Absenteeism is, to some degree, unavoidable when you’re running a small business. No matter how dedicated or reliable your employees are, there are going to occasionally be reasons they need to miss work; for example, they might get sick, need to take a mental health day, or experience a personal or family emergency that needs their attention.
The occasional employee absence is fine. But when absenteeism becomes excessive, it can have a seriously negative impact on your business, including lost productivity, additional costs, and an overall decline to team morale and commitment.
But what, exactly, is considered excessive absence from work? How can you prevent your employees from missing an excessive number of workdays? And what do you do if you find yourself dealing with an employee who is racking up absences that clearly fall under the “excessive” umbrella?
What is considered excessive absenteeism?
So, first things first—what, exactly, qualifies as excessive absenteeism?
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule as to exactly how many absences from work constitutes excessive absenteeism. But generally, excessive absenteeism would be considered a number of absences considered unreasonable and/or that fall above what you would consider a “normal” level of absenteeism—and, even then, whether an absence would be considered excessive would depend on the circumstance.
So, for example, let’s say you offer your employees five days of sick leave each year. If you have an employee who catches the flu—and they use all five of those sick days at once while they’re at home recovering—that wouldn’t be considered excessive absenteeism; the employee took off a reasonable amount of time for a valid reason.
On the other hand, if you have an employee that has five single day absences over the course of two months, depending on the circumstances, that could be deemed excessive—particularly if they were unexcused absences (as opposed to excused absences for things like medical appointments).
Keep in mind that only unexcused absences are considered absenteeism—not excused absences (like approved vacation time).
How can you prevent excessive employee absenteeism?
The best way to prevent excessive employee absenteeism is addressing your expectations around employee absences right from the get-go—with a clear employee attendance policy.
Carve out a section of your employee handbook to outline your company’s attendance policy. This should include:
- A review of your paid time off policy (including the number of days for sick time, vacation time, and any other leave or PTO offered)
- How the company views and handles different types of absences, including tardiness, sick days, and no-calls/no shows
- The procedure for reporting an unscheduled absence (for example, the procedure for calling in sick)
- The number of unexcused/unscheduled workdays that the company considers excessive absenteeism
- The disciplinary action employees will face if their absenteeism is deemed excessive
Have human resources review your attendance policy with every employee—and once the review is complete, have the employee sign the attendance policy and keep a copy in their personnel file.
What to do if an employee starts racking up excessive absences
Having a clear attendance policy can help prevent excessive absenteeism—but even so, you might find yourself dealing with excessive employee absences at some point.
If you have an employee who is missing work and racking up unscheduled absences, here are some tips for effectively managing the situation:
Consider the circumstances
Again, excessive absenteeism doesn’t have any firm definition. So, before you take any disciplinary action against an employee for excessive absenteeism, it’s important to consider the circumstances that led to the employee’s absences. If the circumstance is unusual, short-term, and somewhat out of the employees’ control, you might consider letting them slide.
For example, maybe you have an employee that recently lost a loved one or has a family member dealing with a serious medical condition—and have been taking off more time than usual to try to navigate the challenging situation within their family. Or maybe your employee’s car broke down—and, as a result, they were tardy a few days in a row while they figured out the best way to get to work using the public transportation system.
In those circumstances, you might consider cutting your employee some slack, even if the absences are what you would typically consider excessive—especially if you’re dealing with an employee who generally has good attendance. Life happens—and if you can cut your employees some slack when it does, it will show them that you’re invested in them and their place within your company.
Track your employee’s attendance
If you’re considering taking disciplinary action against an employee for excessive absenteeism, it’s important that you track that employee’s attendance. You’ll need a clear attendance record that shows when and how often they were tardy or absent from work. With an app like Hourly, you can track when an employee clocks in, and where—and keep an organized record of it all on your phone, or desktop.
Talk to the employee
Before you move forward with disciplinary action, you should talk to the absent employee about their absenteeism. Explain how their absenteeism is negatively impacting your business and their co-workers. Tell them that you need them to show up to work on-time and in accordance with your attendance policy—otherwise, you’ll have to move forward with disciplinary action.
Often, a simple conversation is all it takes to bring the issue to your employee’s attention and get their attendance back on track.
Move forward with disciplinary action
If, after you talk to your employee, their absenteeism doesn’t improve, it’s time to move forward with any disciplinary action outlined in your employee handbook.
Call a meeting with your employee and let them know how they were in violation of your attendance policy, what disciplinary actions are being taken, and what progressive discipline they’ll face if they don’t comply with your attendance policy moving forward. Be as clear and specific as possible—and have human resources create a document for both you and your employee to sign that clearly outlines all of the above.
Don’t let excessive absenteeism hurt your business
As mentioned, absenteeism is, on some level, unavoidable. But excessive absenteeism can put your business at risk—so make sure that you’re taking the steps necessary to prevent excessive employee absenteeism (and that you’re taking the proper steps to deal with it if and when it happens).