HR Management & Compliance

Addressing Employee Attendance Problems

Do you find yourself dealing with a lot of employee absences? Employees need to take days off for a variety of reasons, but when it starts to feel excessive, it can cause workplace problems.


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There are several issues when employees are gone a lot, not the least of which can be resentment from other employees for having to cover the workload. Overall productivity may suffer, too. And when the absences are paid, that’s paid labor without work being done, which costs the organization.

Of course, there are many perfectly reasonable times employees will need to be away, and no one is advocating for employees to work when they’re ill or have emergencies to handle.

That said, there are steps employers can take to cut down on unnecessary, unplanned absences to at least encourage employees to take absences only when necessary and to plan in advance whenever possible and appropriate.

Ways employers can address employee attendance problems include:

  • Have and communicate a clear attendance policy, including the consequences (if any) for missing days of work. If start time and end time are critical for you, be sure the policy is clear on those, as well. Delineate what proof (if any) will be required for extended unplanned absences, such as more than X days away.
  • Provide appropriate levels of vacation time or paid time off (PTO) to allow employees to plan in advance for necessary time off for nonemergencies and appointments. Simply being able to plan for employee absences can lessen the number of last-minute call-ins significantly.
  • Have backup plans in place to cover absences. While this doesn’t reduce them, it does mean the problems will be reduced in the interim. This could start with cross-training other employees to handle the most essential tasks while another employee is away, for example. Or, as another example, it could mean having contractors available to cover shifts as needed.
  • Consider allowing more flexible working hours when possible; this doesn’t mean employees won’t take time away, but it may mean they will make up the hours by working a different start or end time instead of missing an entire day or the remainder of a shift. (The same could be said for allowing employees to occasionally work from home.)
  • Consider offering benefits that improve employee health and well-being. This alone can mean employees have fewer or shorter illnesses and thus fewer absences. This can even include benefits like financial counseling or other financial wellness items, which can decrease monetary stress. (Stress is a major factor in illness prevention.)
  • Pay attention to stress and burnout levels, and consider changing job duties if needed to alleviate major problems before they cause illnesses.

Employers need to strike a balance between allowing appropriate absences and discouraging abuse of the system. You’ll notice this list does not include promoting perfect attendance—an often well-intentioned policy that can backfire by disincentivizing sick employees from staying home (and thus coming in and getting others sick, too) and disincentivizing people from reporting injuries and illnesses on the job for fear of losing their attendance reward.

What does your organization do to discourage frivolous, unplanned absences without discouraging real ones?

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.

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