While striving to make their company culture more welcoming and inclusive, businesses need to make it clear what their attendance expectations are. For many reasons, employees often have different views about what a “good” attendance record looks like and what are justifiable reasons for non-attendance. If there’s a misalignment in expectations or lack of flexibility on the part of employers, people can lose pay, face disciplinary action, or, in extreme cases, be fired. That’s not an ideal outcome for anyone!
But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way for your business or your people.
In this article, we’ll look at the causes of absenteeism and their impact and suggest some practical steps managers can take to mitigate their effects. We also consider some of the win-win alternatives or workarounds that organizations can introduce in the event that employees need to take unplanned time off work. These include technology-enabled flexible shift arrangements and early access to earned wages.
Employee absenteeism is simply the amount of unapproved leave that employees take in the business. Absenteeism doesn’t cover issues like approved leave, training days, or days when working away from the office has been pre-agreed. It often covers illness, bereavement, family care issues, and other reasons for an employee being absent without their manager’s approval.
Employee absenteeism is a sensitive topic. After all, we’re all human, and sometimes “life just happens.” People get sick, employees suffer bereavement, and families have care issues. The challenge for managers is understanding what the reasonable level of absenteeism is and working out how best to handle excessive absenteeism professionally, legally, and sensitively.
The rate of employee absenteeism is measured by the number of unapproved absence days per employee per quarter, or per year, for example.
While most managers will turn a blind eye to occasional employee absences, companies will typically have an attendance policy. This policy will be supported by systems and processes that allow the HR team and managers to monitor employee attendance and spot individual or company-wide problems that need addressing.
There are many reasons for absenteeism. The level of absenteeism also varies. The profile of the employee base, the employee age range, the likely number of dependents they have, and the type of work involved will all have an effect.
Let’s look at some common themes.
While occasional stress is a fact of working life, there is also no doubt that excessive stress is counter-productive. It cuts productivity and creativity, and it increases friction amongst employees. Too much stress causes burnout or other mental health issues, often requiring weeks, if not months, away from work.
Stress has multiple causes. Financial stress is one of the biggest stressors affecting employees and is a common source of friction both at home and at work. Employees can also be overstretched and need more resources. Management expectations can be too high, or employees may need further guidance, support, and development. Sometimes an individual might be unsuited to their role and need to be managed into something that better suits them.
Employees may have caring responsibilities for their children, siblings, parents, and grandparents. For employees, these issues can be incredibly demanding, as they have the stress of managing their caring responsibilities and juggling their work responsibilities.
Managing employees with these responsibilities needs great sensitivity. Their issues will likely be legitimate, and they don’t need pressure added to an already highly charged situation. But of course, managers also have responsibilities towards other employees as well as customers.
One approach might be to give workers more control of their work schedules, so they can swap and pick up shifts when they need to, quickly and easily.
We all have our “off” days. Everyone’s motivation fluctuates occasionally. But low morale in a business becomes a problem when numerous employees lack focus and motivation. This happens when there is a significant restructuring of the business, or after a merger, for example. Employees can be left wondering if they’ll be in the next round of redundancies or start thinking about their long-term future with the company.
Sickness is typically the biggest driver of absenteeism. A manager is unlikely to worry about a day here or there lost through sickness. However, if a trend emerges with one employee or a group of employees taking excessive sick leave, then it’s reasonable for HR managers to probe more deeply.
Again, sensitivity should be front of mind. On the whole, employees will be reluctant to take unplanned absences, but equally, addressing above-average levels of sickness is central to reducing absenteeism. It often hides a range of other HR issues that need addressing.
Clearly, given the cost and impact of workplace absenteeism, managing it is essential. There are many practical steps managers and HR teams can put in place to address it. The ideal package of measures will likely have features to address individual and group needs. And importantly, these measures should be tech-enabled and support the workstyles of employees who don’t necessarily have desk jobs.
People work for financial rewards, but employees also respond very well to a pleasant working environment that they can look forward to turning up to.
Enhance this by helping employees face the challenges of their day-to-day lives. For example, is there a way to give employees a sense of financial wellness so that they can budget better, save smarter, and feel more in control of their finances overall? This can help remove the anxieties and uncertainties especially faced by hourly-paid employees.
A positive work environment can also come from where employees, dispersed across multiple sites, and without access to company computers can have access to important company information, company updates, and even shift information, changes, or openings that they can claim – all via an app on their smartphones. This is really valuable for employees who have significant caring responsibilities, such as single mothers. The ability to switch shifts quickly and easily, depending on their childcare needs can be a game-changer for so many.
Managing absenteeism should be a mix of “carrot and stick.” Respect the needs of teams and individuals, but also respect the needs of their colleagues and the wider business.
As we mentioned earlier, ideally, all businesses should create and share a formal attendance policy that includes what issues are considered reasonable for absenteeism and how it’s recorded. It should also cover how to manage problems that might fall outside these criteria with managers. And it should cover what the process is if people consistently breach company guidelines, including potential sanctions.
In a company of almost any size, it’s possible for employees to feel that they’re merely a number in the HR system and that senior management doesn’t have their interests at heart. If senior managers make an effort to reach out to employees at all levels to understand how day-to-day issues impact them, it can go a long way to reduce absenteeism. This engagement can involve regular Town Hall meetings, employee surveys, or even through “Management by Walking Around.”
While everyone fulfilling similar roles will have similar contracts, individuals will face different personal and professional challenges in doing their jobs. Adding some flexibility to the employee-employer working relationship can go a long way to addressing absenteeism.
This flexibility can cover offering training and development courses, so people can skill up and move up the organization and earn more pay. It may involve buying additional leave days from the company or providing opportunities for unpaid but approved leave.
They can be exposed to situations where unplanned, but significant expenses for issues like childcare or healthcare can put family finances under pressure. Without access to sufficient cash, they can be forced to borrow from friends, family, or high-cost lenders. Solving these problems and trying to borrow money at short notice is time-consuming and expensive, often forcing employees to be absent from work with little or no notice.
Offering payment flexibility allows employees to access pay they’ve earned but not received yet.
Payactiv goes one step further to help employees access their pay on-demand. Our service is low-cost to employees and zero-cost to employers. Our unique operating model means that our service doesn’t involve lending money to employees – we simply provide access to their cash as they earn it. There are no credit checks and no adverse impact on credit histories. We offer a SaaS-based service so that employees can access it anywhere, with a smartphone. Our service integrates fully with the systems provided by the significant payroll providers so that it aligns fully with your payment process from the get-go.
All this helps valued employees in several ways. Our service reduces financial stress by giving them access to their wages on demand. Our relationships with industry partners like Uber mean employees can pay for Uber rides with their accessible earned wage balance, simply using the service on their smartphone. Our company communication capabilities allow employees to engage with company announcements and shift management systems while they’re on the go, giving them additional working flexibility where and when they need it.
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