Many managers likely have at least one story to share about an inappropriate — or even downright outlandish — expense report request submitted by an employee. In fact, a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey of chief financial officers suggests such requests are common.
You would think in the digital age, where company policies are more shareable and accessible than ever before, employees would know what types of expense report requests are acceptable — and not. However, only 11% of CFOs interviewed said they have seen a decline in improper requests over the past three years.
Flat-screen TVs, rental cars and homes, and vacations are just some of the over-the-top requests cited by the CFOs who took part in our survey. But these “expenses” seem a bit uninspired when you take into account some of the other unusual items employees have expected their companies to pay for, including taxidermy services, flowers for a spouse, a side of beef, and a welder. (Really!)
Amusing as the above examples may be, the reality is that inappropriate expenses are costly to companies’ bottom lines — not to mention the reputations of the professionals who submit them. So, what can managers do to reduce the number of off-base requests that come across their desks? Here are a few recommendations:
1. Clearly communicate expense report policies — and make sure they are easy to find
Employees should already be aware of the company’s policies about reimbursable expenses, given that this information likely has been communicated and is available for quick reference. However, you should still take time to confirm that your policies are easy for all staff members to access — and are not confusing.
Consider providing a quick refresher on the policy in the next employee newsletter, on the company’s intranet, or via a team email. Include a link to the guidelines with a gentle reminder that if any employee is ever unsure whether to expense something, he or she should review the policy — or double check with a manager or human resources representative — before submitting a report.
2. Follow up on inappropriate requests
Even if you do everything outlined in recommendation #1, it’s likely you’ll still encounter improper requests for reimbursement from time to time. Often, it will be the result of an employee having an innocent lapse in judgment. In rarer cases, a staff member might be pushing boundaries, hoping that the accounting and finance department will simply rubberstamp approval of their report.
Whatever the reason for the oddball request, it’s important to follow up and figure out why it happened. Simply explaining to an employee why a certain expense can’t be reimbursed can help that person to avoid making a similar mistake in the future. This process can also provide insight as to whether an employee was consciously trying to take advantage of the company.
3. Monitor expense reports for bigger or repeated problems
One misstep with an expense report does not necessarily signal a pattern. However, it’s wise to keep a close eye on future submissions from workers who strayed from the firm’s guidelines. If appropriate, alert the employee’s manager that there was a significant problem with an expense report request, and ask that he or she review the next report before submission to ensure everything is in line with policy.
Of course, you — and your accounting and finance team — can’t monitor every fine detail, especially if you work for a large organization. But with the right software and tools in place for automatically raising expense report red flags, you don’t have to. Technology can be a strong ally in ensuring the business reimburses employees only for allowable expenses — and can rein in expense report madness.
Taking the initiative to reduce improper expense report requests will help build a solid reputation for you and your finance or accounting team. Become well-versed in skills that are essential to your success with AMA's seminars and resources.