Controlling Absenteeism

Courtesy of ATSI

There are many reasons why employees don’t come to work. They have the flu. Their cousin got married. The car wouldn’t start. The baby-sitter quit. The cat died. The moon is full.

Of course, most sick leave is legitimate; people stay home because they are sick. But abuses do occur. Fred is absent once a month, usually on Friday or Monday. Matilda is deathly ill one day and back to work the next, looking fit as a fiddle. Harry jokes about taking “Mental Health Days” and then proceeds to get sick when the crunch is on.

Many things that keep people from coming to work are beyond your control as an ordinary mortal who happens to be a supervisor or owner. You can’t regulate the phases of the moon, nor can you reschedule this year’s influenza epidemic for a more convenient time.

This does not mean, however, that there is nothing you can do about absenteeism. The fact that people are more likely to call in sick when they don’t feel their attendance really matters, when they find their working conditions unpleasant or stressful, or when they feel taken for granted. Anything you can do to prevent or offset such feelings will have a positive effect on attendance. Here are some guidelines.

1. Make sure that everyone knows the sick leave policy and that you always stick to it. Is sick leave unpaid if it comes directly before or after a paid vacation? Is a doctor’s statement required after three days’ leave?

2. Ask that employees who call in sick talk directly to you. When you get their calls, ask what the problem is and how long they expect to be away from work. Tell them that they will be missed and that you hope they get well quickly.

If you are sincere, your comments will have a positive effect on attendance. People will miss fewer days because they will return to work sooner. It’s also a fact that an employee who has to tell the owner he or she can’t come in is more likely to have a good reason for doing so.

3. Keep an eye out for patterns in the absences that do occur. Is an employee taking sick leave every Friday during hunting season? Is someone else gone one Wednesday afternoon every month? If you do find a pattern, see if it is related to a recurring job duty. The employee may have a particular responsibility that he or she doesn’t like or is trying to avoid.

4. Stay informed about what is happening in each person’s job. If you do, you’ll be better able to arrange to have their duties covered if they get sick. More important, you won’t be caught unaware if some work-related problem is about to cause an absence.

On this point, don’t overlook the value of “supervising by walking around.” Get on your feet and visit every work area – every employee- every day. It’s important to make contact and show that you are interested. People are much more likely to feel responsible for their jobs – and to minimize sick leave – if they know you’re genuinely interested in their work and how they feel about it.

5. Make it a point to welcome back each person who’s been gone. Greet them in the morning or at the beginning of the shift. Shake their hand and tell them you are glad to see them back and well. Ask how they are feeling and listen if they want to tell you about being sick. Listening says you care.

[From Connection Magazine, May 1995]

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