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by Jen Leigh on October 29, 2018

A Simple Guide to Absence Management


Your head of Product Development calls in sick ... again. Your Sales Director said the snowstorm has prevented him from getting out of his driveway. Your Account Representative said she can't come in today because of a last-minute doctor's appointment.

All of these are examples that can certainly occur, but when they happen too often or at inopportune times, it can be disruptive and quite costly to your organization. Absence management, or setting and enforcing reasonable guidelines for employee absenteeism, is a critical role for the Human Resource department.

According toUNUM, a leading benefits provider, absenteeism results in annual losses to businesses of over $20 billion a year. Mismanaged and frequent absences in an organization can be problematic, resulting in:

  • Reduced productivity. Missing work not only results in reduced productivity for the absent employee but can affect coworker's productivity as well. Others have to pick up the slack and management must work to track and fill missed projects.
  • Increased expense. Training someone to finish a project that was on another employee's project list can be time-consuming and costly. Delays and missed deadlines can greatly impact the organization's bottom line.
  • Frustration and low morale. When members of a team have to make up work for frequently absent employees, it can directly influence their morale. Being called upon to increase workload, or just witnessing excused absences that don't seem well-managed can hinder motivation and negatively affect one's attitude toward coworkers and management.

Without the proper communication and guidelines, managing missed workdays can be challenging. The following are some suggestions to make sure your company's policy on absences is transparent.

Be Clear About Policy from Day One

A well thought out employee manual will save money, time and eliminate animosity among your team. Your employee policy manual should include a section dedicated to absence management.

  • Be generous with detail and try to include all circumstances that could arise, such as sick days, long-term illness absences, vacation days, inclement weather policy and family emergencies.
  • Be clear about management's expectation on the method of notification and how pay is handled.
  • Outline the consequence for abuse of the policies and include specifics on the return-to-work protocol after a long leave of absence.
  • Keep in touch with your employees during their absence and require them to reciprocate.
  • A return-to-work interview after lengthy absences is a good way to keep the dialog open. The meeting should include topics such as potential adjustments the company can make to support an employee's smooth transition back to productivity.

Get Employee Support and Communicate

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the most important feature of a successful absence management program for companies is employee involvement.

  • Stay in contact with your employees. In the break room, via email or in weekly meetings, the HR department should be listening and communicating on a regular basis.
  • Be sure all employees read and sign the company manual or policy book. Creating a manual takes time, so be sure that it's read and signed by every employee. This helps to eliminate potential problems from employees being unaware of the policy.
  • Everyone likes to have a voice. Have employees included in HR department discussions to review procedures and talk about ideas to improve the office environment. HR meetings are a great way of offering a venue for voicing concerns and constructive ideas. Communicate to the staff the importance of managing days off, and how it directly affects the company. Be sure they understand that managing absence isn't personal; it helps the organization's wellbeing. You are all (hopefully) working toward the same goal: company growth and stability.

Be Aware of Legal Requirements

Make sure your HR department is aware of your state and federal regulations based on the size of your organization. For example, in states like Arizona, sick leave laws are in place to require paid sick time off for employees and those requirements vary based on a company's employee count.   

  • Larger companies (typically over 50 employees) tend to have more specific required days off than smaller ones.
  • Research the must-haves and then think about what you feel is fair for your employees to create a package that fits your organization.
  • Are you required to offer sick days and health insurance? Would it help your morale to do so, and can your organization afford it?

Promote Health

A healthy office is a happy office. There are many ways to show your employees you care, including helping them stay healthy, resulting in less sick days.

  • Organize company walks or create team-building activities that are outside and more physical.
  • Offer perks such as having a nurse visit the office for free flu shots for all employees.
  • Create a health board in the break room with recipes, tips and strategies for avoiding illness.
  • Promote the use of earned days off for vacations and relaxation, so when employees are in the office, they are more focused and excited to get work done.

Keep Records

Make sure to document all communications with employees about their absences. If there comes a time that you need to let someone go for excessive missed work, these records are important.

  • Keep email files and meeting notes whenever possible.
  • Make reasonable accommodations when possible to help employees get back to the office.
  • If necessary, ask for medical notes from doctors.
  • Invest in software or cloud-based systems to track and manage absences.

The University of Kansas is a good example of an organization that offers a simple system for their employees to tracks days off, request absence approvals and even manage inclement weather days. Their online process is thorough yet straightforward, reducing the potential for confusion over the policies.

Your HR team can come up with its own system of management, or you can invest in support software and cloud-based solutions to help the process.Inflection HR's cloud-based time and labor solution can help you manage labor costs by automating time and attendance management.

Absence management does not have to overwhelm you and your organization. If the time and resources are spent to manage it properly, it can be a system that rewards hard work, offers fair and equitable time-off packages, and creates a supportive and happy work environment.

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Jen Leigh

Jen Leigh is a Senior Product Specialist with Inflection HR's Cloud Based HR and Workforce Management Solutions. Connect with Jenni and the rest of the Inflection HR Team on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or Google +.