Employee absences occur within every company. It may occur in the form of tardy employees, sick leave, or paid time off. Designing a good absence management policy that works for both your company and your employees can be a daunting task. Go too strict and inflexible and you may have higher attrition and more stressed out employees who produce less. It is a balancing act between cost and benefit. After all, when employees take time, you essentially pay them not to work. What benefit does that have on your company?

First, let’s define the difference between absence management and leave management. Absence management is the program or policy that your company has to control unexpected leaves due to illness, injury, or emergencies. Absence management includes how you control unscheduled, unexpected, and excessive absences. It includes how you handle late employees.

Leave management covers expected and planned time off. It is the process by which employees request time off work and managers approve or deny those requests.

Your company should clearly outline the policy and procedures for handling both types of employee absences in your employee handbook. This provides employees with a clear idea of employer expectations and a clear path for both unplanned and planned absences.

Absence Management

Absences come in all different forms and sizes. It can come in the form of employee tardiness, minor illnesses, or long-term absences. How you deal with and handle absences will have a great impact on employees as they return to work and re-engage with their jobs.

Absences have a negative impact on the business in several ways:

  • Increase employer expense: Employers have to “fill in the gaps” by hiring temporary staff, filling in for a subordinate, or paying other employees overtime. Instead of working on more productive tasks, managers spend time filling vacancies or covering for employees. Higher wages are paid, either to temporary staff or through overtime. This is a hard cost of absences.
  • Lower morale: Employees who routinely cover for absent employees can feel burnout quicker. They may feel used. Increased workloads mean higher stress. If one employee is perceived to be absent an unfair number of times, this can increase perceived bias by management to allow these absences.
  • Increased mistakes: Staff that is required to cover other job positions or meet with clients they don’t have relationships with are more likely to make mistakes. Employees who return to work after repeated absences or a lengthy absence is more likely to make a mistake or be unaware of changes.
  • Decreased productivity: Covering shifts can mean your employees are unable to focus on the priorities of their own responsibilities. This happens as “emergency” tasks take priority over less urgent, but more important tasks. Employees get stressed, which makes distraction easier.

The Cause of Employee Absenteeism

First, let’s take a look at many reasons why employees are absent from work:  

  • Minor illness or injury: employees are absent for a short period of time.
  • Personal emergencies: alternative childcare for a sick child, domestic violence, car malfunction, or another personal issue that impedes the employee’s ability to show up to work timely or at all during a particular shift.
  • Reoccuring medical conditions: impact the employees’ absences over the course of a long time. They also impact presenteeism, when an employee shows up to work, but fails to be fully productive due to the medical condition.
  • Mental illness and health: stress and burnout impact employee mental health. They also exasperate mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. Mental illness is often cited as a top reason for employee absences, even when it is not the reason reported to management.

Understanding these reasons helps you to develop a better plan around absence management.  It is important to get the real reason why an employee is absent. But, that’s not the only step.

Clarify your policy around absences

Your policy should address things such as tardies and short-term leave. It should also include extended leave policies. Define what is unacceptable. Identify solutions for employees facing unexpected absences and who should be notified. Outline company resources to help with employee absences. Your resources can include direct managers, human resources, or outside help.

For example, domestic violence often shows up with an excuse of injury, car troubles, or other excuses. Mental illness is the same. Employees cite other external reasons for absence when anxiety or depression is the actual cause. You can help employees to deal with these external factors by providing resources that employees can turn to in a crisis. This can help to stem absences.

Be sure to include information regarding employee leaves such as FMLA and make sure that your policy covers absences protected by law such as those caused by pregnancy disability or other disabilities.

  • Identify your policy around absences:
  • Identify employee procedure when absences occur
  • Outline resources for employees facing an absence
  • Cover absences covered by the law

Track and Measure Employee Absences

It’s impossible to really understand the absences in your company if you aren’t tracking them. Make sure that you have a reliable timekeeping system that will accurately track employee schedules and absences when they fail to show up for work. You can take a granular look at individual days and shifts or look at overall patterns, trends and seasons.

This allows you to see specific employee patterns, identify managers with increased absenteeism, or show potential issues with specific locations or shifts.

If you don’t track absences, you can’t improve it. Measuring allows you the data you need to address issues without attacking individuals or making employees defensive. For more information on how Timeworks Plus can help your business track and monitor employee absences, fill out the form below this article.

Stay in Communication

When employees are tardy or absent, it is vital to communicate with them. Don’t assume that employees know that regular tardies are an unacceptable habit. Instead, touch base with them, find out the real cause behind the tardy and discuss options for solutions. When employees are sick, touching base, instead of simply acknowledging a text, is vital to showing them that you care and are concerned with their well-being. It also provides a great way to keep employees informed of changes while they are gone.

