Ways to resolve workplace absenteeism

Employees are the lifeblood of a small business.

Don't let the absentee bug get youBut they are also human and need time off to deal with sickness, manage family needs and fulfill civic commitments like jury duty. Personal time off is essential, but what happens when it becomes a problem?

Persistent absenteeism (habitual and intentional time off) is a chronic problem for U.S. employees costing an estimated $3,600 per hourly employee and $2,650 per salaried employee per year.

Not only does absenteeism affect your bottom line, it increases everyone’s workload leading to poor quality output and a sour atmosphere all around.

Absences occur for many reasons — burnout, stress, bullying, low morale, job hunting, etc. — but there’s also a generational element at play. Research suggests millennials are more likely to skip a day when they feel anxious, whereas baby boomers show up for work even when under the weather.

Whatever form absenteeism takes, it’s bad for business. So here are seven ways to resolve persistent absenteeism.

1. Identify the root cause.
There’s often a very good reason behind that call you just got from an employee excusing himself from work. Your gut instinct may guide you on this one. However, if you are noticing a pattern and find it hard to take your employee’s word for it, it’s time to take action. If an employee is just not bothering to show up or give advance notice, an intervention is essential. Start keeping a paper trail and records of absences.

2. Give employees an opportunity to explain themselves.
The first thing you should do is give employees an opportunity to explain themselves. When they return to work, have a one-on-one discussion about their absence and express your concern. This is not a disciplinary discussion, but more of a fact-finding mission. Your goal is to understand what’s happening and try to solve the issue. For example, if stress is a factor, you may need to discuss strategies that can help, such as shifting workloads, reducing responsibilities, etc. Often, employees are pleased they have been given an opportunity to air their problems or grievances. But be warned, you may learn things you don’t want to hear, particularly if it turns out that your management style is the problem. Try to remain objective during the discussion and use it as a platform to change things.

3. Put a performance improvement plan in place.
If the tactic above doesn’t work, you’ll need to put a performance review plan in place that sets specific goals for improvement, attendance being one of them. Put the plan in writing and clearly explain the timeframe of the plan and the consequences of not fulfilling its requirements. Then stick to it and don’t make exceptions for anyone, including your best managers and high achievers.

4. Develop and communicate a clear leave policy.
A written policy won’t stop absenteeism, but it will help deal with it more effectively. It will also demonstrate to all employees that you don’t tolerate absenteeism. Use this document to clearly explain paid and unpaid leave policies and the consequences of unexcused absences. If you have a company newsletter or intranet, use these to promote your policy, too. Note that the law doesn’t require you to provide common leave benefits, but it does require employers to provide leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Be sure you know what the law is. Read more about the FMLA.

5. Review your management style.
It may be hard to acknowledge, but one of the more common employee gripes is management. Could your style be encouraging employees to harbor grudges or lose morale? Step back and assess what you could do differently. Is your open door really open? Do employees feel valued? Plan on setting aside more time for your team, discuss their professional goals and share your vision for the continued growth of your business and their role in it.

6. Consider introducing incentive plans.
While there’s no guarantee you can control absenteeism, incentive plans and employee programs such as flex time, wellness programs and project completion perks are proven to increase morale and productivity. A survey by the business-to-business division of Staples found that employees who participate in such programs made them:

  • Feel more valued (85 percent)
  • Happier and more motivated (70 percent)
  • More loyal to their employer (66 percent)
  • More productive and result-driven (60 percent).

The Affordable Care Act also rewards employers who operate wellness programs. Here’s a factsheet on these rewards.

7. Terminate repeat offenders.
If you’ve exhausted all these interventions and still aren’t seeing results, termination may be your only option. Follow your HR policy to the letter on this one and refer to the law as it pertains to terminating employees, final pay checks and more.

Absenteeism happens, but don’t ignore it. Find out why it’s happening, be empathetic to your people’s needs and establish clear policies so everyone understands what’s acceptable and what’s not. Finally, be prepared to take the necessary action when required. It’s your bottom line that’s at stake, after all.

Originally published as “Absenteeism in the Workplace: 7 Ways to Resolve this Bottom Line Killer,” by Caron Beesley. Used with permission.