When you don’t rein absenteeism or tardiness, your company’s morale and productivity suffer. Use these seven strategies to handle poor employee attendance.

Maybe you’re the kind of business leader who prefers to create a work culture free from the corporate grind of time clocks, rules and rigid schedules. Or perhaps you don’t want to be that person at your company, the one who knows exactly what time everyone gets into the office.

Yet absenteeism, without a compelling reason for it, may adversely impact your business. So, let’s take a closer look at poor employee attendance.

Why you can’t ignore employee absenteeism

While it’s true that few business leaders relish calling out employees for being tardy or missing work, the reality is that excessive absenteeism can’t be ignored. And here’s why:

Your other employees can’t ignore it

They’re stuck picking up the slack for the missing staff member, helping with tasks they normally might not have to do. And that’s stressful for employees, especially those who are already stretched to the max.

Your company’s reputation is at stake

When employees aren’t doing their part, the entire team may fall behind on meeting deadlines. In some cases, that could mean losing a valuable contract or earning your company a reputation for not delivering a product or service on time.

Absenteeism affects morale

Over time, the situation can breed resentment and disengagement among employees and bitterness toward you, their employer. Your employees may wonder why they work so hard, when one particular employee suffers no repercussions for his absenteeism. Or escalating bitterness could provoke an argument between problem employees and their co-workers.

Simply put, absenteeism is a big deal for business leaders. And when you consider lost productivity, morale and temporary labor costs, the price of absenteeism grows even more substantial.

The challenge of addressing poor employee attendance

If absenteeism is so problematic, why is it so hard to address? Often, business leaders just don’t grasp the enormity of the issue. They don’t see how excessive absenteeism affects other employees and their business until it’s too late. Or they bring up the issue of absenteeism with offending employees – and take their word that they won’t miss work again.

The result? When there’s a lack of serious consequences for absenteeism, employees won’t take it seriously.

7 steps to curbing poor employee attendance

You need a clear and consistent approach to effectively curb absenteeism. Try these 7 steps:

  1. Put it in writing. An employee handbook is a great way to spell out your policy on absenteeism, as well as the reporting process employees should follow if they’re late or absent. State the consequences of excessive absenteeism — including the potential for termination. Even better? Share this policy when onboarding new staff, so everyone knows your expectations from the outset. (You may also want to consider having new employees sign a statement acknowledging they’ve received a copy of the policy.)
  1. Gather information. Before you broach the subject of absenteeism with individual employees, prepare yourself with examples and the dates and times they were late or absent. With data in hand, you may feel more confident in addressing the problem – and they can’t deny it.
  1. Tell them you’ve noticed. It’s OK to casually address the issue when it happens. Here’s a sample script: “Hey, listen. I know you showed up late a couple of times. It’s important that you get to work on time, and that you come in the days you are scheduled. If you can’t, it is even more important to follow our process concerning absenteeism. Here’s a copy you can keep for reference.”
  1. Show your concern. Once you’ve made clear that you’ve noticed, follow up with something like, “When we don’t hear from you like we’ve defined in our policy, we get concerned that something may have happened to you. That’s why it is so important to notify us.” Placing the emphasis on your employees’ wellbeing helps take them off the defensive.
  1. Open up a discussion. Give them a chance to explain and offer solutions. Their poor attendance record may be the result of a bigger issue. Ask: “Is there something going on that’s causing you to be late or miss so much work? Is there something we can do to help?” 
  1. Make accommodations when appropriate. If an employee has difficulties getting to work on time after dropping their children off at school, for example, you might consider allowing a more flexible schedule. (Just remember that, in the spirit of treating all staff equally, you’ll want to develop a specific policy and apply it across the board.)  However, if a health condition or family medical emergency is the root cause of absenteeism, it’s wise to consult an HR professional right away. This situation needs to be handled delicately to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family Medical Leave Act. In this situation, there may be multiple ways to address the problem, including a staff member taking a leave of absence.
  1. Know when to take it up a notch. If the absenteeism or tardiness persists, it’s time for formal counseling. Depending on your company’s structure, counseling could come in the form of meetings with the employee’s immediate manager or an HR representative. Lay out your expectations for attendance, and the serious, specific consequences for unexcused absences from work.

Summing it all up

Poor employee attendance can be a serious issue – one for which many business leaders feel unprepared to address. Yet with the above steps in mind, you’ll help put the brakes on absenteeism, and potentially make your company a happier and more productive workplace.

For more tips, download our free e-book, A practical guide to managing difficult employees.