Generally, touching base early in the absence provides a way for the employer to check in on the employee, provide well-wishes, and to discuss a timeframe for communication that will work for the employee and manager. Employees can identify how they would like to be contacted during an extended leave and how often. Some employees like regular check-ins while others feel pressured to return to work if they hear from their employer too often. Thus, it’s important to discuss and set up a framework for all contacts at the company to follow. This will also help to reduce redundant calls from managers, HR, and payroll.

Employers can use an employee portal to provide updates to absent employees. Updates, communications, and resources can be made available. Thus, employees who are absent for an extended period can check in, read the latest or watch news releases, and feel a part of the company during that time. This provides flexibility, but also provides a verifiable method of issuing employee notices without harassing the employee.

Have a “Back to Work” Process

Create a “back to work” process. This can be something as simple as a checklist kept in your workforce management software. It should include steps such as a return to work interview, reorientation on new policies and procedures, and updates on changes while they were gone.  

  • Welcomed back to work by manager
  • Back to work interview
  • Reorientation on updates, changes, or news
  • Collection of all documents related to the leave

Employees returning to work after an absence should have a “back to work” interview. Managers can welcome the employee back to work and update them. This can be an informal discussion where their manager updates them on any relevant news during a brief absence.  This can include updates on customer messages or conversation with other account reps.

Or, it can be a lengthier process wherein employees are given time and resources to adjust to working again.

It can include a modified schedule for the employee to climatize back into full-time work. Or it can include a discussion regarding how the employer can accommodate an employee’s long-term disability or medical needs.

Back to work processes should include gathering any further documentation required by FMLA, sick leave, or other labor laws. They can include setting the employee backup on benefits and re-orientating them to the workplace and new policies implemented during their absence.

By utilizing a back to work policy, you help to ensure that employees returning to work don’t feel unnecessary stress and anxiety over the change in schedule and responsibilities.

Leave Management

Unlike absence management, leave management usually revolves around planned absences. From a numbers standpoint,  leave management appears to be counter-intuitive. You pay employees to not work. However, leave management lowers employee stress, provides better work/life balance.

Accurately plan for leave requests

How many employees can be off at a given time?

If you have a number in your head, then consider if that number should be the same year round. Although many managers have a set number of employees who can “take” time off on any given week, the reality is much different. Business ebbs and flows. Some weeks allow for more employees to take PTO, while other weeks produce greater demand. But the only way to really know the demands of the business is through historical records.

The winter holidays (Thanksgiving through New Years) is often a very busy time for retailers. However, other employers may see a marked decrease in customer traffic and demand. Make sure to rely on your workforce management data and plan week by week for allowable absences. This will help you to approve extra PTO requests when the business needs naturally slows down.

Make PTO easy for employees

Don’t shame employees who take time off. Don’t make it difficult for employees to request time off. Time away from work is important for employees to maintain a healthy balance and it ranks as a high priority on employee benefits.

Ideally, PTO is requested in advance. However, employees are human and subject to poor planning. Family or friends may invite them on spur-of-the-moment activities that are highly valued to the employee. So it’s important to provide a means for employees to request time off.

An employee portal becomes a valuable tool because employees can request time off at the time they are thinking about it. They don’t have to wait until the next workday to request time off. It provides managers with current requests. This means that both employees and managers can better plan for time off.

Another way to provide flexibility for PTO requests is to allow employees to initiate “shift swapping.” This allows employees to agree to swap a shift, which then has to be approved by a manager. This helps eliminate the time spent by managers to find a replacement. Shift swapping is handled in TimeSimplicity.

Employers can enable PTO sharing, where employees can donate extra time off to an employee who faces special circumstances. This helps to build community and foster goodwill.

Lastly, don’t forget to give employees access to self-service when handling their leave tasks. Provide access to your employee handbook, Q&A, and leave balances on the employee portal. Finally, let employees submit FMLA certificates electronically vía the portal.  

Respond to leave requests promptly

Managers who respond to leave requests immediately help foster communication. Employees can immediately know if they will be able to continue their plans for time off. Managers can view time off requests vía their workstation or a mobile device.

Use an absence calendar

An absence calendar helps managers to see at a glance who is scheduled off today and in the near future. THey can better plan. Absence calendars make it easier for managers to respond because they can quickly see who is scheduled to be off during the same time period. Managers can access their absence calendar on their mobile devices.

Be transparent

Employees don’t like to be left in the dark. Be transparent and they are more likely to be part of the solution. If employees understand how much time off is allocated and why they are more likely to plan around busy seasons. Employees know when they are buses and when they have periods where there is more conversation time. Let them be a part of the conversation.

Additionally, transparency helps to alleviate disgruntled employees who don’t get requested time off. Employees see how many requests are ahead of theirs and learn that earlier requests get approved easier. If you prioritize time off by seniority, then having a clear process helps new employees to know when the deadlines for senior requests are over so they can promptly request time off.

Conclusion

Reduce the impact of unexpected absences through a good absence management process. This helps you to increase employee notice of absences and helps employees to transition back to work. Employees time off helps them to recover from illness, reset their stress levels, and increase production. Make sure you have the tools and policies in place to maximize your ROI.