How to Create an Absence Management Policy in 6 Steps

When employee absence becomes a problem, try an absence management policy

Dealing with employee absences is an important part of any managing role. But if it's becoming a problem in your office, try an absence management policy.

If you run a small business, you’ve probably dealt with unexpected employee absences. Between family emergencies, injuries, doctor visits, and unpredictable circumstances you’ll have to deal with absences from time to time. However, repeat absences and staff shortages can have repercussions on the business if not managed properly. Here’s the good news: creating an absence management policy can help you avoid attendance issues and negative consequences for your business.

What does absenteeism look like at work?

At some point during your career, you’ve likely managed an employee who was notorious for showing up late, calling in sick, or leaving early. They always had an excuse to keep them from coming to work or showing up on time.

On the other hand, the occasional absence is inevitable. The most punctual professionals will face conflict at some point in time that interferes with work. A pattern of absenteeism starts to develop when continued absences begin impacting an employee’s work– or the work of his or her teammates.

What are the common reasons for absenteeism in the office?

Employees can miss work for several reasons. They may need to pick up a sick child from school, attend a doctor’s appointment, or handle a family emergency. Aside from the unexpected, an employee can face an illness or injury that interferes with the job. Life doesn’t always consider our work schedules.

Although we can’t predict the future, employees shouldn’t use these scenarios as an excuse to skip shifts. Excessive absenteeism can put a strain on the business and its people.

What’s the impact of these absences on a small business?

These behaviors can negatively impact business in several ways. The company culture is often the first area to take a hit. Co-workers grow increasingly frustrated with unreliable team members. Repeat absences can put extra stress on the rest of the team when they are stuck with extra work or longer hours to accommodate for the staff shortage. These patterns can ultimately drive a wedge between colleagues, teamwork, and productivity.

Absenteeism can put a strain on the business itself. When you’re short staffed and can’t serve customers efficiently, profits can sink. For example, if you run a restaurant without a full team, you may have to turn away customers, which means less revenue for the day.

Company time and resources are also impacted by absenteeism. Employees who miss training or team meetings will have to be brought up to speed. Managers may find themselves repeating the missed information, which takes away from working hours.

How to create an absence management policy

Absence management policies are a great way to minimize schedule conflicts and keep businesses running smoothly. Every business is different. It’s essential to create a solution that works for your company’s unique needs.

Follow these best practices to design a policy for your business:

1. Consider the possibilities

Sit down with your leadership team and brainstorm the potential scenarios that could cause a team member to miss work. What patterns have you noticed in your organization? What causes your people to miss work? List all of the possibilities that you can think of. Refer to the section above to help you get started. Once you’ve identified the common causes of absenteeism in your workplace, it’s easier to create procedures for each situation.

Side note: If one or two specific employees come to mind when you’re brainstorming about absence management, it might be worth your time to sit down with them directly. Instead of creating a company-wide policy, perhaps there is one (or a handful) of particular factors that pertain to that employee only. Workplace bullying? Disengagement from their work? Are they not being appropriately challenged? Get to the root of the problem and you might be able to save yourself some time.

2. Factor in employee benefits

Do you offer Paid-Time-Off (PTO) and sick leave? If so, how are these days being used? If your team is burning through their PTO to cover family obligations or doctor visits you’ll need to consider how your absence management policy will address this issue.

3. Set company-wide standards

Decide what qualifies as an acceptable absence. How does it differ from allocated sick time and PTO? Set clear standards for employees.

A car accident or a death in the family are two circumstances that qualify as an acceptable absence, along with a handful of others. In contrast, failing to notify management when an employee misses work to attend a last minute ski trip is not acceptable in most organizations.

4. Establish consequences

Standards are only useful when staff understands the consequences of absenteeism. Clearly define repercussions for employees who violate the policy. Will a no-call, no-show result in any kind of managerial action? How will you handle team members who frequently show up late? Establishing consequences will help your staff understand the expectations and respect the policy.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean punishment. Perhaps the consequence looks like a one-on-one meeting with the employee who is missing a lot of work– gathering this information can help this particular situation and help inform your future absence management policy.

5. Create written policies and procedures

Once your leadership team has set standards and established consequences for missing work, put the rules in writing with a formal absence management policy. Make sure each worker gets a copy of the policy and keep it on hand for easy reference. Hold a team meeting to review the new expectations, answer questions, and get everyone on the same page.

6. Keep a record

After the policy has been established and employees are briefed, create a system for recording absences. A detailed record will help you identify employee patterns and enforce the expectations.

Management should record the individual’s name, the reason for missing work (if given), and the number of occurrences. The physical data can also be used as a teaching tool. Sit down with individuals who violate the policy, point out their behavior patterns, and develop an action plan to prevent future absences.

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