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Melissa Albanes (11 Posts)

Melissa Albanes

Melissa Albanes is a Senior Product Marketer with SumTotal. She has a special interest in how tech trends and Big Data are changing the HR landscape—particularly in terms of Workforce Management (time and attendance, scheduling, and absence management), Expense, Benefits, Payroll and Analytics. Not limited to her marketing vocation, Melissa can be found on her Harley, playing with her kids, and enjoying a good run outside.

September 6, 2017

3 Tips for a Better Payroll Process


Happy National Payroll Week!

First off, I’d like to offer my deepest thanks to those payroll professionals who ensure that we all receive, in a timely and correct manner, the fruits of our labor, or the monetary ones at least!

Secondly, on the subject of how to do payroll better, we’re hearing a lot these days about how best to use time & attendance data to do this, and we want to share some tips.

Anything payroll-related is a tricky topic, because even a small mistake could result in a big problem—especially given the impact a negative payroll experience can have in the constant battle to attract and retain top talent. Improper or late pay is a surefire way to lose employees and damage your reputation as an employer.

But success with the payroll process, like so many other areas of the workforce, is becoming more and more data-centric. And so, effective use of data, especially time & attendance data, must now play a more central role in the process payroll.

To help you establish a best-practice payroll process, one that utilizes and is better connected to your time & attendance data, here are three suggestions:

1. Automate.

Paper-based time tracking and manual spreadsheet data entry are currently part of the payroll process for many organizations. One of the problems with such a system is that a physical paper trail creates multiple sources or places to find data. Not only that, but manual time entry is often laden with errors or incorrect assumptions; errors that are further multiplied when data is entered into more than one system. And of course such work is time-intensive and therefore costly and inefficient.

Automation creates a centralized record of truth thereby eliminating the risks associated with manual data entry error and is available for scrutiny or analysis faster because you have eliminated the time required for looking through files, sorting spreadsheets and so on.

2. Track.

By tracking occurrence exceptions you can gain valuable insights. For example, by tracking anything outside of your attendance policy, like those who routinely clock in early or late and take long lunches, you can learn your workforce’s story and how they operate in conjunction with the schedule. This not only helps you ensure an effective payroll process, but also gives you information needed to influence positive behavior. Furthermore, you can use this information to motivate employees by giving them the opportunity to earn points for positive behaviors such as perfect attendance.

Additionally, employees who know that their occurrences are tracked for anything outside of the organization’s attendance policy are more likely to adhere to the schedule and less likely to engage in time theft activity like buddy punching.

3. Drive.

Your time & attendance data is the crux of payroll, and now that it’s accurate with occurrences tracked, it can be used to support and drive strategies organization-wide—including your learning and talent agendas.

That’s right, not only does accurate data mean accurate payroll, but additional strategic value can be derived from this data when integrated with other HR initiatives. For example, you can make employee engagement natural and continuous by showing your people growth and development opportunities everyday—right at the place where work is being done. Streamlining workflows let’s people clearly see when they need to take training for certifications or to comply with educational requirements.

SumTotal Time & Attendance, a module of our Workforce Management solution, can help your modern payroll department keep pace and ensure that in our data-driven world, both in payroll and throughout your organization, you are maximizing the value of your time and attendance data.

Don’t know where to start? Request a Discovery Call to learn how SumTotal can help you automate, track, and drive with time & attendance data at your fingertips.

May 11, 2017

Running with blinders on – reducing unintended bias in the workplace


Sometimes lessons present themselves in unexpected places.

During a recent live BBC interview with international relations expert Professor Robert Kelly, on the possible impeachment of the South Korean president, two children suddenly burst into view.  Despite the interruption, Professor Kelly tries to continue with the interview, but it is clear that the news anchor has lost all interest in the subject and instead can’t help but focus on the source of the interruption.

Within hours, the clip went viral.

The video raises several questions about parenting styles, working with children, and perhaps most significantly, why everyone assumed the woman who followed the kids into the room and frantically rounded them up was the nanny?

This assumption, has everyone pointing fingers at one another and some commentators going so far as to suggest that we are all guilty of stereotyping. The family themselves aren’t too bothered, and when interviewed, en masse this time, they simply laughed it off. But it does serve as a stark reminder that no matter how open minded or non-judgemental we may feel, we do tend to categorize people.

In the workplace, this can lead to manager bias whereby a person is treated differently because of their age, race, ethnicity, or gender. This bias, or “blinder,” can be a huge challenge for organizations around the globe.

