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Applying Workforce Analytics in the Hospitality Industry

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October 01, 2012
Workforce Management
Michael Kasavana, PH.D., NCE, CHTP - kasavana@msu.edu

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The hospitality industry’s most valuable and expensive strategic asset, human resources, is the center of workforce management software. Given that guest-facing services at hotels, restaurants and private clubs remain labor intensive, workforce management solutions are being adopted at an unprecedented rate as stand-alone, online, mobile and integrated POS applications. Traditionally a tedious, time-consuming, and error prone manual process, the automated construction of shift schedules, day part analyses and staff analytics now allows management to redirect focus to nonlabor-related issues. Workforce management software (WFM) functions as a multidimensional application platform that blends constrained payroll expenditures with overall shift optimization (through the elimination of nonproductive work times and avoidance of overtime).

While many hospitality managers rely on business intelligence software to derive knowledge from operational data, there often are tangible labor-related savings embedded in aggregated departmental reports and consolidated spreadsheets that go unnoticed. Data mining, a popular nonhospitality industry labor analysis tool, is often difficult to apply given the industry’s history of integrated departmental reporting and prime costing methodologies. Scheduling a multifaceted team of employees for a large workforce can be complex and challenging, often resulting in poor staff performance and imbalanced shift coverage. By providing seamless access to time and attendance records, work schedule evaluations and detailed managerial reports, workforce management software can provide the foundation for enhanced guest services, improved staff productivity and increased profitability. In fact, experienced workforce solution vendors claim that effective implementation of labor analytics by hospitality managers can lead to a reduction of 8 percent to 10 percent in labor expenditures. These savings are generated through flexible shift coverage, reduced lost time, controlled overtime and more accurate allocation of labor expenses. Workforce management software is focused on the identification of optimal shift coverage emanating from predictive algorithms. Effective algorithmic design incorporates business forecasting, cost containment, absenteeism and time monitoring.

In a workforce management software application, shift coverage is accomplished through a series of forecasting, scheduling, adjusting and analysis functions. Labor forecasts are typically constructed based on historical data and intuitive guesswork. Some workforce management systems offer operators the option of system-generated schedules or provide an accessible file for user determination. The provision for schedule refinement or adjustment-given requests from employees may be part of the final solution. An analysis of forecast information and previous work schedules may reveal weak or limited coverage periods requiring reconsideration. Once entered, schedule data can be downloaded to the system time clocks for on-site monitoring and control. Finalized schedules are used to establish authorized payroll expenditures through sign-ins and sign-outs.

The staffing requirements for the hospitality industry, unlike any other, are heavily influenced by sales forecasts. While there are several important constraints involved in the construction of a workforce schedule, two of the most critical factors are number of work hours allotted in the labor budget and strategies related to budgetary deployment. While some workforce management software applications may integrate internal metrics associated with anticipated high and low demand periods, an overall demand forecast is usually sufficient to outline staffing needs. The forecast can also be dynamically adjusted to reflect seasonal and repetitive special event staffing needs. By combining historical data (through either a moving-average statistical analysis or a time-series analysis) management is able to develop a benchmark for comparison of forecasted to actual staffing requirements. Over time, such results can be refined to more accurately represent workforce needs.

The WFM forecast objective is to develop a working model that generates consistent and accurate business volumes and corresponding levels of staffing.  Knowing that specific hotel and restaurant functions require different labor efforts complicates identification of an optimal staffing level. While budget-based labor ratios are commonly used to determine the number of labor hours needed in a coverage period, these ratios often fail to identify specific day part staffing levels. A reliable forecast of sales data often forms a basis for bridging the cost containment gap.

Cost Containment
While labor cost containment can be accomplished in a variety of ways, most software applications focus attention on lost time and overtime as major strategies for labor savings. Reducing or eliminating lost time, which results from unauthorized early time-in and/or late time-out entries or from employees hiding or being nonproductive during a paid shift, can represent meaningful savings. Consider the scenario in which a front desk agent or dining room waiter is scheduled to begin work at 9 a.m. but clocks in at 8:45 a.m.  Sometime after clocking in, this employee reports to his or her assigned workstation at precisely 9 a.m. The front desk manager or dining room supervisor will consider the worker reliable and on time, unaware that he or she clocked in 15 minutes early. The payroll office, unaware that the worker was not scheduled to report until 9 a.m., may accidentally pay the employee for the 15 minutes of nonproductive (lost) time. This additional time wasn’t forecasted by management and therefore will result in inadvertent overspending within the labor budget. Similarly, employees who avoid work or clock out well after completing a final task also represent unanticipated additional labor costs, which may lead to unscheduled, higher paid overtime. It is important to note that a 15-minute savings for 10 employees per day, for a 360-day year, at an hourly rate of $8, equals $7,200 in extra payments annually.

