a time with a lever. We must have the upgraded version because if you don’t, you have to plug the clock in and wait for it to get to the correct time per the instructions.

AM vs. PM

You can determine afternoon or PM hours by watching for an underscore under the punch time.

Day of the Month

We found the lever to change the date after we started punching as it wasn’t in the location that is on the sticker instructions. The only way to see the date that is set is by looking at a punch, there is no display.

Setting up Employees

We added employee names to each of the 11 timecards, which is something you would have to do each week or each time a timecard is lost depending on the timeframe your paper timecards allow for entries.

Ready to Punch

It took us 14 minutes to set up from the time we plugged it in until we were ready to try punching. Unboxing added just a few minutes, so in total, we were ready to go in under 20 minutes.

Inventory Needs

Someone has to stay on top of time card inventory and ink so that you don’t end up with weeks of no punches.

The process used to total the time cards

  1. We distributed the 11 timecards to five employees and asked that they total the hours for each employee and time themselves doing so. Two employees totaled three timecards to get the experience.
  2. We noted of the seven employees, each had a different approach. It is worth noting one employee is a former business owner who used to do this regularly.
  3. They reported their notes on paper and via spreadsheet and their overall feedback is in the insight section.

Limitations to our timecard totaling study

Number of Timecards

There were 11 timecards or 11 employees in the study for one week. This represents a typical small business in size, but it is a relatively short timeframe.

Length of Time

We simulated a week, and therefore, that may have helped avoid errors in punching, although there were still some timecard edits to be made.

We Are Not Payroll Employees by Trade

Over time, we expect the conversion of times will speed up significantly as we work a typical schedule, and so eventually, you would know the conversions by heart.

The Number of Shifts

Multiple shifts would add a layer of complexity we did not have.

Controlled Environment

We were in a controlled environment. If people were rushing to punch simultaneously, we conclude punch times would be less neat and more of a challenge to decipher.

Potential Bias

We are employees of a time-tracking business and do not regularly run payroll ourselves. We attempted this experiment as though we were payroll managers who do not work at a time tracking company.

Insights from totaling the timecards

Chris stated he would “...Be very concerned about the accuracy of my pay. To the point where calculating by hand only almost seems like it would be against the law.”

Tim stated, “I would pull my hair out if I had to do this every week. Very time-consuming, and I see why many opt to round up hours to make it easier to calculate. Also, I can see why so many errors are made from the confusion when a punch is not clearly in one day or the other, but on the line of the day separator. Not a fan…This would be a full-time job for a company with a good amount of employees. Very prone to errors and mistakes.”

Jon mentioned, “The readability and clarity of the punches was my biggest issue. The time card punches had ink smears and in some cases, the punches were mixed up. I would hate to take up the job of manually calculating an entire workforce because I’m sure that there would be errors in someone's pay. Once I got through the first time card I kinda got the hang of it but I couldn’t see myself doing more than 3 manually every pay period. “

Dean noted that “This was slow, tedious, and error-prone due to the poor text alignment and overlapping time stamps. I’m not comfortable with using this method, as I had to guess on some, nor am I comfortable with the two tools I found to be 100% confident in the level of accuracy.”

Brynn noted, “I have my doubts that I calculated the employee's timecards correctly simply because of the fact that I had a hard time telling numbers apart from one another because of the excess ink. Aside from the fact that poor judgment calls can be made when trying to calculate them, it was very time-consuming.”

My feedback is, “I noticed I had errors when comparing to the online time clock, and it took twenty minutes to go through each error to figure out what had happened, turning the process into hours.”

The top 5 things we learned from manually tracking and calculating hours worked

1. The time it takes to calculate the total time worked.

We asked seven of our team members to total the time cards while they time themselves with each one. We ended up with 39 totals, averaging 5:16 or 5.27 minutes each. We removed the first timecard calculated by each member from these figures to get to 39 to simulate a more realistic scenario to be familiar with the process as a manager would be working with time cards. 

Think about this. If you had 20 timecards to total each week, that would take 105.3 minutes, or nearly 2 hours just for that task. This is in addition to having to go back and ask someone what a punch time should be because it was left blank or smudged.

The minimum time it would take to manually calculate timecards each pay period by employee count

2. Error rates are high.

To consider a time card calculation accurate, all times were entered into OnTheClock to verify. We went one step further and chose a competitor to also enter time cards into as a double verification. Comparing our manual totals to the online time clock totals, our error rates were in the 75% range, meaning often, just 25% of the times were accurate. The primary issue was in converting. The time cards done using the conversion chart provided by Green Machine were the most common offenders being .01 to .02 off, up to several minutes off because of errors in handwriting or typing in the conversion into a spreadsheet. Higher accuracy was shown in using a free online tool to enter times. According to the Workforce Institute, there are 82 million Americans who dealt with inaccuracies in time and pay at some point.

3. There are a variety of methods and assumptions made in calculations.

As mentioned, each person took a different approach to total the time cards. Some went right to a spreadsheet, some went to free tools online to plug numbers into, and some used the conversion chart and did it on paper. No manual method provided 100% accuracy when compared to online systems. That speaks volumes for the benefit of an employee being able to punch in and out and have no room for error or interpretation.

Assumptions made in how to manually calculate the timecards

4. Tools provided by the manufacturer were ineffective.

The time clock we used comes with a conversion chart. Being completely transparent, I did the conversions incorrectly upon first using it. There are no instructions. The other major issue is that the decimals are rounded to two places. Testing this repeatedly, you must have three decimal places to get an exact time conversion. Otherwise, we found you end up with roughly .01 to .02 off in total hours. It may not seem like a lot, but now your employees may be questioning your integrity. 

See the chart for a sample two-week time card rounded to two digits first, then totaled, and then rounded to three digits before totaling. This example is .01 off.

Comparison of rounding punches with two digits and three digits and the accuracy level

5. The legibility of times and dates is poor.

The ink smeared on some time cards, and some of the numbers appeared indistinguishable, the 1 and 7 in particular at times. This leads the manager to one of two options. They either track down the employee and ask, but how likely are they to remember if it’s days later, or they have to make their best guess as to what it should be. Again, you may be building wedges with employees by making assumptions about the times they worked.

In summary, we wanted to gain a better understanding of our manual time clock competitors and how long it takes to manually calculate timecards and mission accomplished. We found it takes 5.27 minutes each, there are inaccuracies, too much time being spent on figuring out totals and what the errors were, and we found this to be a miserable experience for the manager doing the calculations and employees who may lose confidence in their employer. According to HRDive.com, just two payroll errors can trigger 49% of employees to begin looking for a new job.

If you want to try a modern time tracking system sign up for a free 30-day trial and see the difference in how accurate your time cards will be and how much time you will save.

OnTheClock Employee Time Tracking

Written by

OnTheClock Team

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