From Absent to Present: Innovative Ways to Reduce Employee Absenteeism

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Feb 20, 2024
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Employee attendance is crucial to the success of any business. Consistent and reliable attendance allows for a smooth workflow and helps to maintain productivity. While it’s understandable that individuals may occasionally miss work, regular employee absenteeism that happens time and time again can result in missed deadlines along with an increased workload and reduced morale for other team members who may be picking up the slack.

Employee absenteeism affects every aspect of business, from productivity to team morale. Our guide tackles this issue head-on, starting with the root causes that drive absenteeism. We then offer targeted strategies to improve attendance and foster a supportive work culture.

Discussing absenteeism with employees is delicate; we provide tips for constructive conversations that encourage change. Additionally, we highlight cross-training's role in ensuring operational continuity, emphasizing its importance in a comprehensive absenteeism management plan.

By applying these insights, businesses can turn absenteeism challenges into opportunities for team strengthening and improved resilience.

Employee Absenteeism: The Causes

As an employer, you’ve likely heard almost all of the reasons for calling in sick to work, including some that may catch you off guard. But, you may not know what is normal and what is excessive when it comes to absences. 

According to employee sick day data from Statista, in 2022, of the employees who missed work, most missed two to three days. However, 16% of employees missed six to more than 20 days of work in 2022. Here is what the survey found: 

  • One day missed - 6%
  • Two-to-three days missed - 15%
  • Four-to-five days missed - 11%
  • Six-to-10 days missed - 7%
  • 11-20 days missed - 4%
  • More than 20 days missed - 5% 

Here are the most common causes of employee absenteeism and how to encourage attendance even when faced with these causes. It’s important to note that sometimes the cause is hidden. We’ll dive deeper into this below.

  • Illness

One of the most common reasons for missing work is due to illness. This can be a minor illness, such as a cold or flu, or a more serious condition that requires medical attention.

  • Family responsibilities 

Let’s face it, at least one of your employees will need time off at some point to attend to a sick child or parent, the adoption of a child, the holidays, mental health treatment or to deal with other family responsibilities. In some situations, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be of great assistance to the employee. 

The FMLA is a complicated law that allows eligible employees unpaid time off with guaranteed job protection for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period. Employers with 50 or more employees must adhere to guidelines set forth by the FMLA.

  • Personal reasons 

Employees may need to take time off for personal reasons, such as attending a wedding or funeral or dealing with a personal crisis, such as domestic violence. 

For example, in Missouri, employers must provide unpaid leave to employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence (or who have family or household members who are victims) to seek medical attention and counseling, recover from the trauma, relocate to a safe place and/or much more. The Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA) took effect on October 28, 2001. 

Employee Burnout 101

  • Work-related stress 

Employees may feel overwhelmed or burnt out from work-related stress and need time off to rest and recover. Employee burnout is a “syndrome” that results from chronic, unsuccessfully managed workplace stress. It is characterized by exhaustion, a feeling of mental distance from or negativity toward one’s job and reduced efficiency at work. 

According to the World Health Organization, employee burnout is not just an occupational phenomenon, it’s a mental health issue.

Offering an employee assistance program (EAP) as part of your benefits package can address burnout, help employees achieve work-life balance and resolve personal problems through the use of free, confidential short-term counseling and services. This voluntary program is often underutilized by employees despite helping with a surprising array of work-related and personal stressors. Here are seven surprising ways an EAP helps with work-life balance >>  

  • Injuries 

Workplace injuries, such as sprains or strains, can also cause employee absenteeism.

RELATED: Don't Force It - Avoiding Overexertion Injuries at Work >>

  • Transportation issues 

Employees may have transportation issues that prevent them from getting to work, such as a car breakdown or public transportation delays.

  • Weather-related issues 

Extreme weather conditions, such as heavy snow, tornado warnings or torrential downpours may make it difficult for employees to get to work.

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Encouraging Employee Attendance

While a handful of days missed per year may not initially sound too burdensome, when you multiply it across your entire organization, it quickly becomes a much greater concern. Here are eight creative ways to encourage employee attendance at work:

  • Implement a rewards program

Implementing a rewards program is an excellent way to encourage employee attendance. You can provide small incentives for employees who maintain perfect attendance for a set period. The reward could be something as simple as a free lunch or a gift card to a local restaurant or coffee shop.

  • Make work enjoyable

Employees are more likely to attend work when they enjoy their jobs. You can make work more enjoyable by creating a positive work environment, providing opportunities for growth and development and implementing a healthy work-life balance.

  • Create a flexible schedule

Offering a flexible schedule can be a great way to encourage employee attendance at work. Employees may have personal responsibilities, such as childcare or medical appointments, that can be difficult to fit in around work. By offering flexible scheduling options, employees can attend to their personal responsibilities while still fulfilling their work duties.

RELATED: Goodbye 9-to-5, Hello Flexible Schedules & Improved Productivity >>

  • Provide clear and concise communication

It’s important to provide clear and concise communication to ensure that employees understand their work schedules and expectations. Poor communication can lead to confusion and misunderstandings that may result in employees accidentally missing work. 

Scheduling apps or software that employees can use to access their work schedules helps reduce confusion about when employees should report to work. Beyond scheduling apps, simply including an attendance policy in your organization’s employee handbook that the employee signs off on discussing how absences and tardiness will be handled can help minimize absences.