In an effective WFM application, early sign-ins and late sign-outs are minimized through coordinated system controls. Even though a labor management system allows an employee to clock in prior to a scheduled start time, the system will not authorize wage payments until an authorized work shift is scheduled to start. In the scenario above, for example, the front desk agent or server may have clocked in 15 minutes early, but the system will not authorize a payroll transaction to begin until the scheduled time of 9 a.m. Although employees may be allowed to punch in early, the system will not count time until the authorized schedule time has elapsed. Similarly, staff members can clock-out late but will not be paid beyond the limit of the scheduled shift termination time. For an employee to be paid outside the parameters of a labor schedule requires managerial/supervisory authorization. Hence, exceptions to predetermined scheduled times, arising from unforeseen (and unbudgeted) circumstances, can be adjusted through a system override procedure.

Absentee data normally includes sick days and personal days as well as the associated costs of replacement labor should such expense be necessary to avoid lost productivity. Kronos, a global leader in workforce management applications, estimates total costs associated with employee absenteeism (also termed time theft) average 36 percent of payroll expenditure, a significant expense. In a Harris Interactive research study conducted in 2009, 21 percent of hourly workers admitted to cheating on time records to derive extra pay for time not worked. These erroneous entries were the result of early-in/late-out notations and/or buddy punching. In a survey entitled Gaming the Clock, researchers concluded that outdated workforce management methods of time and attendance recordation contributed significantly to payroll inflation. Industry practitioners estimated unnecessary payroll costs of 1.2 percent due to inaccurate data capture attributable to absenteeism. In any case, time monitoring is critical to successful management of the labor budget.

Time Monitoring
As many hospitality managers can attest, controlling overtime can be especially critical to labor cost containment. While management often finds the unpredictability of business doesn’t always allow for the elimination of overtime, labor management software does provide a means to restrict overtime to pre-approved overtime. In other words, with an automated process there are few, if any, unanticipated overtime expenditures. As a result, the system must provide a warning should an overtime situation be forthcoming. Most operators cite the monitoring of overtime as a key factor in the successful implementation of a labor scheduling system. The system allows a staff member the right to earn overtime only when it occurs in a controlled, approved environment. In essence, management is notified of an employee’s number of hours worked given that it is approaching an overtime threshold. The system then permits overtime to occur only with managerial approval.

WFM Authentication
Automated time clocking devices allow hospitality management to select among several time recording media including:  traditional paper time cards, magnetic strip plastic cards, electronic keypad, biometric recognition or other specialized media. Traditional time card systems rely upon data entries (i.e., punches) to record time-in/out data. Often heavy-weight paper time cards, requiring a storage rack, effective printing capability and an accurate time stamping are used. Time card clocks feature automatic card alignment in order to avoid over-punching and/or illegible data recordation.

A more advanced methodology incorporates data handing techniques that recognize magnetic stripe and bar code information that may be placed on a plastic card or similar media. Plastic magnetic stripe cards, which serve as employee identification badges, provide enhanced sign-in and sign-out functions but, unlike a time punching card system, may not provide employees with a printed copy of time in attendance. Badge-based data collection requires the recognition of a distinguished input format (stripe or bar code) for processing. Magnetic stripe cards are capable of storing an employee’s identification number and scheduled shift number but lack provisions for verifiable employee identification. In other words, there is no way to detect or combat one employee presenting another employee’s card for processing. Since the system is unable to positively identify the person possessing the card, problems in accurate time keeping may arise.

Cardless and badgeless systems require employees to enter a unique employee ID number through a data keypad, similar to authorizing a transaction at an ATM. A keypad-based system relies upon accurate data entry to initiate system functionality. Since employees may be entitled to a printed copy of time and attendance data to ensure proper payroll processing, some keypad-based systems provide an embedded printer. A main advantage of keypad entry systems is the elimination of paper time card storage racks as well as the need to purchase, create and maintain magnetic stripe cards.

