Six Ways to Deal With Employee Absenteeism

At first glance – or late clock-in – employee absenteeism and tardiness may not seem that big of a deal; after all, emergencies happen. But what if absenteeism stops becoming every now and then, and instead becomes a pattern of behavior?

Employee absenteeism can be difficult to address once it’s become a habit, or accepted behavior by your team – after all, you can’t force employees to show up to work on time. Instead of watching the costs of unexpected absences add up, try this six step process to reduce employee absenteeism.

Create an Employee Attendance Policy 

The first step in learning how to handle employee absenteeism is to create an official employee attendance policy. Workplace attendance should be straightforward—show up on time, as scheduled but, in reality, figuring out how to track, document and fix employee absenteeism can get complicated. What if an employee comes in 45 minutes late, but still shows up? What if they have a sick child or another emergency? What if they don’t show up for work at all? Then what?

It doesn’t matter if your business doesn’t have an official HR department, or if you have five or fifty employees; an official attendance policy makes expectations for work behavior and disciplinary action clear to all team members. So, take some time now to put together a policy that’s fair to both you and your employees. Consider different attendance issues such as scheduled absences, unscheduled absences and tardiness, then decide any necessary disciplinary actions and next steps for each. It doesn’t need to be complicated.

Instead, focus on creating a policy that rules out subjectivity and defines what each type of absence means in clear, plain language.

Once you’re finished, don’t just stick your brand-new attendance policy in a binder on the shelf, or hide it in the fine print of an employee handbook. Make sure every employee, including new hires, has the chance to see it and is made aware of the changes. Emphasize the importance of attendance as a shared responsibility and that everyone is expected to hold up their end of the bargain. Have your employees sign a waiver confirming that they’ve read the policy and that they consent to work under the new attendance requirements; it’s a good idea for your records to confirm it in writing should any disciplinary issues arise later.

Enforce Your Attendance Policy Consistently

A habit doesn’t develop overnight. A pattern of employee absenteeism is something that develops over time and may already be seen as accepted behavior by the time the issue lands on your desk. In order to learn how to handle employee absenteeism, you have to enforce your attendance policy consistently, each and every time.

This doesn’t mean you can’t show employees empathy, or can’t have any ‘wiggle room’ for emergencies. Instead, proactively build these situations into your policy. Have some escalation for unscheduled absences. One may be acceptable, but two may trigger a formal review.

But remember, an unscheduled absence is quite different than a ‘no-show’. Texting that they’ll be late, swapping with a co-worker, or calling in sick at least gives you notice that an employee won’t make it into work as scheduled and may give you time to find a replacement or prepare for an understaffed shift. A no-show can leave you wondering where they are, what has happened, and leave your entire team hanging. Have a different plan of action for both types of attendance scenarios and apply it to all employees – including supervisors and management.

Keep Track of Employee Absences 

When it comes to dealing with employee attendance it’s important to keep complete records. How to track employee absenteeism depends on what works best for you, and any shift leads or supervisors who will be enforcing the attendance policy. One easy way to track your employees’ time is with a time clock app, which provides useful clock in/clock out notifications right away.

Every time an absence arises, make a note of it, either in your employee timekeeping system or in an employee performance tool – or, consider putting together a stand-alone spreadsheet just for tracking attendance issues. Without a strategy in place to document employee absenteeism, it may be hard to keep track of employee attendance and flag when one-off unscheduled absences start to become a pattern.

If your team is small enough, limiting access to yourself may be enough to track employee behavior but, if you’re not able to be everywhere at once, make sure other supervisors also have a way of documenting absences and late arrivals – even if it’s just a separate column or a notation on that week’s shift schedule.

Address Unscheduled Absences and No-Shows Immediately

Absences happen, but when an employee calls in sick, or fails to show up for a shift, directly address the situation; don’t let too much time (or even another absence) pass in between. Once they return to work, sit down and have a conversation about what happened, why it happened, and what’s expected of them moving forward. Make sure they know if their absence has triggered any type of disciplinary action or a performance plan.

Depending on how long the absence has been, you may even want to hold a formal return-to-work interview. Past research has shown that return-to-work interviews positively impact absence rates and may even work better for small employers. By addressing absences first thing when they return, employees will recognize that their behavior is taken seriously and isn’t sliding by unnoticed.

Don’t Just Treat the Symptoms, Discover the Cause

If you’re noticing a pattern in an employee’s attendance, call it out. Ask them directly why their absences tend to fall on certain days, and use your documentation as evidence. Point out specific times and dates and see how they respond.

You may find that there are things outside of work impacting your employee’s attendance and leading to excessive absences. There may have been a shift in their day-care schedule which makes it hard to find a babysitter on certain days of the week. They may have started night classes and be struggling to make it in on time in the mornings. In the end, it may not be the employee at all, but their schedule.

If your employees have valid reasoning for excessive absences, and their performance is strong otherwise, find a way to correct things together. Create a performance improvement plan, update employee availability forms, and adjust schedules where you can as needed. Set goals for them over the next 30 days – including no more absences or tardiness.

However, if they’re just missing work to kick off their weekend early, it’s time for some hard decisions.

The key here is not to let things go too far. Hopefully, your new employee attendance policy will flag and correct attendance issues at their start. Keeping an open line of communication with your employees can also help them feel comfortable discussing any issues with their work schedules that could lead to absences.

Don’t Forget to Reward Good Behavior 

Think back to which of your employees missed work, came in late, or called in sick over the last month. Now, think of the ones who didn’t. In the workplace, absence is often felt more strongly than presence, and for good reason. If someone doesn’t show up to do their job, it puts a strain on the entire team, but what about the employees who show up on time every day and keep your business running smoothly in the background?

Let’s take a look at the statistics:

  • Employees who don’t feel recognized at work are twice as likely to say they intend to quit in the next year, while employees who are recognized are more loyal and engaged.
  • In today’s growing millennial workforce, up to 76% of millennials say they would leave a job if they didn’t feel appreciated.

Recognizing employees for good attendance and performance can be one of the lowest cost, yet highest impact, strategies for your business; while you may want to focus on weeding out the employees with poor performance, you don’t want to lose the great employees you have in the process. Find a way to call out and reward good attendance on a regular basis. Incentivize employees to make the list next month by offering rewards they won’t want to miss, like an extra day off, or a chance to choose their own schedule for a week.

There’s no overnight solution when it comes to how to fix employee absenteeism; you’re likely still going to have to field calls about surprise ’food poisoning’ or the always-convenient Friday ‘flu. But by implementing a fair employee attendance policy, documenting and tracking attendance patterns, addressing absences when they occur, having an action plan for excessive absenteeism and remembering to call out good attendance as often as the bad, unscheduled absences will start to become the exception, not the rule.

You may not be able to solve every attendance scenario but you’ll be able to set fresh expectations for your team and have a strategy in place for employee absenteeism moving forward.

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