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6 Steps to Address Employee Absences

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What is employee absenteeism?

Employee absenteeism refers to frequent absences from work without a valid reason. Absenteeism does not include occasional no-shows, no-shows at work, or cases that cannot be controlled such as illness or car problems.

According to the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.8 million workers had sickness absences in January 2022, up 110% from the previous year's 3.7 million. In 2022, absenteeism cost U.S. businesses $225.8 billion, which equates to about $1,685 per employee.

How to deal with absenteeism at work

It can be difficult to address absenteeism when it has become a habit or accepted by your team. After all, you can't force your employees to show up for work on time. But instead of watching the costs of unexpected absences add up, consider taking these six steps to reduce workplace absenteeism:

1.Create an employee attendance policy

The first step to learning how to deal with absenteeism? Create an official attendance policy for employees. Attendance at work should be easy - show up on time and as scheduled. However, in practice, figuring out how to record, document, and resolve employee absences can get complicated, and there are many IFTTW scenarios (if that, then what). What if an employee is 45 minutes late but still shows up? What if he has a sick child or another emergency? What if he doesn't show up for work at all? What then?

It doesn't matter if your company doesn't have a formal human resources department or if you employ five or fifty people. An official attendance policy makes the expectations regarding work behavior and disciplinary action clear to all team members. So take some time to create a policy that is fair for both you and your employees. Consider various attendance issues such as scheduled absences, unscheduled absences, and tardiness, and then determine the necessary disciplinary action and next steps for each issue. This doesn't have to be complicated. Instead, focus on creating a policy that eliminates subjectivity and defines in clear, unambiguous language what each type of absence means.
Once you're done, don't just tuck your brand new attendance policy into a folder on a shelf or hide it in the fine print of an employee handbook. Make sure every employee, including new hires, has the opportunity to view it and is aware of the changes. Emphasize the importance of attendance as a shared responsibility and that everyone must hold up their end of the bargain. Have your employees sign a waiver acknowledging that they have read the policy and agree to work under the new attendance requirements. For your records, it's a good idea to confirm this in writing in case any disciplinary issues arise later. Speaking of disciplinary issues...

2.Consistently enforce your attendance policy

A habit doesn't form overnight. Employee absenteeism evolves over time and can already be considered accepted behavior by the time the issue lands on your desk. To learn how to deal with absenteeism in the workplace, you need to consistently enforce your attendance policies, every time.

But that doesn't mean you can't show your employees compassion or leave room for emergencies. Instead, proactively build such situations into your policies. Provide some escalation for unplanned absences. One absence may be acceptable, but two absences may result in a formal review. But remember: an unplanned absence is very different than a “no show.”

Texting to say they'll be late, swapping with a co-worker, or calling in sick will at least notify you that an employee won't be showing up to work as scheduled, giving you time to find a replacement or get ready to prepare an understaffed shift. A no-show can leave you wondering where the person is, what happened, and leaving your entire team out in the cold. Create an action plan for both cases and apply it to all employees - including supervisors and managers.

3.Keep track of your employees' absences

When it comes to employee attendance, it is important to keep complete records. How you track employee absences depends on what works best for you and the shift managers or supervisors tasked with enforcing attendance policies. An easy way to track your employees' time is with a time tracking app that provides instant, useful notifications about clocking in and out.

Every time an absence occurs, record it either in your employee time tracking system or in an employee performance tool. Or consider setting up a standalone spreadsheet just for tracking attendance issues and timesheets. Without a strategy for documenting employee absences in the workplace, it can be difficult to track employee attendance and recognize when one-off, unplanned absences develop into a pattern.

If your team is small enough, restricting access to yourself may be enough to track employee behavior. However, if you can't be everywhere at once, you should make sure that other supervisors also have the opportunity to document absences and tardies - even if just in a separate column or by making a note in that week's shift schedule.

Why document everything? In most states, discretionary employment is legalized, Employees can be fired without the employer having to prove “just cause” for the termination. However, that doesn't mean you can write a blank check to fire whomever you want - poor firing practices can still put you at risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit, and your first line of defense is a well-documented paper trail.

Absences may also be covered by the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provide legal protections or accommodations to employees for various types of absence "events." In some states, continued payment of wages in the event of illness is also required. Keep track of different absences, including planned and unplanned absences, to ensure you as an employer comply with your legal obligations. And if you need to fire an employee for absence-related reasons, you will have evidence to support your decision.

4. Deal with unforeseen absences and no-shows immediately

Absences happen. However, if an employee calls in sick or doesn't show up for shift, address the situation directly. Don't let too much time (or even another absence) pass in between. Once the employee returns to work, sit down with them and discuss what happened, why it happened, and what is expected of them moving forward. Make sure the employee knows whether their absence has resulted in disciplinary action or a performance plan.

Depending on how long the absence lasted, you may even want to have a formal discussion about returning to work. Previous research has shown that return interviews have a positive impact on absenteeism rates and may even work better for small employers. By addressing absences as soon as they return, employees realize that their behavior is being taken seriously and will not go unnoticed.