Biometric authentication may involve a fingerprint, hand geometry or retina matching algorithm. The argument for biometric authentication is the fact that the physical characteristics required for verification cannot be forgotten, shared, lost or stolen like an identification code, badge or password. It is often argued that biometric security may be the only format that authenticates a person since each measured feature is unique. Fingerprinting evaluation involves use of a scanner to capture the pattern of friction ridges of the skin in the form of loops, whorls or arches. Captured fingerprint patterns are mapped and compared to images stored in a secured database. Highly sophisticated fingerprint techniques often include blood flow metrics to ensure the finger is alive at the time of scanning. Hand geometry systems incorporate a digital camera and light source to capture the curvature design (length, width and thickness) of the hand. This data is converted into a numerical template for authentication purposes. Retinal scanning devices that read the pattern of blood vessels inside the eye (iris) are much more accurate and expensive than fingerprinting or hand geometry formats, and are rarely used in time and attendance systems.

A file server or tablet computer can be connected to a time clock device to poll data collected by the device and transport it to a processing application. Data polling enables exportation of captured data to other application software, including external payroll accounting applications. For example, detailed labor analysis software packages, available from numerous payroll system vendors, can be applied. Alternatively, operators that contract an off-premises payroll service bureau may use communication equipment capable of directly relaying captured payroll data to a remote processing center.

WFM Functionality
Some of the major benefits of automated workforce management software involve efficiency, effectiveness and enhancements, all available in multilingual formats. A WFM application should function as a painless scheduling, employee notification, labor cost monitoring, reduced employee turnover and schedule conflict avoidance.

WFM Planning 
Labor requirement forecasts (see Figure 1) are developed from performance parameters such as sales or budgetary information. Employee scheduling is designed to ensure shift coverage based on employee availability, skill inventory and labor requirement forecasts. It is for this reason that a majority of workforce management systems are considered schedule-driven systems. Time and attendance data can be recorded upon initiation by time card, plastic badge, keypad or retinal authentication. The WFM system, in turn, will classify captured time as regular time, overtime or special time. Each time category may be associated with a different pay rate and variable scheduling considerations, thereby enabling the separation of individual events for labor costing purposes. For example, a property catering a private party would be able to identify each employee assigned to that function and apply the cost of time worked to that specific event, allowing labor cost reporting by event, department and employee. This is an inherent strength of a workforce management system that enhances its value to the hospitality industry.

Daily labor reports, labor distribution reports, budgetary to actual reports, projected overtime reports and the like, combine to provide a base of financial information for managerial consideration. Although worforce management systems generally do not generate paychecks and payroll registers, they do perform precalculations that simplify eventual completion of the payroll cycle. WFM solutions that interface with external payroll systems can provide additional time savings while providing a mechanism for enhanced and extended labor analysis. (See Figure 1 in attached pdf version of the article.)

In addition to these features, a workforce management application may also possess the capability to capture staff sales and tip data, often essential to effective human resources management. Employees who are required to track sales and/or tips can enter this data at time of clock-out and the data will be automatically stored and processed. Similarly, hospitality management can aggregate revenue data to determine tip pooling shares and government reporting as needed. WFM systems with such a capability are able to generate sales performance reports, tip allocation reports, detailed distribution reports and related reports.

Standalone WFM
PC-based workforce management applications typically require two hardware components: time capture device (i.e., time clock/stamp/reader) and a stand-alone PC. An automated time capture device may be intelligent and/or programmable based on its component composition. Most time clock devices store critical data internally and may operate independent (offline) of a system file server. The main purpose of a time clock is to capture authenticated data entry (sign-ins and sign-outs) for eventual transmission to a remote application software module for payroll accounting processing and workforce management analysis. Time clocks typically contain microprocessors with plug compatibility for connecting monitors, keyboards, printers and a variety of communication equipment. In essence, some time clock devices have evolved into intelligent stand-alone units. Recent advancements in tablet and mobile devices are able to replace a legacy PC device.

