21st September 2021

Addressing Absenteeism with an Employee

Absenteeism, or failing to attend work as scheduled, costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion each year. Contending with employee absenteeism is something that all employers need to consider should they be faced to cope with the problem or if they’re already struggling with employees who are frequently absent. Knowing how to counsel an employee on absenteeism and managing these situations effectively can lead to positive outcomes. The key is to develop a healthy process for handling this type of situation. We’ll outline some possible strategies on how to deal successfully with employee absenteeism. 

What Is Employee Absenteeism?

Most employees will need to call off work at one point. People get sick, their children get sick, and their cars break down. These types of call-offs don’t constitute employee absenteeism. These types of absences are why companies offer sick time and personal days off. Absenteeism is different. This type of absence refers to frequently missing work without good causes. While an unscheduled employee absence can throw a department of the office into a bit of a tailspin, excessive absences can have a genuinely negative effect on productivity and coverage.  

Revisit Your Policies and Procedures

Your business should have a policy regarding workplace attendance. Most companies specify the number of sick days employees can take and when a doctor’s note is warranted. Typically, company policies will also address absenteeism. It may define absenteeism as having three or more unscheduled absences in three months. Of course, in the ‘real world,’ we know that a single bout with the flu can take out an employee for a week, so at what point do employers revamp their policies for real-world scenarios or enforce their policies for all employees? Think about what employee absenteeism means to your company, define it, and then develop steps to manage these situations with thoughtfulness. 

Addressing Absenteeism with an Employee

Too often, employers are quick to judge an employee’s absenteeism as indicative of an employee problem. However, is it? Could the problem be your workplace culture? Is your employee being bullied or micromanaged? Are they bored with their job? Are they having issues that are preventing them from fulfilling their role with your company?  

One strategy to try is to invite your employee for an informal talk. Tell them you’ve noticed a pattern of absenteeism and that you’re concerned–for them and for the role they play in your workplace. It’s essential to convey that they matter and their work matters. Try to avoid any discussion of punishment at this point. Instead, try to uncover what’s going on and if there’s something you can do to help them stay on track.  

Formal Discussions

If your informal discussion does not have the desired effect, you may need to escalate the matter to a formal discussion. Typically, the casual chat will produce positive results, especially among employees who genuinely value their job and, perhaps, need some motivation. However, if their pattern of absenteeism continues, your policy should list the steps you will take to address these types of infractions. Before the meeting, be sure you have documentation of the employees’ absences, so there’s no confusion about missed days.  

Some companies will give their employees a warning or a formal write-up that will remain in their file. So many warnings or write-ups may lead to suspension or dismissal from the company. It’s not pleasant to deliver these consequences to employees, but companies must treat all employees fairly.  

The Bigger Picture

Employee absenteeism can occur for all sorts of reasons. Some of these reasons may have a lot to do with your company or nothing at all. As an employer, you want to know what’s driving an employee to miss work frequently so that you can solve the problem if possible, especially if it’s something related to your office and culture. Are your employees working nine or ten hour shifts? Are they bringing work home? Could they be burning out? Is there a workplace culture issue occurring? These are problems employers need to know about and should address. Solving them could reduce the absenteeism problem. 

On the other hand, many people go through difficulties in their personal lives that have nothing to do with work. People get divorced, go through custody battles, or struggle to care for aging parents. Other people are trying and maybe failing to manage an alcohol or drug abuse problem. These aren’t problems for employers to solve, but there may be solutions that employees can recommend for initiating more flexible temporary hours or some other measure to provide some additional support for employees during a difficult period. Taking supportive steps isn’t obligatory, of course, but if you enjoy creating a supportive work environment for your talent, you might find that it’s a helpful thing to do. 

Between informal discussions and writing employee warning letters or write-ups, you can address absenteeism with sensitivity. Dealing with employees as both workers and fellow humans can be challenging. Carson Tate is a business coach who can help you develop and improve your communication skills in the workplace. How you communicate can be a problem-solving skill in itself. So often, it’s those informal conversations with employees that make all the difference for you and them. Contact Carson to schedule a consultation.