Missing Employees

With all of the things that managers deal with on a daily basis, time and attendance tends to occupy a second or third tier concern.  As we all know, those kinds of costs sneak up on us over time and shock us with their magnitude.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example.  When considering the cost of one missed day for a $45,000 (salary and benefits) employee, we might assume the cost would be salary divided by total working days in a year or approximately $180 in salary.  What this calculation fails to account for is the indirect costs of a consistently absent employee: staffing, re-training, lost productivity, reduced moral, turnover, and opportunity cost. When considering these factors, the cost almost doubles the daily rate.  Consequently, if a $45,000 a year employee takes off an extra ten days a year, the average cost of absenteeism exceeds $3,500. Assuming that 13 employees across the organization opt for a little more time away, then the cost equals salary for an additional hire.

I recently met with an organization dealing with high levels of absenteeism.  One of the managers described how her workplace slowly transformed from being highly productive to one where most employees disappeared at the end of the day, on Fridays, and before and after out of the office appointments.  Her frustration reached its height when most of her employees started working less than eight-hours a day and inventing work for their time sheets to justify the time out of the office by overtime work on other days.  When asked about the work completed during those extra hours, most gave very generic answers.

Another manager in the same organization discussed how several employees take abuse the leave system in the summer.  Several employees with not wanting to pay for childcare called in sick most of the summer to stay home with their children.  The manager mentioned that at first the office came together thinking they needed to help the employee with his or her illness.  However, after the second summer, it became obvious that afford childcare and not health was the issue.

The last manager that I spoke with lamented how her three most talented employees use the sick leave system for regular vacations.  Since everyone knows their value and the hardship of replacing them, they opt to take sick leave vacations or “mental health days” every few weeks to have a long weekend.  She wanted to let them go for their abuse of the system, but felt that it would too hard to find replacements.

What can you do to prevent or improve these situations?

Make attendance important – if an organization considers attendance important, then employees will be less likely to assume that excessive absenteeism is permissible.

Ensure you have specific policies – make sure that your organization has specific policies for leave accrual, usage, and abuse.  Policies should be emphasized during on-boarding, handbook acceptance, and regular, refresher training.

Communicate impact of excessive absences for team and individual – employees need to be aware of the impact on other team members, overall productivity, and customer service as well as on their personal performance and advancement.

Keep good records – ensure that managers receive training on how to keep valid records, audit their efforts, and provide feedback on areas for improvement.

Discuss concerns – when an employee misses work, meet with the employee and discuss if assistance might be needed.

Take action when needed – when you have the legal right to take action for excessive absences, you need to take action.

Offer flexible options – if more scheduling flexibility would improve attendance, examine various policies to increase flexibility while maintaining productivity.

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