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Encouraging Employee Attendance

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

More so than ever today, employee attendance has become a crucial piece to any business’ enduring success—regardless of industry. And although employers have often relied on  progressive discipline to help curb employee lates and absences, the fact is this tried-and-true approach has proven to be less effective in recent times. With a plethora of job openings available regardless of collar color and the frequency of employees changing jobs at record pace,  the threat of termination has unfortunately become somewhat meaningless. In fact, because of the availability of jobs and ease in obtaining state unemployment, employers often feel as having no choice but to be more tolerant with regards to employee attendance problems that would  otherwise result in disciplinary action.  

Yet, as employers feel the need to be more tolerant, the fact remains: addressing employee  attendance problems is expensive and time-consuming. It is also burdensome and taxing to the remaining workforce. Therefore, it is imperative for employers to proactively manage employee  attendance with the intent to reduce attendance problems. It is even more imperative for  supervisors and managers to unilaterally address and uphold employee attendance to reduce the  costs and alleviate the burdens an employee’s attendance problems can place upon the business  as a whole. 

Understanding this is often easier said than done, here are six steps to help employers manage  and encourage employee attendance at work. 

Step 1: Have a policy in place. 

Oftentimes, when companies are said to have a bad or toxic culture, it often comes down to a  lack of policy or guidelines. In fact, some companies do not have any policies at all, which often  leave employees unaware of the expectations levied upon them. Yet, employees will seek company guidance and they will seek it in writing. Not only so that they may read to understand  the company’s culture and values, but to hold the company and themselves accountable when  company and employee behaviors stray from such culture and values.

The same holds true with an attendance policy. It is the one policy that identifies the procedures  for addressing and correcting employee attendance problems with the intent to promote  efficiency and productivity of all employees within the company. Referring back to the company’s culture and values, employee attendance is directly related. Therefore, a policy  should be in place to correct those behaviors that stray away from such culture and values. 

Step 2: Inform employees as to why the policy is in place. 

Employees are more likely to embrace policies when they understand the purpose behind the  policy. When informing (or reminding) employees about the attendance policy, take the time to  explain its need and how it is intended to help with the success of everyone (and not just the  business alone). Point out to the employees that the business is a team, with each and every  employee identified as a valued member and contributor to the team. Make clear as to why it is  important for employees to be on time and the lasting negative impact it has upon the team  when they become absent or late.  

In reality, employees seldom realize how their absences and tardiness affect the rest of the  team. This is especially true if they identify the workplace as nothing more than a business and not  a team. Therefore, it is important to explain how attendance problems not only impact on the  business, but the team as a whole. Remind employees what it is like when a valuable member  of the team is missing. The unnecessary stress placed on their team members due to being short staffed. The inconvenience to their families due to unscheduled overtime. The impact on the  team as a whole, due to increased costs and lost revenue that results from employee absences.  The benefit plans, bonus programs, employee incentives and morale initiatives that all become  negatively impacted as these costs increase and revenue is lost due to employee attendance  problems. 

Step 3: Have employees acknowledge the policy in place 

Although employee signature on the employer’s attendance policy is not required by law, it is a  solid practice to ensure the employer has the authority to correct attendance problems with  disciplinary measures if necessary. Signed acknowledgements by employees not only  demonstrate that they have received the attendance policy, but that they also understand and  agree to abide by the information contained in the policy. It is the employer’s confirmation that  their employees have received, read, understood, and agreed to the provisions of the policy. It  also becomes the one key document that will be sought by the courts to resolve employment  related legal disputes and unemployment insurance claims.

Step 4: Uphold the policy in place 

For any policy to be effective, its implementation must happen from the top down. Supervisors  and managers who abide by their attendance policy are more likely to have their employees  abide by the policy as well. Yet consequently, supervisors and managers who are routinely  absent or late should expect employees to do the same. Understanding the whole idea of  “leadership” is to lead by example, supervisors and managers who hold their employees  accountable for the very deeds that they too are guilty of, become ineffective leaders and  ineffectual in upholding the policy. 

