Dealing with Absenteeism

By: Cindy Conti

Taking a sick day or two from work due to an unexpected illness or being late for work due to a family emergency can happen. However, if you find employees are frequently not showing up for shifts or take several sick days from work for no reason, you are likely dealing with absenteeism. Absenteeism refers to an employee’s frequent absence from work usually intentional and without a valid reason; not only can it disrupt business operations, but can also negatively affect employee morale and the workplace culture.

What is the best way to deal with absenteeism?

  1. Create an Attendance Management Policy: Having a policy will clearly outline the organization’s attendance expectations and will help you to be fair and consistent with all employees. A policy will also stress the importance of being on time and the consequences, if not followed. Take the time to create a policy that works best for your business and makes sense to all your employees. Consider past practices and the different attendance issues you have dealt with such as forgiving tardiness for only select individuals. Determine the consequences, such as what type of disciplinary action will be taken for an unscheduled absence or excessive tardiness, and the next steps.
  2. Open Communication: Once you have a policy in place, be consistent in how you address absenteeism and be open in your communication. Ensure employees understand the impact their absence and tardiness have on their co-workers, customers, and the company’s operations. Address absences as soon as they occur. Your employees will recognize the seriousness of the situation, if you address the issue immediately. If the employee’s behaviour improves, let them know and encourage them to keep it up. For extended absences, you may want to implement a more formal process of conducting a return-to-work discussion.
  3. Track: Monitor and analyze attendance patterns. Take a closer look at your time management system to see if there are any reoccurring patterns that may help identify possible solutions for reducing absenteeism. If you don’t have a system, use a simple spreadsheet. Are your employees often absent before scheduled days off or just after a long weekend? Using this information may help identify if it is just one employee or a group of employees who may be abusing the attendance policy.
  4. Identify and Address the Root Cause: Why are your employees absent? Don’t be too quick to assume that they are trying to avoid coming to work for no reason. They could be struggling due to a disability or a health issue that you may not be aware of, possibly dealing with bullying or harassment in the workplace, or burnout and workplace stress. Be empathetic and respectful, and have a conversation to identify the root cause.
  5. Create a positive work environment: Foster teamwork culture where employees feel valued and motivated to come to work. A supportive team understands how absenteeism can negatively affect the team. Your workplace culture is shaped by how you lead your employees, the policies that guide you, and what you do and say on a daily basis.

There is no magic fix when dealing with absenteeism, but recognizing you have a problem is the first step. You may still on occasion receive a sick or late call, but having a strategy in place by creating a clear and fair policy where your employees understand the organization’s expectations, tracking absences, and addressing issues as they occur with open communication is a good first step. Also, create a positive workplace culture where you will have engaged employees who respect one another.

Cindy Conti is the Regional HR Consultant-Vancouver, Coast & Mountains with go2HR. go2HR is the Human Resources and Health and Safety Association for BC’s tourism and hospitality industry. Questions? Contact