  • Offer remote work options

Remote work has become increasingly popular, and for many businesses, it’s an effective way to improve attendance. By allowing employees to work from home, they can avoid potential distractions or commute-related issues that could cause them to miss work.

  • Invest in employee wellness

Healthy and happy employees are more likely to attend work. Invest in employee wellness by offering gym memberships, healthy snacks in the office, or even an on-site gym. Consider offering wellness workshops or seminars to encourage healthy habits.

RELATED: Ask the Expert - Is a Gym Membership Tax Deductible for a Business? >>

  • Foster a sense of community

Employees who feel connected to their coworkers and the company are more likely to attend work. Foster a sense of community by organizing team-building events, such as company outings or volunteer opportunities. You can also create an internal social network where employees can connect and share information.

  • Look for hidden causes

If your gut tells you there’s something else going on, it pays to take the time to look for the root cause of employee absenteeism. Often, an employee may start calling in if they are having conflicts with coworkers or supervisors, are dealing with workplace harassment or bullying, or suffering from burnout. 

  • Gather information with employee surveys 

Sometimes, you may find employees hesitant to be open during your check-ins for fear that doing so will negatively impact their jobs. That’s where employee engagement surveys can provide you with some great insights. Surveys are a great tool to get a pulse on how your employees are feeling. They can unearth concerns, needs and patterns that might be contributing to increased employee absenteeism.

Before approaching missed work as a disciplinary issue, approach the situation with empathy and understand whether there could be a legal or protected issue at hand. By uncovering the hidden cause, you can create an effective path with your employees to get attendance and productivity back on track.  

how to work with people you don't like

How to Talk to an Employee About Excessive Absenteeism

It's pertinent to remember that absenteeism can be caused by a variety of factors, and it's important to approach the conversation with sensitivity and empathy. By having an open and honest conversation, you can work with the employee to find a solution that benefits both the individual and the company. 

Here are some tips on how to talk to an employee about excessive absenteeism:

  • Schedule a private counseling meeting

It's important to have a one-on-one meeting with the employee in a private setting to discuss their attendance.

  • Start with an open-ended question 

Begin the conversation by asking the employee, "Can you tell me more about why you missed work on x day, x day and x day?" Be specific in asking the question of why they've missed work and on which days. It is possible that nothing "big" is going on in their lives, so it’s important not to insinuate that. If the employee refuses to answer why they've missed work, then that is a consideration.  

  • Discuss the impact of their absences 

Explain how their absences are affecting the team and the company. Use specific examples of how their work has been impacted or how their absence has caused additional work for their colleagues.

  • Listen to their response 

Listen carefully to the employee's response and try to understand their perspective. They may have a valid reason for their absences that you were not aware of.

  • Set clear expectations 

Let the employee know what is expected of them in terms of attendance and explain the consequences of continued absences going forward. This should be done in a clear and respectful manner. If the employee indicates they need FMLA leave or ADA accommodations, reach out to your HR consultant. 

If you don’t have an experienced HR consultant, you can reach out to the experienced HR team at Axcet HR Solutions here >>

  • Offer support 

If the employee is experiencing personal or work-related issues, offer them support and resources that may help them improve their attendance, including how to take advantage of your company’s EAP. When offering support, it’s important to know when the ADA or FMLA may apply. 

For example, if the employee is struggling to meet attendance expectations due to their own disability, then employers may need to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, employers with 15 or more employees are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees who can show they have one of the following types of disabilities:

    • A physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing or learning)
    • A history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission)
    • Perceived physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if they do not have such an impairment)

On the other hand, if the employee is taking time off to care for an ill family member, FMLA or personal leaves of absence may need to be discussed if the employer is required to comply with FMLA or has a leave of absence policy.

  • Follow up 

Schedule an employee absenteeism follow-up meeting to check on their progress and offer further support if needed.

open door policy

Strengthening Business Resilience with Effective Cross-Training

Cross-training plays a pivotal role in managing employee absenteeism by ensuring that multiple employees are capable of stepping into various roles as needed. Here are steps to implement an effective cross-training program:

  • Assess skills and needs 

    Identify the critical skills required for each role and the employees who could benefit from learning these skills.
  • Plan training sessions 

    Organize training sessions that allow employees to learn from experienced colleagues, through job shadowing, workshops, or formal training programs.
  • Encourage a learning culture

    Foster an environment that values continuous learning and development. Encourage employees to see cross-training as an opportunity for personal growth and career advancement.
  • Evaluate and adjust

    Regularly assess the effectiveness of your cross-training program and make adjustments as needed. Feedback from participants can provide valuable insights for improvement.

Elevate Your Attendance Management with Axcet HR Solutions"

Employee attendance is critical to the success of any business. By implementing creative ways to encourage attendance, you can create a positive work environment that fosters productivity and employee satisfaction. Consider the above strategies to reduce employee absenteeism and create a more positive work culture.

As you strive to enhance your attendance management practices, remember that you don't have to navigate these challenges alone. Axcet HR Solutions has been a trusted partner for Kansas City businesses since 1988, offering comprehensive PEO services, including expert HR solutions, that empower employers to focus on what they do best.

With our expertise in handling complex HR issues, including strategic cross-training and attendance policies, we can help you build a more engaged, reliable workforce. Schedule a consultation today to discover how we can transform your approach to employee attendance and drive your business forward.

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