Life is full of surprises, ones that sometimes lead to employees calling off work unexpectedly. Whether it is a last-minute cancellation by a childcare provider, a case of food poisoning, or another more “creative” reason, absenteeism is a pervasive and costly issues faced by organizations across the board. The four steps outlined below can serve as a basic guide on improving your absence management practices this year.
1. Set up a system to identify patterns of absences in the first place.
According to ERC’s 2016 Absence Management Practices Survey, 44% of local employers use time and attendance software to track attendance. This method is used more amongst larger employers (those with over 200 employees), who seem to utilize payroll systems for this purpose as well. Smaller organizations, or those with 50 or fewer employees, report using timecard or time clock systems most often. See Figure 1 below for more details.
Figure 1 | Percentage of organizations using the following attendance-tracking systems
Weigh the costs and benefits of these different methods, and choose a system that’s right for your organization. Interested in outsourcing your absence management efforts? CareWorks, an ERC preferred partner offering Absence Management and FMLA Administration services, can be a cost-effective resource. Once you have a system in place, spotting patterns of absence of individual employees will be much easier at-a-glance.
2. Set a standard, and make sure to share it with everyone in the organization.
Having a formal, written attendance policy can communicate to employees a set of standards that they are encouraged to follow in order to keep unscheduled absences at bay.
Among Northeast Ohio organizations, the most commonly used attendance policies are points systems (38% of employers) and excessive absence systems (30% of employers). If your expectations are different for exempt and non-exempt employees, as 44% of employers report in the aforementioned ERC survey, it will be useful to outline these differences as well.
For some organizations, a formal policy might feel antiquated and inflexible. This does not have to be the case by any means. Employees generally dislike ambiguity, so even having a simple policy that lists “the basics” regarding when and who to notify of an absence, or to remind employees how your PTO benefit works, will give your staff a sense of understanding about what is expected.
In this policy, it might also be useful to list some ways that employee absence affects the business. Including this piece can help send the message that your organization values timeliness and office presence. Consider both the obvious costs associated with employee absenteeism (overtime pay to employees who have to take on the extra work) and the hidden costs as well (customer dissatisfaction, lower morale).
3. Break the cycle by trying out various solutions.
Just as there are differing reasons for why employees might be missing work, there are also many options for handling these instances. When an employee is identified as having several occurrences of missed work days, prescribing disciplinary action is often the go-to method of controlling absence.
In fact, 83% of employers from the Absence Management Practices Survey report using disciplinary procedures for absence management purposes. But before you dish out the discipline, consider other methods.
Recording absences is the most commonly used method of managing or controlling absence amongst Northeast Ohio organizations. This documentation can be shared with an employee to highlight patterns of absence—a “wake-up call” of sorts. If the source of the recurring absences can be uncovered, coaching may be a useful intervention. Work with the employee to create a plan to minimize future instances of absenteeism. Making it a shared goal could provide the employee with a sense of support.
Other popular absence management methods cited by organizations in the Absence Management Practices Survey include:
- Using attendance as a performance criterion
- Providing flexible working arrangements, even for a short duration
- Requesting illness verification
- Referring employees to an employee assistance program (EAP)
- Incentivizing and rewarding good attendance
4. Measure your efforts and adjust accordingly.
If you are not measuring the performance of your processes, you very well may be throwing away your precious organizational resources without even realizing it. Regardless of the solution you choose to implement, make measurement a priority. With the use of an attendance tracking system (see: Step 1), gather monthly or quarterly absenteeism rate data and determine if there seems to be a stable, increasing, or decreasing pattern of absences across time.
A decreasing pattern might suggest that your absence management methods are proving effective. On the other hand, if you find that employees are growing their excessive absence track-records or not making any improvements, it might be time to re-evaluate your practices. Consider trying a new absence management method, or combining methods in order to get that rate down. And once new methods are implemented, don’t forget to document the impact, review the data, and adjust once again if needed.
Continuous improvement is key to organizational success, and that certainly applies to your absence management efforts.
View ERC's Absence Management Practices Survey Results
This report summarizes the results of ERC’s survey of organizations in Northeast Ohio on practices related to attendance and unscheduled absence.