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Contending with Employee Absenteeism: Planning, Policy, and Communications

Employee absenteeism is a serious and costly concern for businesses, and must be addressed by the business before it gets out of hand. Here are some actions you can take to anticipate and plan for unexpected employee absences.

Employee absenteeism is a serious and costly concern for businesses. By some estimates, US employers lose billions of dollars every year due to decreased productivity, a lapse in the quality of goods and services produced, and the need for added management time. Worse, employees who must take up the slack for absentee employees complain about being overworked and frustrated by adverse work conditions.

It's important to recognize, of course, that employees are human beings. They get sick from time to time, frequently need to attend to personal and family issues and, occasionally, fail to take their responsibilities seriously. Whatever the cause, businesses must address the issue of employee absenteeism before it gets out of hand.

Here are some actions you can take to anticipate and plan for unexpected employee absences:

Be clear about attendance expectations 

In those companies that haven't established clear-cut attendance policies, employees don't always understand the repercussions of being late or missing a day of work. It's imperative that employers outline clear expectations (before an employee's first day on the job) about what will be tolerated and what is unacceptable in this area.

Establish, communicate, and enforce a formal attendance policy

Employers will find this challenge easier to handle by instituting a formal attendance policy as part of their overall HR guidelines for employees. Such a policy should address:

  • Disciplinary practices for chronic absenteeism
  • How and whom to notify in advance of not showing up for work
  • Documentation required to give to employer (i.e., a note from their doctor)

At the same time, don't expect employees to remember every facet of the attendance policy. Take time to communicate frequently, and in detail, the need to adhere to this policy for the good of the business and one's fellow employees, and to make sure people understand the consequences of poor behavior. Also, an attendance policy must be enforced fairly across the board. Supervisors and managers in different departments or locations should be trained and educated on employee-leave policies and regulations so they don't make exceptions in individual cases that can lead to charges of favoritism or discrimination.

Communicate your absenteeism policy regularly, in detail

Use technology to track and oversee attendance

Manually tracking employee time on paper time sheets is one way to track the level of employee attendance, but in today's sophisticated workplace, most employers find the use of an integrated time and attendance solution to be far more effective. This technology enables you to closely monitor attendance, requests for time off, and schedule adjustments.

Employee absenteeism is an issue every employer must grapple with at some point, but by communicating expectations and providing options to employees, you can reduce the impact of unplanned absences and increase morale. This in turn can lead to improved attendance and greater productivity on the job.

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