How to Solve Employee Absenteeism

Mary Gormandy White
businessman looking at cell phone

Excessive absenteeism is a serious problem that can have significant consequences in the modern workforce, impacting both productivity and profitability. The annual direct cost of absenteeism is estimated to be $3,600 per hourly worker and $2,650 for salaried employees. With that in mind, it's important to look for ways to reduce attendance problems.

Clearly Communicate the Attendance Policy

Whatever your expectations are for employee attendance, be sure that you clearly communicate them to employees. The starting point should be a comprehensive attendance policy that is provided to employees in writing. This type of policy is generally included within a company's employee handbook, but it can also be conveyed via a separate document. It is also a good idea to review the policy with employees periodically. For example, consider discussing it in company-wide or team meetings or publishing related frequently asked questions (FAQs) in the employee newsletter or on the intranet.

Your policy should account for the fact that humans do sometimes need time off from work for a variety of reasons, including vacation, sickness, and personal reasons. The company should have policies specific to each time of leave allowed as well as an overall attendance policy. These policies should spell out the company's expectations for attendance, including notification requirements, the procedure for requesting approved leave, and the consequences of excessive absenteeism.

The idea is to clarify attendance expectations so that employees can manage their time appropriately to prevent excessive absenteeism. As the Small Business Administration (SBA) points out, "A written policy won't stop absenteeism, but it will help you deal with it more effectively. It will also demonstrate to all employees that you don't tolerate absenteeism."

Consider Flexible Scheduling

Mother Holding Her Baby

When creating or updating your attendance policy, consider if flexible scheduling might be a viable option in your organization. If so, consider incorporating it into your attendance policy. While flexible scheduling isn't suitable for every type of job, it is a good option for many occupations.

Flexible scheduling options includes things like compressed work weeks (working four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days), allowing employees to come in early and leave early (or come in late and leave late), or letting employees perform some duties from home. According to TLNT.com, "Studies indicate that flexible work schedules lead to reduced tardiness, absenteeism, and turnover - and higher employee morale."

As FlexJobs points out, flexible scheduling creates an environment where "employees have the ability to maintain their required hours while working around activities that would normally require time away from the office." Instead of missing work entirely when people need to keep appointments or attend events during the work day, they are able to adjust the hours that they perform work. The work gets done in a way that accommodates employees who need to be away from work at specific times, so absenteeism is curbed.

Enforce the Attendance Policy Consistently

Having an attendance policy is just the beginning. It is also important to be consistent with how it is enforced. When workers observe other team members being absent in a way that exceeds what is allowed in the policy, it's only natural for them to think that they can do the same. If managers gets in the habit of only following the policy in certain situations or with certain employees, this sends a message to all workers that attendance isn't important to the company - no matter what the policy says. When this happens, it's only natural to expect absenteeism problems to follow.

Inconsistency with enforcing this - or any - policy also opens the company up to being accused of discrimination and having employees feel like managers show favoritism to some workers. HR Daily Advisor recommends that your policy be written with "flexibility built into it so that it can be implemented consistently." HR Daily Advisor further points out, "All supervisors and managers should be trained on how to implement the attendance policy consistently." They must also be held accountable for consistent enforcement.

Conduct Return-to-Work Interviews

Consider implementing a policy that requires supervisors to hold a return-to-work interview with employees within a day or two after each unscheduled absence. As The Balance points out, "The fact that an established procedure is in place to investigate and discuss absence with an employee may, on its own, act as a deterrent for non-attendance for disingenuous reasons."

This interview should not be an interrogation, but rather a discussion that makes it clear to employees that the company is concerned about their needs as well as managing attendance. It should cover things like welcoming the individual back, clarification of the reason(s) for the absence, verification that the employee is okay to come back to work, completion of any paperwork to ensure that the absence is recorded properly, and any other relevant information, such as reasons leading up to why the employee needed to miss work.

Of course, managers who do this must be properly trained on the basics of relevant employment laws (such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) so they don't inadvertently do or say things that create compliance problems for the employer. They also need to know when to refer employees to the human resources department for such matters.

