The 5 meanings behind excessive employee absences
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The 5 meanings behind excessive employee absences

Cathy has been late six days this month. And Oscar has called off three times. Robert was out for two days at the end of last week, and now he’s just called in sick again. What’s going on here?

Chronic employee absenteeism can cost your business money, affect performance and impact the morale of the rest of your staff. It could be that these absences are unrelated. Or that the flu is going around, and your employees are passing it along. Or there could be a deeper meaning behind all of this employee absenteeism. Once you have a good absence tracking system in place, you may begin to discover patterns in your employee attendance problems.

Deciphering the messages


Here are the top five things chronic employee absence or late arrivals could mean, and what you should do about it.
  1. Your attendance policy is not well established, or is not being followed well.


    If employees feel that arrival and departure times are flexible, they are not likely to show up at the same time every day. And if the policy for employee attendance, reporting sick days, or requesting leave is unclear or often ignored, employees may have a hard time knowing what you expect of them.

    The solution: Decide what you really want from your employee attendance policy. Is a set arrival time important to your business success? Is working from home or taking time off negatively affecting performance? If so, take a look at your policy and make sure it’s clear and legal. Once you’ve cleared up any issues, make sure all employees and new hires understand the policy, and that it’s consistently enforced.

  2. Your attendance policy is not reasonable for the type of job, job location or type of employees you have.


    If your employees are mostly high school students relying on public transportation to get to work, and you have a start time within minutes of the school day ending, odds are there will be lots of late arrivals. If the work demands large blocks of time “in the field”, strict in office arrival times may not mesh well with the bulk of the work.

    The solution: Start by looking closely at the goals of the job, the employees you have and your company location. Do you need to adjust employee attendance policies to better reflect the realities of your business or staff? There may be a better way to track attendance than by arrival in an office, or there may be a better start time.

  3. Your employees may be suffering from low morale, or there could be other issues in the workplace or the jobs themselves.


  4. Missing work, even when it means not getting paid, or risking disciplinary action, may be preferable due to workplace environment issues.

    The solution: Take a good look at the mood in the office or shop. Are employees happy to be at work? Is there a sense of teamwork? Is excellent work rewarded ? If there are issues with morale, rewards or workplace mood, you can begin to address your employee attendance problems by addressing your morale and reward issues. When employees feel appreciated and recognized attendance issues usually resolve quickly.

  5. If the employee attendance issues are limited to one or a few employees, the problem may be personal.


  6. The solution:
    Start by looking for patterns in the absences or late arrivals. If one person is always late, or someone always calls in sick on Monday, the issue might be with the employee and not your attendance policies. If you notice a pattern, schedule some time to talk with the employee privately. The solution may be as simple as changing a start time to accommodate a class schedule. Or it could mean helping an employee find a treatment program for alcohol to deal with weekend binges and Monday a.m. hangovers.

  7. Your employee attendance policy may be unreasonable.


  8. If your policy allows for few or no sick days or personal leave days, your policy itself may be the culprit.

    The solution: Everyone needs time off work to attend to personal business, whether it’s a school conference, an appointment or a dentist visit. If your employee leave policy doesn’t allow for the other side of your employees’ lives, attendance will always be an issue. Take time to review your policy and make sure it recognizes that employees have families, other responsibilities and need time away to work effectively. A few small changes in policy may yield a big payoff in attendance and morale.

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    The QUICK & EASY way for small businesses to track employee vacations, sick time and other time off.
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