How to Reduce Absenteeism
Taking time away from work is good for the health and morale of employees.  When they can rest during an illness, recuperate after an injury, or tend to affairs in their personal lives, they’re better able to focus at work and engage in the tasks at hand.  Excessive absences, however, can be caused by many things, including personal problems, lack of clear expectations, even a dysfunctional work environment.  It can be costly for employers and frustrating for other employees who have to pick up the slack.

Repeated unscheduled absences may be a sign of absenteeism.  While illnesses, injuries or family emergencies that keep employees from coming to work typically aren’t preventable, there are definite steps you can take to reduce absenteeism.

Make sure you have a clear, written attendance policy
Your attendance policy should state your expectations for attendance and the procedures for time-off requests.  Include the definition of tardiness and what constitutes excessive tardiness and absenteeism—as well as the possible consequences for violating your attendance policies.  Having and following a clearly written attendance policy that is communicated during the onboarding process makes it easier to hold people accountable to it.

For example, your attendance policy might state that tardiness is defined as arriving to work 15 minutes late; excessive absenteeism might be defined as having more than 5 unplanned absences in a 3 month period.  Defining these measures gives clear guidelines to all employees.  Adherence to these policies can be included as criteria in your performance appraisal process as well.

Follow applicable leave laws
Make sure you give employees the option to take all the time off to which they’re legally entitled.  One tactic is to provide adequate paid time off (PTO) so employees have a “bank” of hours that they can withdraw from for vacation, sick and personal time.  Allowing for more “expected” absences may help reduce the number of unexpected ones.  Just make sure you offer this time off in a non-discriminatory manner, consistent with your policy.

If your company has at least 50 employees and is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may be required to provide job-protected leave to an employee who needs a leave of absence to seek care for themselves or a family member.  Examples of protected leave under FMLA include the birth or adoption of a child; the care of a spouse, child or parent; or a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform their job.

A number of states and municipalities have sick leave laws that may guarantee employees a certain number of sick days per year.  For example, Maryland expanded its sick leave law earlier this year, spelling out mandatory sick leave accrual and carryover requirements.  Employers with 15 or more employees must provide paid sick leave of up to 40 hours per year, while those with fewer than 15 employees are required to provide unpaid sick leave.

Use discipline for policy violations and reward good attendance
If an employee has been missing work without a legitimate reason and is in violation of your policy, you should discipline them.  Depending on the severity of the absenteeism, you might start with an oral or written warning and then increase the consequences from there.  Recurring absenteeism could be grounds for termination if you’ve given the employee fair warning and they haven’t improved.

If you incorporate the tracking of tardiness and excessive absences in your performance review process, employees will see the relationship between attendance, merit increases and its impact on their overall performance appraisal.

Create a workplace where people want to be.
If you have done the above and absenteeism is still higher than you find acceptable, assess the management styles and employee interactions in your workplace.

  • Are people generally happy? Do they get along?
  • Are there any issues of concern, such as bullying?
  • Do employees have opportunities to get to know one another and form collaborative and supportive relationships?
  • Do they feel supported and valued by management?

Look at providing management training to ensure employees are treated fairly and with respect.  You can stop many attendance problems before they start by building a workplace where people are inspired to work hard, do well, and celebrate success.

For more information about attendance and leave policies, please reach out to the HR Pros who contributed to this post.