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7 Tips for Controlling and Preventing Employee Absenteeism

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7 Tips for Controlling and Preventing Employee Absenteeism

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: December 15, 2011 Updated: August 6, 2015

Absenteeism in the workplace is a problem all managers encounter, and although absences are often due to legitimate reasons, they can get out of control if they’re not managed carefully. 

Persistent unexcused absenteeism, particularly when it involves just a few individuals, not only lowers productivity and increases everyone else’s workload, but it can precipitate a sour atmosphere in the workplace.  It’s something that needs to nipped in the bud. 

Statistics vary on the monetary impact of absenteeism, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says it tends to be highest among service occupations, such as healthcare, food service, cleaning, and so forth, and administrative staff. 

Absences occur for many reasons – burnout, stress, low morale, job hunting, etc. – and need to be addressed quickly. The following tips may help:

1.       Is the Absence for Genuine Reasons?

Ever wondered if there was a good reason behind that call you just got from an absent employee excusing himself from work for the day? Often there is a genuine reason and your gut instinct can guide you on this one. However, if you are noticing an excessive pattern and finding it hard to take your employee’s word for it, then it’s time to take action. If an employee is simply not bothering to show up or give you advance notice, then an intervention is essential. Start keeping a paper trail and records of absences.

2.       Give Absent Employees an Opportunity to Explain Themselves

The first thing you can do is give employees an opportunity to explain themselves. When they return to work, have a one-on-one discussion about their absence and express your concern. This is not a disciplinary discussion, but more of a fact-finding mission. Your goal is to understand what’s happening and try to solve the issue. For example, if stress is a factor, then you may need to discuss strategies that can help, such as shifting workloads, reducing responsibilities, etc.

Very often, employees are pleased that they have been given an opportunity to air their problems or grievances. But be warned, you may learn things that you don’t want to hear, particularly if it turns out that your management style is the problem. Try to remain objective during the discussion and use it as a platform to change things.

3.       Put a Performance Improvement Plan in Place

If the tactic above doesn’t work, then you need to put a performance review plan in place that sets specific goals for improvement, attendance being one of them. Put the plan in writing and clearly explain the timeframe of the plan and the consequences of not fulfilling its requirements.

4.       Develop and Communicate a Clear Leave / Sick Leave Policy

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. Use the document to clearly explain paid and unpaid leave policies and the consequences of unexcused absences. If you have a company newsletter or intranet, use these to promote your policy.

Note that the law doesn’t require you to provide common leave benefits, but it does require employers to provide leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Be sure you know what the law is. Read more about the FMLA leave entitlement qualifying medical events in SBA’s Employee Benefits Guide (scroll down to “Leave Policy”).

5.       Assess your Management Style

It’s hard to acknowledge, but one of the more common reasons for employee dissatisfaction is management style. Could your style be encouraging employees to harbor grudges or lose morale? Step back and assess what you can do differently. Is your open door policy really that open? Do employees really feel valued? Plan on setting side more management time for your team, discuss their professional goals, and share your vision for the continued growth of your business and their role in it.  For tips on assessing your management style and ideas to shake it up some, read 4 Tips for Effective and Inspiring Business Leadership.

6.       Consider Introducing Incentive Plans

While their are no guarantees that you can control absenteeism, initiatives such as incentive plans and programs such as flex-time, wellness programs, and project completion perks, are proven to increase morale and productivity. They also send a clear message to your employees that they have a recognized and valuable role to play in your business as a whole. The following articles have tips on how to recognize, nurture, and incentivize employees:

7.      Terminating Repeat Offenders

If you’ve exhausted all these intervention measures and aren’t seeing improvement, then termination may be your only option. Follow your HR policy to the letter on this one and refer to the law as it pertains to terminating employees, final pay checks, and more.

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About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley


I will definitely give this a go as we come across the same problem. Thank you
Thanks super healthy. Thanks Caron, I agree with your point of view. What I am not really sure is about the incentive plans. Will that work as easy and it looks or employees should have a different type of plans?
All of these are good points. Do you feel that #2 should be handled by the person's direct manager, or an HR representative? This is assuming HR is on-site and available as in the case of smaller companies. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.
Employee retention and happiness is a huge challenge for any business. In the pest extermination business in Connecticut it can be competitive to keep employees so we offer spot awards, employee outings, perks to local restaurants. We try to motivate our employees by offering incentives that they like. We give surveys out to employees to ask them what ways they like to be rewarded whether it's a cash award or extra paid day off. We will offer spot awards when our employees bring in new customers for some of our focus jobs such as termite treatments, carpenter ant extermination, ant control, tick and flea treatments. In pest control our focus varies each season so it can be labor intense during some months and slow down during others so during our slower times we continue to motivate employees to stay engaged and offer networking opportunities for them to pick up new customers especially those customers needing termite and carpenter ant treatments.
Nowadays, people don't value their workplace enough. They are absence for many days, they don't tend to stay long hours if needed. Then they are surpassed when they are laid off or the company downsizes.
You would think that in this economy and with such high unemployment rates employees would value their jobs.
I would like to expand a little more on #6. One thing I have seen done is determining the days of the week/month/year that historically have high rates of unplanned absenteeism and developing an employee incentive program that that rewards employees for attendance on these days. For example, a small incentive reward on Mondays, Fridays, and the days before/after holidays.
Absenteeism usually occurs and may cause problem in a certain workplace, besides of delayed works that would affect productivity. For managers it is their responsibilities to listen to the explanation of employees on employees absence, also employees is responsible to have valid reason, proper advice to their executive for their absence. Knowing these responsibilities would do help manage absenteeism properly. Real estate Philippines
This post brings lot of thoughts. If I'll start my own business someday will probaly use this information
Nice, I have one employee and he is already obsessed with absenteeism :). I will try this...


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