The question therefore is what measures can an organization take to ensure that the “blinders,” whether conscious or unconscious, are removed from workforce decisions?

The answer is technology. We all need to be using smart, common-sense technology to connect ‘people’ data to ‘numbers’ data and then basing decisions on this, rather than human instinct.

A simple example of this is to leverage a workforce management capability like occurrence tracking. Occurrence tracking gives managers, at their fingertips, objective data that removes subjectivity from tasks like performance reviews by including information like number of absences, how many times they helped their peers with shift trades and so forth.

Another example is scheduling. From within scheduling, managers can leverage capabilities to assign tasks by seniority, skill, and certification rather than selecting an employee because the supervisor is friends with them.

Additionally, providing employees with the self-service capability allows them to indicate their availability and therefore have a say in the schedule, rather than leaving it to a manager’s assumptions. Such assumptions can lead to bias if, for example, a manager decides that a student cannot do an early morning shift because of school.

With “blinders-free” data, managers can not only make decisions that are unbiased and based on fact rather than opinion, it also provides them with tangible evidence for any decisions. As the BBC video shows, we have a long way to go before we can completely and accurately say that bias no longer exists. But in the meantime, we can continue to use technology to progress and move toward a “blinder-free” workplace.

Read about some other trends and continue the conversation with us by requesting a demo.

March 15, 2017

Three Steps to Maximize Your HCM System ROI

“Exceptional ROI is the norm, not the exception”


I was in line the other morning waiting for my usual—double shot Americano with room for cream—when I overheard a conversation between the two young women who were directly behind me.

And no, it wasn’t a juicy conversation about personal matters…it was a work matter. One of them, not sure which one, as it would have been impolite to keep turning around—was under a lot of pressure from her boss to select a new HCM system for their organization. Her friend was trying to give her advice. I emphasize trying because in truth, not a lot of what she said either made sense or was even accurate. Back in the day, this would have been point when I would have handed her my card. Today we write a blog about it. SO, this is for you White Chocolate Mocha and Chai Tea.

Choosing the technology for human capital management is a big deal. There are a ton of vendors out there and each promises the world. In truth, few deliver and no one wants to be the person who recommended a particular system only for it to fail to deliver on its promises.

Let’s boil this dilemma down and solve it with three simple steps.

Step 1 Identify the wish list

Compile a list of your requirements: what you want/need/would like to see done with the new HCM. Analyze your talent, learning, and workforce management strategies. Assume that you don’t need to live without anything on your wish list, because chances are, your requirements are more attainable than you might think. We know that you’re hearing from other vendors that you may need a fully customized (read: costly) solution or try to squeeze your organization into a one-size-fits-all box. If that happens to you, see the red flag and find a vendor who doesn’t shy away from complex requirements. The cloud is fantastic, but in some cases, on-premise may be exactly what you need. The point is not to sell yourself short.

We’re hosting a webinar on vetting requirements—specifically for Workforce Management—on April 18. Check it out and register: Four Things To Do Before Signing Your WFM Provider Contract.  

Step 2 See the whole picture

To begin you might only need a small number of modules… to do things such as solving your employee retention problem, doing a better job at onboarding, or even optimizing self-service with shift trading. I caution you not to fall into the trap of thinking short-term and focusing on only your immediate need. We see many prospective customers come running to us as needs emerge and they’re overwhelmed with disparate HR systems. Not all HCMs are created equal, and some have the capability to expand as needed without additional costs or customization.

It’s also important to fully realize your potential ROI from your HCM investment. In a recent Nucleus Research report, Four HCM Mistakes to Avoid, it discusses that decision-makers often overlook that “modern technology for HCM costs less to implement and operate,” thereby yielding “major gains in productivity…[and] a significant ROI.”

Step 3 Set the Right time

The point-of-need for upgrading or deploying a new HCM is before there’s a problem. If you’re starting to see that your system is becoming unworkable—start comparing vendors now. The Nucleus report also states that many SMBs in particular wait too long. Don’t do that! Plus, the sooner you get started, the sooner you will experience the ROI which will simply increase as time passes and your company grows.

To my colleagues in the coffee shop and everywhere else, I hope this helps.

For information about our HCM and what it can do for you, schedule a demo. For additional reading, check out the research note that I referenced above “Four HCM Mistakes to Avoid.”

