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March 4, 2010

HR gives thumbs up to electronic time records

Human Resources officials said Pitt’s new electronic time-record system is working surprisingly well, given that some 6,000 employees have had to adapt to it.

As of Jan. 1, all classified staff, regular full-time and regular part-time, both exempt and non-exempt, are required weekly to enter their time worked and time off into PRISM TRKS (an acronym for time record-keeping system, pronounced “tracks”), which replaced the paper system used here for many years.

Stephen Ferber, HR assistant vice chancellor, has been tracking the system and fielding concerns from employees and supervisors.

“We are extremely pleased and pleasantly surprised, frankly, at how well the system is functioning. Each week, things have run more smoothly. By the last week of January, the first month of the roll-out, we had 98 percent of those employees who are required to do this, counting both supervisors and employees, who had completed approved time records go through the system,” Ferber said.

“Of course we need to get to 100 percent, but this is a phenomenal number, especially for the kick-off month. We expected more issues to arise.”

He acknowledged there are some problems, which HR hopes to alleviate by tweaking the on-line training sessions. A smaller number of issues are systemic; HR hopes to eliminate those in the coming weeks, he said.

One unforeseen “bug” in the system has been addressed by adding step-by-step instructions on the timecard screen about how to correct a timecard that already has been approved, he said. (See related story this issue.)

Ferber said that overall he had received a small number of complaints — fewer than 50, he estimated. “There was some grumbling, like ‘I have to do this every week?’ — but our response to that is: ‘That has always been the policy on keeping time records,’” he said. “Some other minor complaints were based on unfamiliarity with logging into the [portal] or accessing the PRISM community. To me, those comments stem from this being a new system and it represents change, which people have a hard time adjusting to. These are therefore training issues, rather than system issues.”

(The employee online training session is accessible at

Other concerns have been raised about converting to a system that records everything in hours, he said; the previous system used days and half-day increments. He added that there were several inquiries on how to submit hours for the “approved absences” days due to last month’s weather closures. “We figured that was going to be an issue, because it is such a rare occurrence, so we posted an update on how to put your hours in for those days,” and a link to the University’s extreme weather conditions policy, Ferber said.

As for more systemic complaints, Ferber said, “From an employee perspective, the most common question or issue was confusion over: ‘When do I get my accruals? I took a vacation day and it wasn’t taken off my information.’ If you take a personal day or a vacation day or other time off, that is [subtracted] automatically by early in the next week. The system transfers data after business hours on Monday evening, which is why the Monday noon deadline is important,” he said.

Typically, by Tuesday’s start of business the system reflects the adjusted accruals, he said, unless an approved timecard has not been forwarded.

But the totals for time earned, such as an additional 7.5 hours of accrued vacation time or sick time, are not reflected on the timecards until the beginning of the next pay period — monthly for most employees and every two weeks for part-time and non-exempt employees, he explained.

“Vacation and sick time accruals reflect the entire pay period, rather than weekly, just as the policy has been in the past. This system was designed to reflect existing policies and procedures, to make things more efficient and especially to ensure compliance with federal and state labor laws and to streamline overtime pay adjustments for our non-exempt employees,” Ferber said.

Additional side benefits are that the system is integrated into Pitt’s existing PRISM system, it has a centralized reporting structure and it reduces paperwork dramatically, he said. For example, departments no longer have to submit paperwork to make pay adjustments for part-time employees who work more or less than their designated percentage of effort, he added.

Because it is centralized, the system also allows HR officials to track data across units and job families for longer-range analysis, although that is a secondary benefit, Ferber said.

“I want to be cautious about that, to not give the wrong impression,” he said. “This system was not designed to monitor an individual’s hours worked. We’re not looking to be policing that, or checking up on people. For example, we don’t chart when you log in or out. It’s still an honor system between the individual and the supervisor. If there is an employee performance issue, there are channels in place to handle that.”

From the supervisors’ perspective, the biggest issue has been confusion with the process of naming a designate who can approve timecards in the supervisor’s absence, Ferber said, a process that is spelled out in the supervisors’ training module (

“We have hundreds of supervisors at Pitt and getting all that sorted out may take some time,” he acknowledged. “We’re looking into tweaking the training session to make that clearer.”

There are three types of approvers who can be designated to handle timecard notifications on behalf of a supervisor, he noted: an alternate approver for emergency approval access; a temporary approver (for sporadic events such as vacations), and an assigned approver to whom the supervisor can transfer approval responsibility.

The PRISM TRKS team is continuing to address these types of training and systemic concerns, Ferber said. “We see this as an ongoing process to address concerns from wherever they come, whenever they come,” he said. “The team behind all this consists of personnel from Payroll, Human Resources and Financial Information Systems,” the office that developed and tailored the program for Pitt, he said.

Ferber met last week with representatives of the Staff Association Council, who presented comments they had received from staff members on the time record system.

SAC President Gwen Watkins called the meeting useful. “We brought questions from staff, about 20 of them, though some of those were similar, and we discussed those with HR. It was a constructive meeting and we will have a written report, probably at our March 10 meeting,” Watkins said.

Most of the staff concerns were a matter of “getting acclimated to a new system, nothing really major,” she said.

Ferber said, “We very much appreciated the SAC comments.All in all, the comments that SAC provided for the most part reinforce what we already know and are addressing. Other than a few comments from people on how it affects them personally, I think we are currently addressing the concerns raised. As for the few individual personal questions raised, we have asked SAC to have the employee reach out to us directly if they would like further assistance.”

Ferber said he welcomes contact from any employee who has a concern. The best way to get information about the system is via the PRISM TRKS hotline — 412/383-8463, he said. General information also is available at In addition, he recommended the online training sessions, which often answer a person’s question.

“I’m sure more issues will arise as time goes by, and I look forward to the continued evolvement of PRISM TRKS. But for the start-up of this new system, we’re very pleased,” Ferber said. “Our main message is that this system provides a better tool to do what we should have been doing all along and in a streamlined, timely and accurate way.”

—Peter Hart

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