Employees must also be informed of the consequences if they choose to violate the attendance  policy. This means the employer should have a structure for disciplinary action in place, with  supervisors and managers trained on when and how to administer disciplinary actions. However,  consequences are meaningless if not enacted upon. When supervisors and managers fail to  administer disciplinary actions, they too become ineffectual in upholding the policy. 

Referring back to Steps 1, 2, and 3, upholding the attendance policy is critical to ensuring the  company’s culture and values are solidly in place and that the policy is only there to correct those  behaviors that may stray away from it. But if the policy is not upheld, nor disciplinary actions  administered, the inaction will begin to actually reform the company’s culture and values. 

Unfortunately, it is this reform to the company’s culture and values that inevitably erodes the  morale and well-being of good employees. While good employees are often obliged to pick up  the deficiencies from those that are late or absent, the failure to address the attendance problem  eventually weighs upon these employees. Especially when there is no differentiation amongst  wages, evaluations, or favor. This often ends with the good employees leaving the organization  while unintentionally binding the employer, unable to part with subpar employees due to  unforeseen staffing constraints. 

Step 5: Be consistent with the policy in place

Employees will often refer to their company’s attendance policy to understand how absenteeism,  tardiness, and time off will be managed. It is also the one document employees will seek to  ensure they are treated with fairness and justice in all matters related to attendance and time  off. Yet, if one employee begins to see inconsistency in fairness and justice, it will create morale  problems for all employees.  

If we consider the employees who are held accountable versus the employees who are not, or  the supervisor who holds their employees accountable versus the supervisor who does not, a  form of disparate treatment begins to occur within the workplace. Although the treatment may  not be directed to any protected class (i.e., race, religion, color, national origin, and sex), the  employees are being treated differently, nonetheless. This treatment in turn begins to impact the workplace morale, reduce productivity, increase employee turnover, and cause reputational  damage among the organization and its management.  

And although the treatment may have not been directed toward a protective class, if a protective  class is involved, then the potential for unintentional discrimination could come to light for which  the employer may be held liable in a court of law. 

Step 6: Recognize and reward those who follow the policy in place

Recognition and rewards for positive employee attendance can make a difference. While the  overall intent is not for employers to pay extra to ensure their employees merely show up on  time, employers should let their employees know their appreciation and respect for their positive  attendance. 

In some cases, employers have tied monetary rewards to their employee attendance policy as a  means to reduce unscheduled absences. These policies emphasize rewarding attendance over a  certain number of days, either by rewarding employees with a paid bonus or additional paid time  off.  
There are several great ideas out there with regard to recognizing and rewarding positive  employee attendance. However, the point of this step is not necessarily the reward (although it does play a key part), but the recognition. To recognize and reward an employee with a monetary  bonus or additional paid time off is good for the individual; however, it gives no value to the team  as a whole. Therefore, when employers do choose to implement such a program, they should  make the recognition and reward known to all employees. Not just the program, but those who  have actually achieved the reward.  

For example, if an employee is to be recognized for a quarterly attendance reward, openly display  the recognition for all to see. Not only does this display serve as a means to truly recognize and  reward the individual, but also to provide alternative direct experience for the remaining  employees. By providing this alternative direct experience to the remaining employees, their  innate tendencies for recognition and reward will in turn positively influence their behavior  towards attendance. The more experiences are made available (i.e., monthly, or quarterly recognitions), the more those innate tendencies take hold in promoting positive attendance. 

Final Thought 

Unfortunately, employee lates and absences can be a significant issue, especially since it can be expensive and time-consuming for the employer to correct and burdensome and taxing to the  remaining workforce as they work to pick up the slack. Yet, if followed, these six steps will help employers put the brakes on absenteeism, making their company a happier and more productive workplace.