Boost Employee Engagement

Colleagues at work

Employee engagement can have a significant and positive impact on organizations. Not only can it increase productivity and retention, as Harvard Business Review (HBR) asserts, but having engaged employees can also reduce absenteeism. There are a variety of reasons for this including, as the CultureAmp blog points out, "certain incidences of employee absenteeism-especially repeated absences-may be a symptom of deeper issues" including a lack of engagement.

You can get a sense of whether this is a major issue at your company via an engagement survey or a culture survey, which has a broader perspective. In order to improve engagement in your organization, it's a good idea to implement a variety of strategies for employee engagement. Additionally, The Biz Coach also recommends providing managers with training on employee engagement as well as training on "how to deal with disgruntled workers."

Implement Wellness Programs

It's not at all unusual for employers to offer workplace wellness programs in their efforts to save money on the cost of health insurance, as indicated by Modern Healthcare. Some employers even pass along these savings to employees and their spouses in the form of discounted premiums. However, healthcare coverage cost reduction is not the only benefit associated with emphasizing wellness with employees. Such programs can also lead to reduced absenteeism.

As reported in Biotechnology Healthcare, workplace wellness programs can greatly reduce employee absenteeism and associated expenses. The publication reports that "meta-analysis of the literature on costs and savings associated with workplace wellness programs" indicates that "absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every $1 spent" on wellness programs.

Of course, not all workplace wellness programs are created equal. The ones that make a difference are the ones that actually lead to practical results when it comes to employee behaviors and health risk factors. HBR points out that "employees must trust the program and the employer's motives" for there to be tangible results. Employees must also buy-in and see benefits to themselves. Offering premium reductions is one way of doing this, and other incentives may also be helpful.

Reduce Work-Related Stress

meditating at desk

Stress is known to lead to negative workplace impacts in many ways, from accidents and injuries to burnout and absenteeism. People who are stressed out at work are often absent from work, but that is not where the impact stops. Absenteeism itself can be a factor that causes stress. So, work stress can create a vicious cycle. As Entrepreneur points out, unplanned absences actually cause more stress in the work environment. After all, the workers who are not absent are likely to experience increased stress as a result of absorbing the work of the absent worker(s) in addition to their own duties.

Work-related stress can be caused by a variety of factors, from the impact of technology on employee expectations to the way change is managed in the company or having untrained managers in leadership roles. The specific demands associated with particular types of jobs also impact workplace stress. For example, job stress in blue collar jobs is quite different from what office workers or sales professionals experience.

Companies that want to reduce absenteeism can be well-served by identifying causes of excessive job stress and taking steps to eliminate or minimize their occurrence. Consider conducting a workplace stress survey to get a sense of what issues might need attention in your organization. You may also want to incorporate questions related to job stress in your next work environment study or hold focus groups with employees to discuss the issue. It's also a good idea to include an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in your benefits package and to make stress management training available.

Reward Outstanding Attendance

HR Daily Advisor suggests that companies that want to curb absenteeism problems might want to "consider implementing rewards that encourage good attendance practices," indicating that these programs "can be good motivators." For example, this type of program could involve providing recognition, positive feedback, or some kind of tangible reward to those who don't have any unexcused absences during a certain time period. See HRExperts.org for an example of an attendance-based bonus program.

When implementing an attendance-based rewards program, however, it is important to make sure that you are in no way penalizing anyone who has missed work due to approved leave that is protected under a law. It is also important not to do penalize those who take a vacation or paid time off (PTO) time in a manner consistent with the company's policies. With this in mind, be sure that you exclude these situations from the way that you calculate eligibility for the rewards program.

Meaningful Change

While there isn't one right answer to the issue of employee absenteeism, there are a number of steps that employers can take to improve workplace attendance. The solutions that will be most effective in your organization are the ones that most directly impact the factors that impact the members of your workforce. By no means is this an all-inclusive list, but it is a good starting point to consider when you are looking for ways to reduce the occurrence of attendance problems at work.

How to Solve Employee Absenteeism