In today’s post, CAI’s Vice President of Membership Doug Blizzard shares helpful tips to create an attendance policy that will work well for the needs of your business.
Absent. Tardy. Leave early. Words that have made managers cringe since the first workplace. “Attendance” can be a real hornet’s nest that can go in many different directions. When you’re too lenient people can take advantage. Too strict and it can damage morale and/or drive away good people. Finding the right balance can be tricky even for the most seasoned of managers.
When you think about an employee’s overall work performance, job requirement number one is that they come to work, right? Duh. Well “come to work” isn’t as straightforward as it used to be, particularly for workplaces with higher numbers of “white collar” employees. Telework, telecommute, and flextime are all much more prevalent today than say ten years ago, and all of them seem to live in a realm above something as disciplinary or 1970’s sounding as absenteeism and attendance.
So step one for a good manager is to understand the company’s stance and/or policy on attendance or absenteeism and then fall in line with it. I’ve seen many technically minded managers fail when they attempt to implement their own attendance policy in the absence of a clear company policy.
Let’s now turn to how to handle the chronically late or absent professional employee.
Strike three you’re out! One strategy is to adopt a very strict attendance policy. Every tardy, leave early, or absence is documented to the minute and after a preset number has been exceeded disciplinary action ensues. While this approach is a way of life for many employers who have large numbers of hourly employees, it will sound totally foreign to more white collar environments. If you’re managing in a strict policy environment, perhaps this article isn’t for you. Otherwise, read on …
Keep those germs out of here! It bears saying that you really don’t want sick employees in your workplace infecting other workers, a situation some call “presenteeism,” meaning they’re present but very unproductive because of an illness (and infecting others making them less productive). And this advice goes for you as the manager when you’re sick. No one wants you there and you’re setting the wrong example. Work from home if you must.
But what about the person that is just sick a lot? There are a few regulations you must consider that deal with sickness such as the Family Medical Leave Act (must have 50 employees or more) and potentially the Americans with Disabilities Act (15 employees or more). Once you’ve exhausted those requirements, you may find that you just can’t continue to employ someone who is chronically not there or late, even if they have a legitimate reason(s) for being absent. My typical advice is to stay focused on job performance.
If someone is always calling in sick or late, if you’re paying attention, their job performance is suffering as measured by project completion, customer satisfaction, effect on other employees, cost, etc. Focus on the performance and not the “sickness.” The more you make it about the sickness the more you’re making their case for being “disabled” or covered by some other law.
What about the person that is out a lot and/or absent who really isn’t sick? Think of all the reasons, legitimate and not, for someone to be absent. Hundreds of scenarios. Some are obviously ok and not ok, many are grey. Do you really want to have to make an individual decision every time someone is absent as to its legitimacy? That’s why my advice, absent a clear policy, is to stay focused on job performance, unless of course they are misleading you as to why they are out, in which case disciplinary action is usually called for.
In fact, I don’t believe in regulating attendance very strictly on professional exempt employees unless someone gives me a reason to do so. We compensate professionals with a salary to get a job done regardless of how many hours that takes each week. The more you treat them like hourly employees, for example strictly regulating their attendance, the more they will fall into an 8 to 5 mentality, which is not what you want from a professional employee. I had a technical manager that insisted on managing his exempt professionals with our hourly attendance policy. He was flabbergasted that the professionals demanded overtime pay whenever they stayed late or worked during a weekend. Again, he created that 8 to 5 mentality.
But what if their job performance isn’t suffering? Perhaps some of your “best” employees just don’t like to work to a strict schedule. You’re concerned if you lean on them they might leave. I would look to your company culture and policy. If your firm expects people to work a strict schedule then you will need to reign in your prima donna or risk losing other people and /or getting in trouble yourself. Other employees who aren’t out a lot are watching your every move. At some point their attendance will also start to slide if they see you’re ineffective in dealing with it.
What about consistency? Should you give more leniency to a long service solid performer who gets into a temporary bind or do you treat them the same as you would a six month employee? Trying to be 100% consistent with attendance on professional employees is a losing proposition.
When to take action? When someone’s attendance is affecting their performance or others, or is so far above the norm from the average employee, it’s time to start the disciplinary process. Follow your company’s process, or in the absence of one I like the three strikes rule. Talk to them about it once, then provide a written warning, then on strike three let them go. At each step make it clear what successful attendance looks like and the consequences for not improving. And make sure you document every step clearly so you can go back and see a clearly communicated line from offenses to termination.
One policy or two? Am I suggesting you treat exempt employees different than hourly employees? Well legally they are different. The hourly employees typically only get paid when they work unless you provide them with a paid time off benefit. Absent a policy, I would also stay focused on performance with hourly employees when it comes to attendance issues.
You may be the problem. Your own management style and behaviors can greatly contribute to or reduce employee absenteeism. Poor management causes more employee “sickness.” Chose to be a good manager. Set clear and high expectations, hold people accountable, and treat them like adults and you’ll be amazed at how those attendance issues you’re having go away.
Have any more questions about how to tailor an attendance policy for your firm’s culture? Call our Advice and Resolution team today at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.
If you have any further ideas about how to handle absenteeism, please let us know in the comments!