Beyond Attendance Policies: How to Reduce Unscheduled Absences in Your Workplace

Manager explaining attendance policy to his teamUnscheduled absences are one of the biggest issues businesses, especially essential businesses, experience. They greatly affect a company’s ability to deliver their promised outcome and can lead to heavy costs. 

Because of this, having a clear attendance policy that outlines expectations is important. But there’s a fine line between clear expectations and rigid rules. Overly rigid attendance policies can create their own issues, such as reduced engagement and high turnover rates. 

So what can employers do to reduce unscheduled absences in their workplace? 

In September 2021, Jodi Slavik, Employment Attorney and Strategic Services Director at Vigilant Law Group, presented Where are My Employees?! Solving 5 Modern Attendance Dilemmas, as part of TERRA’s HR Hotspot webcast series. 

In this instructive webinar, Jodi explained that if employers want to reduce unplanned absences, they need to communicate openly with employees and strike a balance between clear expectations and flexibility. 

Here are four tips to reduce unscheduled absences in the workplace:

  1. Create a clear communication path for planned absences.
  2. Set up an easy call-in policy for unplanned absences.
  3. Initiate conversation before taking punitive measures.
  4. Consider alternative schedules. 

In this article, we’ll walk through each tip and explain how they can help employers reduce unexpected absences.

Tips to reduce unscheduled absences: 

1. Create a clear communication path for planned absences.

Workers often know in advance when they’re going to have to take time off work. But just because they’ve planned to take some time off, doesn’t mean they’ve communicated it effectively with their manager. 

And without proper communication, a planned absence can quickly become a problem and turn into an unscheduled absence for the employer. 

That’s why Jodi emphasizes that you need to make sure your employees know to communicate their intended absences as early as possible. Just as importantly, let them know exactly how to communicate their time-off requests with you. 

Tell them your communication process at new hire-orientation, and remind them of it frequently. If your employees know who to reach out to, how to reach out to them, and how early they should do it, they’re a lot more likely to communicate their planned time off. 

For that matter, they’re more likely to do it early. And the earlier you know, the quicker you can plan for their absence. 

2. Set-up an easy call-in policy for unplanned absences.

While some absences are planned, sometimes, there’s no way for an employee to know that they’re going to be late or miss work. After all, cars break down, babies get sick, and people have family emergencies. 

Just as you want to make it easy for employees to notify you about their scheduled absences, you’ll benefit greatly from having a clear and easy call-in policy in place for those times where they have to miss work unexpectedly.

So, make sure your employees know exactly what your call-in process is. Communicate with them the who, when, how, and what. 

    • Who: Indicate who should call in and to whom. If they can’t call in, who else should do it? Who do they call? Is it their supervisor? Is it a designated leave person? An app? 
    • When: Identify when they should call in. Two hours before shift, one hour? If there’s an emergency situation and they can’t call in, how long after the situation is resolved do they need to call?
    • How: Identify how they should call in. By phone? Texting? Emailing? On an app? 
    • What: Communicate what information you expect them to give you. For example, why are they gone? Are they using leave? How long will they be gone?

While you won’t be able to avoid unscheduled absences, you’ll find that a clear call-in policy gives you more notice. Even knowing about an absence half an hour earlier can go a long way towards you being able to make plans to mitigate it.

3. Initiate conversation before taking punitive measures.

When someone is repeatedly late or absent for work, it’s tempting to instantly take disciplinary measures. And while sometimes that’s the only option, it shouldn’t be your first step if you can avoid it.

Instead, address the situation early on and don’t wait for it to fester. Initiate the conversation in a constructive way. Rather than simply stating, “you’re gone too much,” Jodi suggests explaining how your employee’s tardiness or absences are affecting the business and their team. 

Then, ask them what it would take for them to be on time. And listen to what they have to say. They may have a great reason for their attendance issues. And you might find there’s a really easy solution to make the situation better.

Take the case of an employee who had recurring personal issue that would come up without a lot of notice. Because of this, he was late for work several times each month. Rather than fire him or turn a blind eye to the company’s attendance standards, his manager initiated a conversation and took the time to hear him out. Together, they were able to come up with a solution.  They decided to shift his schedule back by 30 minutes. That small change meant he could arrive at work on time every day—many days even arriving early. Now, he can succeed in his job and his employer has greater predictability.

There are many similar situations in which you might be able to make a small adjustment rather than replace a potentially great employee. And even if you can’t come up with a compromise, taking the time to have a conversation will give you a better understanding of your worker’s situation. You’ll know you’ve done what you could to avoid unnecessarily losing an employee.

4. Consider alternative schedules.

Flexible schedules can be hard to accommodate, especially for essential businesses. But there are lots of different types of schedules out there. And giving your employees a few options might go a long way towards attracting the right talent, improving retention, and reducing unscheduled absences. 

That doesn’t mean you should let your employees come and go whenever they want. You can still have standards and expectations in place for them. But consider opening a few different schedule options to your workers. 

It could be as simple as allowing an employee to delay their start time by 30mns, or compressing their schedule a little, And it might be as big as allowing them to pick between schedules or offering part-time alternatives. 

By offering more schedule options, you might find that you are able to attract segments of the workforce that weren’t previously available to you. For example, if you offer part-time or compressed schedules, students, who can’t usually work full time, might be able to join your team. 

Not only will you potentially gain new employees, you may find that you also get healthier attendance, reduced unscheduled absences, and less turnover. After all, if you show a little flexibility, your workers are more likely to want to stay and make compromises themselves. 

In the long run, clear communication and a little flexibility will go a long way towards reducing the effect of unscheduled absences on your business. 

Want more ways to improve workplace attendance? Watch Jodi’s full webinar here: 

And if you want resources to improve employee attendance, we have many great articles on our blog

How TERRA Can Be a Resource 

TERRA Staffing Group is a leading staffing agency located in the Seattle-Puget Sound, Portland, Phoenix, and Denver metro areas.

Our monthly HR HotSpot webinars provide guidance, solutions, and best practices for HR professionals, managers and business leaders.

These free webinars feature insight from industry experts on a wide variety of timely workplace topics. Subjects include: recruiting, attendance issues, talent acquisition and retention, diversity and inclusion, talent engagement, and more. 

If you find yourself needing staffing help, don’t hesitate to reach out to TERRA. We work with many great companies across a variety of industries. Our expert team is eager to be a resource to you.

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