How to handle employee absenteeism
Involve your workers
Beyond having a policy regarding absences, an owner needs to instill
in his workers the business importance of minimizing absences. Doing
so can help employees understand why they should only take time
off for legitimate reasons and how doing otherwise can hurt the
"It's important for businesses to emphasize to
employees how valuable they are and the negative impact that an
unexpected absence can have on the business operations," Grensing-Pophal
It's also necessary to demonstrate to workers the
cost of absenteeism.
"Employees need to understand what the impact
of absenteeism is," says John Hayes, HR manager for Systems
Integration Group Inc., a document management firm based in Lanham,
Md. "How much it costs and how it impacts the bottom line.
Also how it affects the employee's department and other departments
when people have to take over for you when you're out sick."
Grensing-Pophal recommends switching from a sick-leave
policy to a paid-time-off system. According to the CCH Survey, reasons
other than illness account for two-thirds of unscheduled absences,
so paid time off gives employees what they need. Plus, the advance
notice required of paid time off is a boon to employers.
"Converting to paid time off helps companies
better plan for absences," Grensing-Pophal says.
Converting to occurrences rather than days for sick
leave can also help make employees more manageable. For one thing,
it's a fairer way to calculate sick days, says HR Consultant Kindler.
If an employee comes down with strep throat and has
to be out five days, that worker won't be treated the same as someone
who has called in sick on five separate occasions. "Maybe they
are both violating your company's absenteeism policy, but they are
not doing it to the same degree if one person is sick once and the
other is just calling in sick on five separate occasions in a month,"
Putting management in charge of curbing absenteeism
can also help. When Systems Integration Group gave out bonuses to
managers for curbing absenteeism, employee absences dropped by 50
percent, according to John Hayes, the company's HR manager. The
bonus made curbing absenteeism part of the management style, Hayes
Do you have a problem?
If your company is small, you probably have no trouble spotting
absentee problems. You'll see the person continually calling in
sick or routinely turning up late. At larger companies, managers
may report the situation to you or employees that work alongside
the offender may feel the need to brief you on the situation.
Regardless of how you find out about an absenteeism
problem, speed is of the essence when dealing with it. Companies
often put off talking to a chronically absent employee. By the time
they do discuss it, the behavior is so ingrained that it's often
too late for the worker to reform.
Most companies start by meeting with the worker, who
is presented with the evidence: the absentee policy and a documentation
of absences. Then the manager asks if anything can be done to improve
According to the 2002 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey,
work-life programs can go a long way to alleviating absenteeism
problems. The top five in the survey were:
- Employee Assistance Plans, offered by 68 percent
of companies surveyed.
- Wellness Programs, offered at 54 percent of respondent
- Alternative Work Arrangements, available at 53
percent of the firms.
- Leave for School Functions, offered by 52 percent
- Compressed work week, offered by 49 percent of
In these slow economic times, flex time and other
alternative work arrangements can be a boon to both employer and
employee, says Oak Consulting's Kindler.
"During the downtimes it can be beneficial to
let an employee leave early to go see their kindergartner in a play,"
the consultant says. "It doesn't hurt the company and it builds
Following these steps won't eliminate employee absences.
People will always get sick or need a day off for the delivery of
a new washing machine. But establishing absenteeism rules, making
sure your staff understands them and then enforcing them can go
a long way toward alleviating your company's pain when an employee
can't make it to work.
Jenny C. McCune is a contributing
editor based in Montana.