By Ann Gregson

Employee absenteeism refers to a consistent lack of attendance with no reasonable cause. This excludes reasons that are out of the employee’s control, such as genuine short-term or long-term illnesses or an off-site accident.

Absenteeism is a huge problem for businesses across the United States. IBI, a representative of several large employers and business coalitions reports that illness-related absenteeism costs the US economy $530 billion per year.

If it is not dealt with appropriately, employee absenteeism can affect the overall morale of your workforce. It leaves your dedicated staff in a position where they constantly have to compensate for their colleagues’ regular lack of availability.

Sick days off are not the sole contributor to absenteeism either. Lateness, extended lunch breaks and early finishes also add to the problem. Only by implementing the correct procedures can your organization begin to combat these absence-related issues.

What causes employee absenteeism?

To reduce employee absenteeism, you must first understand where it stems from. Some of the most common causes are provided below:

  • Low workplace morale: An employee may feel underappreciated at work. This can lead them to feel that their absence will go unnoticed or that it will make no significant impact.
  • Mental health issues: You need to tread carefully with mental health. As an employer, it’s important to show empathy and provide a certain level of support for your employees in the workplace. Not doing so could negatively affect their wellbeing even further, which can be detrimental to performance.
  • Bullying and harassment: Nobody wants to be part of a toxic work culture. If an employee is subject to any form of harassment or bullying at work, they’re going to avoid it as much as possible.
  • Stress: Employees may have external stresses outside the workplace which can lead to low morale. Equally, they may find aspects of their job overly stressful as well, for example extremely heavy workloads, unreasonable deadlines, and poor work-life balance.
  • Lack of flexibility: It may be the case that your work schedule lacks the flexibility that’ll allow your employees to tend to other important daily responsibilities. This can often result in an accumulation of unauthorized absences.

Thankfully, there are measures you can take to minimize employee absenteeism regardless of the cause.

1. Set an attendance policy

An attendance policy outlines the way in which you will handle employee absences. The document will detail how your employees should report absences, what the procedures around absences are, and how they are recorded. Whilst this should be common sense to most employees, having a clear policy helps you enforce the rules and avoid the excess protestation.

Your attendance policy should also state the follow-up procedures in cases of unauthorized absences. It will ensure that your employees know the consequences of committing indiscretions. If, for example, an employee wishes to dispute disciplinary action, you can refer to your attendance policy to justify your actions.

An attendance policy works for businesses of all sizes. Just ensure that it fits your unique requirements and is fair on both the company and its employees. Unrealistic expectations will spark discontent among your workers, which can lead to higher staff turnover. Instead, the policy should be written in a clear, concise manner, with no grey areas or contradicting information.

Ensure every employee receives a copy – whether it is electronically, physically, or both. They must be able to access it at all times in order to keep its contents front of mind. Furthermore, get each employee to sign a waiver confirming they have received the attendance policy and understood the directives contained within it. This will give you the best chance of employee conformity across the board.

2. Accurately track attendance

To monitor employee absenteeism, you need to accurately track attendance. There are a few options available including card swipe systems, biometric time clocks, and time and attendance applications. Your choice will depend on your unique business requirements. Time and attendance applications, for example, minimize stolen time or buddy punching and are therefore more accurate than card swipe systems.

Use the information provided by your chosen system to gather information about employee attendance in a central location. Through this data, you can start to identify trends in behavior. If clear patterns of absenteeism develop, such as an employee consistently taking Mondays off work or always arriving late on Tuesdays, you can take the appropriate action as outlined in your attendance policy.

If you don’t closely monitor your employees and they are regularly absent from work, it will start to affect your other staff members. They will start to think, “if that person is always absent and there are no consequences, why can’t I be?” Before you know it, it could snowball into a bad culture of workers failing to show up for work.

3. Support your employees

This is vital for maintaining good relations with your workforce. If possible, organize routine one-to-one meetings with employees to discuss their wellbeing. These discussions help you identify some of their most pressing issues in the workplace. By making an effort to ease some of their concerns, morale and attendance will improve, which ultimately leads to greater productivity for the company.

Issues outside of the workplace should be treated on a case-by-case basis, and depending on their severity, you can make special arrangements as required. For example, if one of your staff members is struggling to juggle childcare and work on certain days, you can try offering them flexible shifts to assist.

Your support should also extend to your most committed employees. It’s easy to forget the dedication shown by most of your workforce when you’re focused on a problematic minority. Reward your employees with incentives based on their performance. It’s a great way to foster commitment and increase output – something that naturally requires improved availability.

In summary

While you’ll never be able to fully eradicate employee absenteeism there are steps you can take to minimize the problem.

Begin by creating an attendance policy that your employees can abide by and refer to whenever they need it. From there, closely monitor them. The intention here shouldn’t be to micromanage your staff but to establish whether there are clear patterns of negative behavior – in this case, absenteeism. Lastly, support your employees. Work with them to resolve issues and remember to reward those who show up every day and do a great job.

By following these 3 steps, you can decrease the rate of employee absenteeism in your workplace.

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