It’s no secret that employees hate filling in their timesheet. The reasons why employees aren’t doing it may have never crossed your mind. While chasing down employees to submit their timesheet may be a stressful part of your job, have you ever considered the stress placed on an employee to fill them in? Enter, timesheet anxiety.

We’ve asked some of our clients for feedback on why their employees have struggled to fill in their time. We expected to hear that most employees don’t have time, or the desire to spend an hour reporting their hours spent on projects. Maybe it was just an inconvenient task. What we’d heard was shocking! Employees weren’t submitting their time because they were under too much pressure to do so!

What pressure can there possibly be by filling in a timesheet?

In a workforce growing more intuned with their feelings and the impact they want to make, employees are no longer putting in their hours to get a paycheck. There’s got to be meaning behind those hours. Giving time meaning is the reflection of how you feel about yourself when you are by yourself and then doing the things that make you feel better about yourself. Timesheets, as a rule, don’t make anyone feel better about themselves. To some, timesheets are a closed feedback loop of negativity that leaves them wondering “What am I worth?” or “What is my impact?”

Timesheet anxiety is common with many employees.

I’d asked some colleagues who’ve regularly filled in timesheets how they’ve felt about the time reporting task. Some had indeed felt anxious filling in their timesheet. While reflecting upon my former career as a software developer, I realized that I too felt apprehensive about submitting my timesheets. At the time though, I never understood why I was so anxious.

What kinds of timesheet anxiet are there?

I’ll share with you some scenarios of timesheet anxiety that I had come across. These are the most common situations that I’ve heard:

Scenario: An employee feels that if they reported their “real” hours and the total went over budget, they’d feel judged by their boss or others that they were incompetent or lazy.

Scenario: An employee feels that if they reported their “real” hours and the total was way under budget; they would either be accused of exaggerating their estimates or would be given additional work to top up the balance in the future.

Scenario: An employee feels pressure to deliver a certain level of billable hours, but because of how they work, and personal issues that they face, they are unable to meet that expectation. When they fail to meet it, they feel inadequate for not producing their share.

Scenario:An employee feels unworthy filling in their timesheet because the work they do does not serve them. Because they are not fulfilled by their job, they feel guilty reporting their hours. Every submission is a reminder of the work they are no longer served.

An employee may feel the need to “fudge” their timesheet numbers to avoid negative feedback and judgement. Most people are honest, so when they fib on a timesheet, the act of misreporting their hours can double up the stress they are already feeling.

An employee feels misaligned with the expectation of their time at work.

When we are stressed, we will find every excuse not to do the thing that triggers that stress. Think of all of the reasons people come up with when they avoid exercising — being uncomfortable sucks! It’s our nervous system’s job to protect us from harm. So, if an employee has timesheet anxiety, it becomes much easier to put it off until tomorrow. Maybe then they may feel strong enough to do it.

A sad fact behind timesheet anxiety is that there’s an underlying problem not being addressed. Either through miscommunication or misalignment, employees do not feel safe with the contribution they are making. Eventually, the stress will cause a loss of production and may cause the employee to look for work elsewhere.

An unintended benefit to timesheets is that they are a regular link between an anxious employee and those who can help. When timesheets are being ignored, or not correctly filled in, it can be an excellent time for managers to reconnect with their staff and create an open, honest and safe discussion. Sometimes the most complex of feelings can be eased with a simple conversation.

Speak to your team regularly about the expectations of a timesheet and understand and address their concerns about them. While billing your clients for revenue is important for you, it may not be as equally important to your staff. Yes, getting paid is important, but timesheet can feel like a grade school report card to some. Be aware of that and open the line of communication with your team; anxiety can only beat with the beauty of presence.

Timesheet Anxiety? Who knew! Now you do.

Want more ideas on how to promote good mental health in your office? Check out 10 Idea’s to Build Healthy Minds at Work

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