January 12, 2017

The Unburdened Return from Parental Leave

Returning to work after having a child has been known to cause a bit of unease. New moms and dads need to readjust their schedules and adapt to spending less time with their child(ren), which makes it a fairly delicate time. Employers and managers tasked with honoring parental leave have the added responsibility of reallocating workloads and carefully adhering to FMLA. Deliberate planning is crucial to comply with the mandates which reinstate new parents into their previous roles.

Parental Leave

Getting back to work

While getting back into the daily grind can be a challenge for new parents, it doesn’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—entering survival mode. Here are some tips that can help staff more easily return to work after welcoming a new family member.

Master the art of working at work.

Professionals need to manage time effectively. It’s very difficult to log off completely, and some days (let’s be realistic) we have to stay connected. Many of us struggle to ‘turn off’ when clocking out. The outcome, however, is that when we’re scanning emails after hours, we aren’t truly present when it should be family time. And when we’re beating ourselves up the next day for missing out on that time to connect with children, we’re distracted at work. Rather than doing both things with mediocrity, find the balance that works for you and enables you to keep your focus where it needs to be.

Be mindful of family time.

Unplugging during family time, as much as possible, empowers working professionals to be attentive parents who build strong family ties and make lasting memories. Setting clear boundaries will help achieve high productivity at work and significant quality time at home. Being conscious and vigilant in how they spend their time helps many parents enjoy a fulfilling career as well as strong family bonds.

Employer readiness

Maternity leave can be a challenge to oversee without proper policies and tools in place. With frequent federal bylaw amendments, it’s vital to minimize risk—leveraging automated rules and alerts can help ensure compliance.

Comply with FMLA.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), “provides certain employees with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year, and requires group health benefits to be maintained during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave.”

Employers are on their own to observe leave entitlements, coverage and unique circumstance regulations. The simplest way to ensure your organization meets federal requirements, tracks critical information, and implements company-specific policies is to leverage an automated workforce management system.

Show your support.

The transition back to work can be a sensitive time that each new parent handles differently. Some will have difficulty coping while others will easily settle back into their work. Adapt and make these employees feel valued. Taking steps that demonstrate your support for their dual demands shows that they aren’t left to fend for themselves and helps build loyalty, which in turn increases employee retention.

Let me know how you handled, or plan to handle, going back to work after parental leave. Are you a manager welcoming back a new parent? Tell me about your experience!

September 27, 2016

Modern Workforce Management Gets Flexible

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for modern is “based on or using the newest information, methods, or technology.” Companies effectively supporting a contemporary workforce recognize that modern workforce management is fundamentally tied to the latest, most innovative platforms and systems available.

Workforce Management

Today’s managers don’t restrict their people to locations, set schedules or even terms of employment. Instead, management is all about flexibility. A prerequisite for this flexibility is a workforce management system that incorporates the latest, most innovative and ‘modern’ options available.

Self-service is an example of one of the latest trends impacting workforce management. Taking advantage of time- and money-saving options demands innovative modern technology. When the proper systems are in place, they ensure that both employers and employees can enjoy significant degrees of flexibility in choosing when and how they work.

Self-service empowers workers to access and, when permitted, update their records in real-time rather than by making requests from various channels. This provides employees with the liberty to enter and track their time & attendance information, bid on available shifts, request absences and verify leave balances (to name a few), while managers benefit from the automation and compliance peace-of-mind that self-service helps to deliver.

Modern workforce management is adaptable and responsive to modern needs. The right workforce management system can help you prepare for and handle the latest trends impacting your workforce. Check out this article to learn more about how self-service—and other trends—are influencing the workforce.

September 7, 2016

National Payroll Week: Celebrating Payroll Professionals

In honor of National Payroll Week in the U.S., we are taking the opportunity to thank our payroll staff and all of our customers who leverage SumTotal Payroll for all of their hard work and commitment to excellence. Payroll professionals everywhere work hard to ensure that paychecks are on time and accurate (plus a million other tasks that go undetected).


According to APA, there are 150 million wage earners in America today, and “…together, through the payroll withholding system, [payroll professionals] contribute, collect, report and deposit approximately $2.2 trillion, or 67%, of the annual revenue of the U.S. Treasury.”

Considering that 63% of Americans would experience financial difficulty if one paycheck were missed or delayed, it’s easy to see why the payroll function in every organization is so critical.

So go get direct deposit, say thank you to your payroll team, and cheers to another wonderful year of payroll!


The Skillsoft/SumTotal payroll team

Many thanks to the Skillsoft/SumTotal payroll team!