Web-based WFM
There is an increasing number of WFM software products being marketed as Web-based (online or cloud-based) solutions. Most application packages offer enhanced forecasting capabilities, scheduling functionality and more flexible interfaces for extensive report generation. A Web-based application tends to be structured as a closed-loop system for managing a single site labor force (including forecasting, scheduling, time and attendance and real-time reporting). In addition, a graphical snapshot capability, with actionable alerts and consolidated reports, can be configured as an essential system component. Online and cloud-based applications also provide a platform for access 24/7. It is important to note that Web-based WFM solutions do not require software to be downloaded or installed on a client PC to operate effectively.
Mobile-based WFM
Mobile workforce management solutions provide real-time access to staffing applications. Online serviceability offers access to work schedules, payroll records and alerts while providing an efficient network for individual and group employee communication. In addition, employees are able to self-request shift changes (pick up, drop and swap) as well as apply for nonscheduled times (vacations or personal leave). Some WFM suppliers provide a capability enabling employees to bid for alternate work shifts. Employees can specify if requested changes are on a one-time or recurring basis. A mobile link also provides management with the opportunity to make more informed decisions and to interact with employees seeking changes to a posted schedule plan. Additionally, managers are able to respond to problematic situations in real time through the use of built-in alerts and event notification. Management is also able to construct and review staff performance reports, impending overtime and staff requests via portable device access.

POS-based WFM
Automated work schedules often require modification as sales volumes and availability of workers change. In a seasonal business, for example, perhaps only one-third of the peak workforce may be retained. Developing a labor scheduling process designed for a smaller workforce may become problematic when expansion to peak time staffing is necessary. The dynamic nature of seasonal business fluctuations can lead to less than ideal system utilization, as the data required during peak business volumes can present system challenges. As workers’ schedules change and business needs vary, a WFM system may struggle to keep pace. It is for these reasons that more integrated applications have begun to appear in the marketplace.

Consider a sophisticated labor scheduling software package that relies on correlated POS data to populate workforce forecasting and scheduling modules. The POS data is used to determine the jobs, tasks and workload necessary to optimally operate the hospitality business. By dynamically matching worker profile, skill sets, and availability data to an internally generated labor forecast, the system is able to construct shift coverage, by worker and operating department, within budgetary constraints. The integration of labor scheduling software with POS data provides many advantages, including employee scheduling, sales forecasting, inventory monitoring and real time sales and labor reporting dashboard totals.

WFM Analytics
Simply stated, workforce analytics help ensure that the right person with the right skills is in the right place at the right time. By centralizing labor information, a business entity is able to gain greater visibility into workforce issues through rapid access dashboards and aggregated reporting. The goal of workforce analytics is to enable management to apply fact-based data to labor-related decisions in an effort to reduce costs, improve productivity, and enhance profitability. Industry observers argue that a hourly workforce represents the largest controllable expense hotels, restaurants and private clubs encounter. Given the scheduling requirements necessary to coordinate and monitor complex work shifts, a large amount of data is often generated yet not applied to future labor planning algorithms. The movement to transform workforce data into analytical information through centralized reporting provides an opportunity for greater visibility and insight of challenges, strategies and solutions. Analytics are routinely used to dissect overspending due to absenteeism, unplanned overtime and ineffective labor scheduling. Most applications apply benchmark performance standards and measure variance or conformity against the standards. Unique hospitality applications enable linkage with POS data to determine staff productivity and efficiency. Despite the large number of labor statistics collected daily, it is estimated that less than one-third of hospitality businesses apply workforce analytics to help manage its labor forces. Organizations that employ analytical tools claim it can help reduce labor costs and create a sustainable competitive advantage, while simultaneously improving productivity.

An often overlooked aspect of workforce management is recruitment (often termed workforce sourcing). Starting with better qualified applicants ensures more complete shift coverage in the scheduling, monitoring and tracking of personnel. Some robust WFM solutions begin by analyzing the effectiveness of recruiting campaigns, oversee online screening and extend the candidate profiles through selection and career development. The central focus of workforce analytics is the relationship between employee talent and business success by streamlining complex operations to ensure sufficient customer service and high job satisfaction for employees at the lowest possible cost.

The benefits of such efforts include:

  1. Improved customer service through satisfactory staffing levels.
  2. Elimination of noncritical overtime expenses.
  3. Reduced employee turnover and unauthorized absences.
  4. Online creation and access of employee schedules.
  5. Tracking of viewed and confirmed work shifts.
  6. Automatic employee notification of changes in shifts.
  7. Electronic notification of shift coverage and work schedule.
  8. Management of shift trading and vacation approvals.