5.Don't just treat the symptoms, identify the cause

As already mentioned, there are valid legal reasons for employees to be absent for a long period of time, e.g. Compliance with FMLA or ADA. For other scenarios, now is the time to decide where you want to draw the line. How many times can an employee call on Fridays and Mondays before taking formal action? Is he only allowed to not show up on time every other Tuesday? Is a no-show too much?

If you notice a pattern in an employee's presence, speak up. Ask them directly why their absence falls on certain days and use your documentation as evidence. Point out specific times and dates and see how employees react to them.

You may find that there are other reasons outside of work that are affecting your employee's attendance and leading to excessive absenteeism. Perhaps daycare hours have changed, making it difficult to find a babysitter on certain days of the week. Maybe they started taking evening classes and are having trouble showing up on time in the morning. Ultimately, it may not be the employee's fault at all, but rather their schedule.

If your employees have valid reasons for excessive absences and their performance is otherwise good, you should work together to find a way to make things right. Create a performance improvement plan, update employee availability forms, and adjust schedules as needed. Set goals for the next 30 days, including no more absences or tardiness. But if the only reason they're not coming to work is to start their weekend early, it's time to make some tough decisions.

The key is not to let things go too far. Hopefully, your new attendance policy will identify and correct employee attendance issues at the outset. Open communication with your employees can also help them feel comfortable raising issues with their work schedules that could lead to absences.

6.Don't forget to reward good behavior

Remember which of your employees were absent, late, or called in sick in the last month. Now think of those who were not missing. Was it more difficult? Lighter? Who stood out more?

In the workplace, absence is often felt more strongly than presence, and for good reason. When 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 work in the background to keep your business running smoothly?

Let's take a look at the statistics:

  • Employees who feel unrecognized at work are twice as likely to say they want to quit in the next year, while employees who are recognized are more loyal and committed.
  • In the growing millennial demographic, up to 76% of millennials say they would quit their job if they didn't feel valued.
  • Only one in three U.S. workers “strongly” agree that they received recognition or praise for a job well done in the past seven days.

Recognizing employees for good attendance and performance can be one of the most cost-effective but effective strategies for your company. While you should focus on weeding out the poorly performing employees, you don't want to lose the great employees you have in the process. Find a way to regularly mention and reward good attendance. Give your employees an incentive to join the list next month by offering them rewards they won't want to miss, such as: an additional day off or the opportunity to determine their own schedule for a week.

Track employee absences with IceHrm

There is no overnight solution when it comes to addressing employee absenteeism. You'll probably still get calls about a surprise "food poisoning" or the recurring Friday flu. But if you establish a fair attendance policy for your employees, document and track attendance patterns, create an action plan, and remember to mention good attendance as often as bad, unplanned absences will gradually become the exception rather than the rule.

When you use IceHrm to create your employee schedule, you give your team the ability to request time off and swap shifts to get to the root of attendance issues. You can also use IceHrm to create attendance reports and track trends so you can address any issues before they become major challenges.

You may not be able to solve every attendance scenario, but you will be able to set new expectations for your team and have a strategy for future absences.

FAQ: Absenteeism in the workplace

Q: What is workplace absenteeism?

A: Workplace absenteeism is the frequent absence of an employee without a valid reason. Rare cases of absence due to uncontrollable situations such as illness or car problems are not included.

Q: What costs can companies incur due to absenteeism?

A: Absenteeism can be costly for companies. In 2020, for example, absenteeism reportedly cost U.S. companies about $3,600 per employee per hour.

Q: How can companies deal with absenteeism in the workplace?

A: Companies can address absenteeism by adopting a fair attendance policy, enforcing it consistently, maintaining complete records of absences, immediately addressing unplanned absences and no-shows, seeking to understand the causes of absences, and rewarding good attendance.

Q: What role does an attendance policy play in managing employee absences?

A: An attendance policy plays a critical role in making clear the expectations for work conduct and disciplinary action to all team members. The policy should clearly define the different types of absences and their corresponding consequences.

Q: How important is it to document absences at work?

A: Documenting absences is critical because it allows companies to track attendance patterns and determine when occasional unplanned absences become a pattern. The documentation also serves as a decision-making aid in the event of absence-related disciplinary measures or terminations.

Q: How can a company reward good behavior to control employee absenteeism?

A: This can be achieved by regularly recognizing employees who consistently show up on time and offering incentives such as: an additional day off or the opportunity to determine their own schedule for a week.

Q: How can understanding the cause of absenteeism help with management?

A: Understanding the cause of absenteeism helps companies address the problem more effectively. If the causes are related to personal or scheduling issues, companies can work with employees to adjust schedules or create performance improvement plans. This approach helps get to the root of the problem and not just address the symptoms.

Addressing absenteeism requires clear policies and proactive measures. IceHrm offers tools to manage attendance effectively and foster a positive work culture.

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