August 30, 2016

Ready, Set, Connect! A Process for Stress-free APA Fall Forum Networking

Networking is exciting for some people. But for many who have chosen careers in the behind-the-scenes procedures or ‘numbers’ side of the workforce, such as payroll professionals, networking means extra deodorant and deep breaths. With the 2016 APA Fall Forum right around the corner, we’re hearing some chatter about networking uncertainties. But don’t worry—we’ve got some tips. Because at SumTotal, we understand how to give people in every role in your organization the skills they need to succeed.


People who are drawn to the payroll and workforce management occupations are often very organized, down-to-earth and methodical, with strong work ethics. They tend to value well-defined tasks, order, and privacy. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator might define these process-enthusiasts as the ISFJ personality type; which stands for Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging. Jumping into in social activities disrupts the much-valued routine, often causing some uneasiness and stress.

To eliminate some of that stress, try tackling networking as a process. This component of the conference is an opportunity to make connections that may prove just as valuable as the knowledge you gain from attending sessions. So what do you do when you’re not in a workshop or general session? Instead of leaving the situation or distancing yourself, which may be the most natural response, prioritize and break down “tasks” just as you would at work.

Review attendee and sponsor lists. If attendee lists are available, review it ahead of time and note who you want to meet. Sponsor lists are always available—so make sure to highlight which would be most valuable to investigate. Having an idea of who will be at the event will help you prepare and can be the difference between small talk and a sincere conversation.

Visit exhibitor booths. Representatives at exhibitor booths are invested in making connections. You will have the opportunity to chat, learn about new companies and products, and potentially meet others interested in the same solutions or facing similar business challenges. Even if you’re not actively looking for a new solution, understanding emerging technologies may help you reevaluate your own business needs—and processes—to prepare for future updates.

Ask for an introduction. Greet the person who seems to know everyone and ask them to introduce you to the person/people you wish to meet. This is a great way to be invited into a conversation. Not only will you gain an introduction, but someone else will initiate the conversation and that person may already have a relationship with the person you’re trying to meet (this is another valuable reason to review attendee lists ahead of time).

Set goals and limits. Don’t force yourself to network the entire time. Tell yourself that you’ll hang out for hour, shake five hands, or meet someone in particular before taking a break.

Attending conferences is as much about networking as it is about learning from sessions and workshops. Business and relationship management go hand-in-hand—so prepare. With a solid plan and clear task list in place, follow the networking process that works best for you.

Stop by our booth at the APA Fall Forum to learn more about our Payroll and Workforce Management solutions and share your favorite networking tips below to continue the conversation.

July 27, 2016

Breaking the Glass Ceiling with Data Analytics

It’s not new information that women earn just 79 cents for every dollar that a man earns or that only 14% of the S&P 500’s top executives are women. When considering ethnicity in addition to gender, the imbalance gets worse. Compared to the earnings of Caucasian men, African American women net 59% and Latin American women bring home just 54%. With today’s focus on diversity and inclusion, many HR pros are all too familiar with this mounting problem—but few understand how to correct it.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

In this informational age, Big Data and data mining techniques aren’t just for market research and microtargeting. Organizations with established human capital management (HCM) practices are collecting massive amounts of people data that hold the potential to identify demographic disparity. Many times this information is readily available, but evaluating it is a low priority—or the HR department lacks the analytical skills to put the data to use.

Sadly, progress is slow regardless of information accessibility. For example, media coverage of Equal Pay Day earlier this year highlighted companies with equal pay policies, such as Facebook and Microsoft, rather than calling out those that don’t offer equal opportunities and pay. This serves as another reminder that equality remains the exception rather than the norm.

Companies that analyze people data in the right context have the potential to pinpoint inequality and implement strategic talent processes to begin to remedy the problem. Providing equal opportunity and compensation isn’t just fair and the right thing to do, but studies reveal that the global economy would substantially benefit and increase the GDP worldwide. Companies that want to attract and retain top talent and remain competitive need to move women and minorities into leadership roles and level compensation. It’s time to pay attention and learn what interviews and observations don’t tell us and transition baseless practices to data-backed strategies.

SumTotal provides visibility into the data organizations need to ensure that they’re offering fair compensation plans and equal advancement opportunities to all their employees. Being able to see the composition of your workforce can help you quickly identify areas where you may need to adjust your hiring, advancement or pay strategies. We’ve designed our solutions to help ensure fair and accurate compensation by basing merit increases and bonuses on an objective and transparent process that aligns with employee performance.