Payroll Processing
Since payroll practices and regulations vary widely, a workforce management system may need to be interfaced with a payroll accounting module to produce a finalized payroll ledger and/or payroll checks. Labor scheduling software is primarily limited to time and attendance accounting and the computation of gross pay. Payroll processing and paycheck generation can be accomplished via an add-on program or through exporting to a specialty application package leading to net pay. Given that the two primary objectives of automated labor management systems are cost containment and improved shift coverage, data interchange with a payroll accounting module is logical.

An effective workforce management application includes time and attendance, scheduling, absentee, payroll and labor analytic solutions. Industry experts estimate that managers spend an average of two hours to three hours per employee per month dealing with issues such as gross and net pay, scheduling and overtime, withholdings and vacation time. Automated workforce management systems can play a prominent role in forecasting, scheduling, reporting, analyzing and controlling time worked as well as use of time worked. Effective labor scheduling can be accomplished through PC-based applications, Web-based applications, mobile and POS-integrated applications. Each of these approaches can streamline labor-related processes while enhancing workforce controls. Managers are often surprised to discover the bottom line impact of improved labor scheduling on cost containment and profitability.

Workforce management applications, by aligning shift schedules with forecasted sales demand, can effectively apply regulatory scheduling policies, consider employee availability and skill level, and adhere to labor budgeting goals. Effective workforce management solutions control labor costs and minimize compliance risk while improving labor productivity through time and attendance monitoring, scheduling, absentee management, payroll accounting and labor analytics. The objective is to uncover excess labor costs in areas such as overtime, non-productive work assignments and absenteeism.

Michael Kasavana, PH.D., NCE, CHTP, is a NAMA professor in Hospitality Business for the School of Hospitality Business at the Michigan State University. He can be reached at kasavana@msu.edu.

©2012 Hospitality Upgrade
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Simply stated, workforce analytics help ensure that the right person with the right skills is in the right place at the right time.

WFM Objectives:
Eliminate overtime
Avoid under staffing
Avoid over staffing
Reduce lost time
Manage productivity
Optimize shift coverage
While not all labor management systems operate identically, the following functions are representative of system capabilities:

1. labor requirement forecasting
2. employee scheduling
3. time and attendance recordation
4. overtime/lost time monitoring
5. labor cost analysis
6. payroll processing
7. schedule preparation
8. ability for employee shift trades (swapping) within parameters
9. online/mobile accessibility to schedules anytime
10. comprehensive report creation/generation
11. creation of independent trainee schedules
12. communication of shift schedules via SMS or email notification
13. tracking of and monitoring off-work requests (e.g. vacation, sick leave)
14. ability to assign breaks, duties and tasks within each shift
15. guidelines to avoid over/under staffing
16. basis for shift assignment adjustments by day part provided
17. communication link between management and staff established
The objective of these capabilities is to streamline the tasks associated with gathering labor-related data so that it can be applied for timely reporting. The approach to handling budgeting and forecasting workforce expenditures allows for more detailed financial reporting on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. 
Workforce Management Reports
There are a variety of reports available through a workforce management system. A typical report suite may include:
Time and attendance reporting generally covers attendance at work, hours worked and includes late arrival and early departure tracking.
A work schedules report is a generation of work schedules by department, employee, date, shift, hour, function and other criteria. Schedules built upon worker profile, shift coverage needs and worker availability data.
An overtime report is a list containing the names of employees approaching or incurring overtime pay and the number of hours involved.
Tardy/absent report tracks attendance abuse and lateness.
Projected hours report is a projection of scheduled hours and expenditures that can be compared to actual budget data following an elapsed workforce schedule.
Availability report summarizes employee work shift availability and skill index profile data for construction of work shift coverage plans.
Labor distribution report is a breakdown of labor hours by employee, unit, department, function or other criteria. This report typically summarize regular, overtime and special hourly totals that assist in labor allocation decisions.
Employee report is an individual staff analysis of sales performance, hours worked, vacation, sick, holiday and overtime notations.
Tip allocation report is a breakdown of staff tips by transaction and time worked; may be individually determined or based on a tip-pooling formula.

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