Why Free Employee Attendance Trackers Are More Trouble Than They're Worth

With the rising cost of retail labor—and today’s tight labor market—every grocer knows that any opportunity to optimize their labor management system is hard to pass up. Doing so would be as big a mistake as slashing hours and disinvesting in superior customer service. Using an employee attendance tracker is one such opportunity, with the hope of ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal regulations concerning pay, overtime, lunch and break periods, and more.

Many grocers are tempted to try “free” attendance trackers as a way to improve the store’s labor management. If the grocer is lucky, the tracker will live up to its promises while also fitting in with the store’s other technology systems. However, most “no obligation” solutions are limited in the capabilities they provide and the systems with which they will integrate (if any). And many of them actually come with gotcha-style terms and conditions.

So, are these free employee attendance trackers viable options, or are they more trouble than they are worth? Here are three key characteristics where these free tools most often fall short.

Has a free employee attendance tracker left you holding the bag? See how TRUNO solutions can actually deliver the goods.

Are you trusting someone’s spreadsheet with your compliance?

One of the most popular types of free attendance tracker is simply a spreadsheet or a spreadsheet template. Spreadsheets can automatically perform complex calculations and assist with data sorting. Plus, spreadsheet trackers are easy to find and download, and most grocery management are familiar with Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.  

However, spreadsheet-based solutions rely heavily on manual data entry, which increases administrative labor costs. And because spreadsheets are so easily altered, any safeguards the templates may contain can be easily overridden or accidentally deleted. Plus, a spreadsheet does not capture transaction history, nor provide the “paper trail” so essential if a dispute arises.

Compliance with labor laws and regulations is a complex topic. Regulations vary from state to state, even city to city, and spreadsheet functionality isn’t sophisticated enough to red-flag compliance issues like these, nor manual entry errors like incorrectly logged overtime. Should you find yourself embroiled in a labor dispute, you won’t find much defense in an Excel or Google Sheet spreadsheet. Unless your attendance tracker solution can guarantee and prove legal compliance, it’s probably not worth your investment in time and effort.

How secure is your data when using a “free” attendance tracker?

Employee information is private data, often containing a Social Security number for tax purposes. If for no other reason than that, timesheets are sensitive records. Spreadsheet solutions aside, the security of such data should give grocers pause when considering a free attendance tracker. These concerns include:

  • Security patches – Free often means unsupported. If a developer creates an attendance tracker program as a side project, don’t expect them to keep it up-to-date with the latest security patches.
  • Data ownership – Does the free tracker store your data locally, in a remote database, or in the cloud? How can you be certain the application isn’t sending that information to a server outside your store infrastructure?
  • Security at a price – Some free solutions use the freemium model, meaning if you want comprehensive premium features (like security), you’ll pay a hefty price tag.
  • Trial offers – Are you placing too much trust, time, and effort into a trial offer? What if, after the trial period is over, you don’t purchase the “real deal”? What happens to your data if you choose to start from scratch with another solution?

The risks associated with these uncertainties simply aren’t worth taking. 

Beyond the basics, what are you really getting for “nothing”?

Most free attendance tracker solutions focus on providing the basics. That is, they make sure that hours can be entered accurately, day-in and day-out.

But what about being able to transfer the attendance data to other systems in a usable format, such as payroll and HR systems? A useful attendance tracker should be able to send reports to payroll providers. Spreadsheets require tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone report creation at the end of each period. And while more robust free solutions might simplify payroll procedures, they may lack the ability to integrate fully with your payroll systems themselves.

Some other “beyond the basics” capabilities your free tracker likely won’t provide:

  • Will the solution scale as your operations grow?
  • Can it provide detailed reports across departments and positions?
  • Can it track hours of cross-trained employees that work in multiple departments?
  • What about record-keeping, reporting, and records retention for compliance?
  • Finally, can it provide data analytics and business intelligence to help you optimize your staffing?

Is your free tracker leaving more holes than it fills?

Using a free attendance tracker may ultimately cost you much more than you think.  

At the bare minimum, your system must be able to track time, differentiate between regular and overtime hours, account for paid and unpaid employee breaks, and report this information each pay period to the payroll processor. Your system must also allow for regular updates, both to reflect changes in labor laws and to ensure the prompt handling of any security vulnerabilities. Finally, the system should offer a positive user experience, since staff are more apt to make errors when interacting with an overly complicated, poorly designed user interface.

Has your current employee attendance tracker left you holding the bag? TRUNO offers human capital management solutions that can do all these functions and more to give your grocery store a competitive edge.

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