Equal opportunities and compensation for women and minorities benefit economies, companies, communities, families and individuals. The revolution for parity is too good to let pass. Your data has a lot to say. Are you tracking and analyzing the intelligence? Comment below and let me know how your company has gained by taking active measures to break the glass ceiling.

July 19, 2016

Navigating FLSA Compliance to Minimize Risk

If you work in HR or payroll, by now you have probably heard about the FLSA overtime rule changes, taking effect December 1, 2016. Over the next few months employers must review, analyze, prepare and reclassify employees to ensure they’re prepared—and avoid penalties. The potential costs and impact of non-compliance greatly exceed the costs of complying with the new regulations.

New FLSA Overtime Rules

Why do you need to understand this change?
President Obama and Department of Labor Secretary Perez recently announced the U.S. Department of Labor’s final decision on overtime rules which includes doubling the salary floor for exempt employees from $455 per week to $913 per week. This means that millions of additional workers—an estimated 4.2 million— may now qualify for FLSA overtime protection.

What’s the impact?
Under the new rules, you’ll need to track hours worked each week by employees who fall below a weekly salary level of $913. This represents a significant shift: many employees who previously did not track their hours will need to interact with your time and attendance systems. They’ll probably need training on the new systems and procedures as well. The changes are right around the corner and your operations and payroll personnel have limited time to prepare.

Will you be ready?
Take steps to ensure your organization complies with the new law come December 1, 2016. Workforce management solutions can play a critical role in helping your business minimize compliance risk during this type of change. Ideally, a system should facilitate legislative changes and allow you to implement policy and regulatory requirements simply and accurately—unified with robust time and absence management capabilities to support the changes in the workplace.

To help you learn more, SumTotal is hosting a complimentary webinar featuring legal experts from Baker Donelson to guide you through the upcoming changes. Reserve your space for this live session on August 3, Navigating FLSA Compliance to Minimize Risk.

June 14, 2016

The High Cost of Sleepiness

Inadequate sleep is a common and significant problem impacting the workforce. In the United States, one in three people get less than seven hours of sleep at night, with similar findings worldwide. I often hear colleagues say there are not enough hours in the day and express similar thoughts conveying lack of sleep. Trying to balance demanding workloads with personal time often leads to sacrificing sleep. People across the globe struggle to make it through the workday—especially after lunch!


What happens when you don’t ‘turn off’? Today’s workforce is more flexible than ever and working hours are no longer confined to the traditional ‘9-to-5’ workday. People now respond to emails as they wake up, during their coffee and lunch breaks and even at weekend soccer games. For many organizations, the workplace culture supports an unspoken expectation to be omnipresent—often driven by the example of leaders and managers. Visibility has become especially crucial with an increasingly remote workforce, where physically dispersed teams do not see colleagues hard at work and team members collaborate and react across different time zones. This ‘always on’ attitude is beginning to have significant effects. A recent study shows that consistent email monitoring, especially after hours, contributes to tiredness and reduced engagement the following day.

Suppose we allowed—even encouraged—employees to get that needed extra sleep AT work? Napping at work is not a new concept, nor is the discussion around its benefits. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a brief 20-30 minute nap to combat fatigue for “…improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.” They also published that adults’ strongest drive to sleep during the day occurs between 1:00-3:00 in the afternoon. Those post-lunch blues? They’re real. A mid-shift snooze may be just what you need to increase performance during the second half of the day.

Sleeping at work is no longer taboo. Google, Nike and Zappos are just a few companies that encourage powernaps with onsite sleep rooms. We can also learn from successful people throughout history who routinely took naps to increase energy and alertness including Einstein, Aristotle and Salvador Dali. Businesses are becoming more aware of the link between sleep deprivation, productivity, and poor health (resulting in higher insurance costs).

The cost of absenteeism and low on-the-job work performance quickly accumulates. Researchers from Harvard recently showed that the average worker with sleeplessness results in the loss of 11.3 days’ worth of work performance each year which comes to $2,280. That figure across the United States adds up to $63.2 billion. This is a compelling reason why more companies are nestling up to the idea of midday naps.

An alert mind is a productive mind while fatigued minds lose focus and therefore output. Sleep is not a luxury and corporations are taking note. Get ready to see an increase in nap rooms and more sleep-friendly environments across the globe. If your office is already on board, don’t skip that afternoon nap the next time you’re feeling tired.

I want to hear from you—leave a comment if your workplace has considered a ‘napping at work’ program.

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