The Hidden Frustrations Behind Expense Reports

No one looks forward to preparing an expense report, an often complex and time-consuming but necessary workplace chore. Here are some insights to better understand how people approach the task and how to better manage it.

When it comes to filing expense reports for your association business travel, are you a sidestapper or a martyr?

According to Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger, there are five types of expense report filers. “Sidesteppers,” for example, procrastinate on doing their reports out of confusion or to avoid confrontation over spending. “Martyrs” may not seek reimbursement at all as a way to support the organization’s mission. Other types include “payback artists,” “rookies,” and “grifters.”

“How people handle expense reports reveals a lot about their attitudes toward their employer and their emotional baggage about money,” writes Shellenbarger, who consulted with psychologists for her piece. The differences reflect the ways that different types of employees handle many day-to-day tasks, beyond expense reporting, they note.

Guarding against expense report errors or outright fraud is a perennial headache for organizations. In a recent survey by Robert Half Management Resources, 56 percent of chief financial officers said they saw an increase in questionable items on expense reports, such as international leisure trips, video games, Super Bowl tickets, and home appliances.

“Some of the more absurd expense report submissions may seem laughable, but they can be an expensive problem for businesses,” Tim Hird, an executive vice president at Robert Half, said in a statement.  “Companies must have effective review systems, policies, and processes in place, or they risk losses in profits and employee productivity.”

But what about employees who are more timid with their expense reporting, whether because they don’t understand the rules, aren’t interested in filing reports, or have a misplaced sense of altruism? Part of the problem may be the effort involved: Manual expense reports take 20 minutes on average to do, according to stats from the Global Business Travel Association. Startups are working on ways to speed up the process through technologies such as artificial intelligence, but many organizations are struggling with how to best manage it.

Speaking to Multibriefs, expense reduction consultant and CPA Bryan Eaves recommended getting proactive with approvals.

“Preapproval is a best practice to better manage expense report costs,” Eaves told the outlet. “By requiring trips, events, and any other category of employee expenses to be preapproved, there will likely be greater compliance to company policy.”

(Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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