8 Tips to Handle Workplace Absenteeism

You want to create a work culture that is free of from the corporate grind of time clocks, rules and rigid schedules.

You also don’t want to be that leader who micromanages staff and keeps close tabs on what time everyone gets into the office.

But you’re concerned that if you don’t establish some guidelines and expectations, people will start to take advantage. And if there is excessive absenteeism, you won’t be able ignore it because…

  • Other employees can’t (and won’t) ignore it – It becomes their responsibility to pick up the slack for the missing employee or employees. That’s stressful and engenders ill will.

  • Company performance will suffer – When some team members aren’t holding their weight, the entire team may fall behind on meeting deadlines. That could mean losing a valuable contract, and/or earning your company a reputation for not delivering a product or service on time.

  • As will morale – Over time, the situation can breed resentment and disengagement among employees, and bitterness toward you, their employer. Your employees may wonder why they work so hard, when their colleague suffers no repercussions for his excessive absenteeism.

Simply put, absenteeism is a big deal for business leaders. It costs a lot in terms of lost productivity and temporary labor costs. Add in weakened morale and the price of absenteeism grows even more substantial.

So, what can leaders do to address it? Here are some strategies to consider.

  1. Be proactive – Don’t let the problem go on for so long that you eventually react in anger or, in the interim, come across to others as unresponsive.

  2. Keep records – While you don’t want to be breathing down people’s necks, it is important to have accurate attendance data at your disposal. This will give you the information that you need to have corrective conversations.

  3. Demonstrate concern – When you notice a trend, approach the employee and demonstrate concern. Ask her what’s going on and what can be done to rectify matters. Approach the conversation with the assumption that the employee wants to be on time and reliable. See what you can do to be helpful.

  4. Be flexible – There may be something that you learn that leads you to conclude that flexibility would be the best approach. For example, a mother who is having childcare issues may  

  5. Focus on the action, not the person – Use the EARN approach to giving feedback that focuses on the action and its result, rather than on the person. In this case, the feedback might follow this formula. “I have noticed that you have been arriving late to work most days recently. (Action, Event) This causes others to have to step in and do some of your work. (Result) Perhaps you can adjust your morning routine to ensure that you leave ample time to get to work by 9:00.”

  6. Set a SMART goal – Work with her to develop a SMART goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. In this case, it may sound like this: “In order to become a more punctual and reliable team member, I will plan my nights to go to bed thirty minutes earlier three times a week for the next four weeks. The result will be less tiredness in the morning and a quicker process of getting out the door.”

  7. Clearly outline the consequences – Have an absenteeism policy in place that includes consequences. For example, staying late on days when arriving late. Consistent lateness or absenteeism may result in a written warning, dock of pay or decrease in a bonus.

  8. Reward improvements – Reinforce change through praise, verbally or in a written note. When you notice an employee has altered his behavior in a positive way, say so. Your simple acknowledgement will communicate that (s)he on the right track and will also show him that you appreciate her/his efforts. A few kind words go a long way in motivating more of the positive behaviors that you seek.