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Managing unplanned absences

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Implementing absence management systems to promote employee engagement

According to a recent study, absenteeism in the workplace costs the economy in the United States over $200 billion in productivity losses each year. Capturing the loss in productivity and the impact on business operations is not an easy task; however, companies often have to account for the loss in labor while at the same time supplementing costs for temporary labor.

Human resources (HR) departments should consider the benefits of an absence management policy and approach, particularly as absence rates increase across a variety of industries. To support retention of employees and a positive working environment, HR departments can work to understand the underlying causes for short-term and long-term absences and provide effective systems to manage the overall impact on the organization. This article will define unplanned absenteeism and provide strategies to support HR professionals in managing unplanned absences at their workplace.

First, let’s look at what unplanned absenteeism is.

What is unplanned absenteeism?

As the name entails, an unplanned absence occurs when an employee takes off time from work without pre-planning, and pre-approval from their supervisor or management. The causes of absence in this case are typically related to unforeseen circumstances, such as managing an illness or health issues, dealing with mental health concerns, or experiencing high levels of stress. These types of absences differ from anticipated absences, such as holiday time, maternity leave, jury duty, pre-approved time off, or other types of pre-authorized leave.

How can I manage unplanned absences?

To reduce absences and better support your team when unplanned absences take place, there are several approaches that should be used for your attendance management system. In addition to the strategies outlined below, absence management software can support your business and HR team throughout this process.

  • Create an employee attendance policy. When establishing business operational policies, it is crucial to include a stated policy related to employee attendance. This way, during onboarding, the employee knows what to expect when it comes to showing up for work. An employee policy should address the steps to take sick leave, including the days allotted and the communication or reporting protocol. Moreover, in case attendance does become a problem for employees, the policy should outline that excessive absenteeism is something that will need to be addressed. Other aspects of this policy should include how and when employees can return to work, how absences are tracked, occupational health information, and sick pay information.
  • Enforce your attendance policy consistently. A policy can only work when it is enforced and constantly addressed with the team at-large. With an established way for tracking attendance, HR teams should communicate if they see an issue with employee absences as well as acknowledge employees who are consistent in showing up for work. When the policy is properly followed, it could be an incentive to provide a day off or time off for employees who maintain high levels of attendance.
  • Ensure that employee contact information is up to date. Having accurate contact information for employees helps managers and supervisors get in touch with employees when an unplanned absence occurs. By having the correct information, employers can address unscheduled absences and no-shows immediately.
  • Explore the cause of absenteeism. Disciplinary action for unplanned absences may demonstrate that there are consequences for not showing up to work; however, if there isn’t deeper exploration for the cause of the absence, you may continue to run into the same problem with employees in the future. Instead of only looking at the symptoms of the absence, it is just as important to look at any patterns present in the employees’ attendance. Moreover, you don’t necessarily want employees to present to work when they are sick, so there needs to be a balance of work expectations with an understanding and flexibility for when unexpected circumstances come up.
  • Take disciplinary action for excessive absenteeism. As outlined by the employee attendance policy, there should be a plan for disciplinary action, when appropriate. The policy should outline when action should be taken for staff absences and what that will look like for employees. The policy should consider how absence due to sickness is addressed or counted toward unplanned absences.
  • Verify illness after a specified period of time. When long-term sickness is preventing an employee from showing up for work, it may be helpful to outline how the illness is verified and how this could impact employment in the long-term. If the illness is expected to last for an extended period of time, working agreements or structures may need to be considered as well as possible options with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Moreover, if employees are struggling with their mental health, it may be useful to provide them with resources with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  • Use paid time off banks to help reduce unscheduled leave. Paid time off (PTO) banks help employees track available time that they can use at their disclosure, including taking time off or taking a sick day. This can benefit the employee since they will still be paid. Additionally, employers are able to track the amount of hours in a PTO bank, helping efforts to forecast possible time off that might occur in the future. PTO banks help with planning and time management procedures for employees and employers alike.
  • Encourage planned vacations to allow employees to recharge. It is critical that employees feel supported in taking time off so that they can avoid burnout and take care of themselves. Time off is critical for positive mental health, and so when discussing absenteeism with employees, it is necessary to address times that the employee can plan to be away from work so that they have a break and the employer can plan to support business operations prior to the absence.
  • Don’t forget to reward good behavior. Feeling appreciated is important for employees. A recent study showed that 76% of millennials would leave a job if they didn’t feel appreciated by their managers or the leaders of a company. However, with high rates of absenteeism, missed days at work or coming in late can sometimes receive more attention than employees who are showing up on time and engaging in productivity in the workplace. Consistency with employees should be tracked and addressed, just in the same way that absenteeism is monitored.
  • Embrace flexibility with scheduling and remote work. Flexible working environments have become essential during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in remote teams. More and more employees desire hybrid or flexible scheduling that allows them to complete their work tasks and make room for personal priorities. Remote work, flexible scheduling, and autonomous work structures are considered strong draws for employees looking for benefits at different companies. Also, the rise of online collaboration tools has made flexible and remote work options more feasible. Integrating these tools at your business may help reduce absenteeism for employees over longer periods of time.

Building retention

Reducing absences in the workplace isn’t something that happens overnight. However, with the right policy for your organization and a system that takes into account procedures, protocols, and rewarding employees for their efforts, you can begin to identify ways to maintain consistency with employees attending work. The first step is understanding why employees miss work. From there, looking at ways that your company can respond to absenteeism while balancing flexibility will provide structure and clarity to your team members.

Absences can’t always be predicted. However, your team can develop strategies ahead of time to position your organization in the best possible way to promote less missed work and overall improved employee engagement.

Next steps

Are you ready to explore absence data at your workplace and develop an absence management system? Does your HR manager or HR team need additional support in managing unplanned absences?

Heartland is ready to help.

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