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Closing the door on absence problems

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Employee absences are never welcome. That's why you've posted and explained your organization's absenteeism policy. That's also why you counsel workers who are often absent, look for ways to re-motivate them, and discipline repeat offenders. But you can also reduce absenteeism with a program of proactive planning. Some ideas:

- Keep an absence log. Mark each absence on a monthly calendar, perhaps using the absentee's initials or a different color for each team member. The specifics of who's absent, on what days, and how often will give you a handle on when and where opportunistic absenteeism generally strikes.

Over several weeks, months, or even years, your log will help you identify any significant patterns. It will help prove (or disprove) your hunches that certain people are absent too often, that certain days aren't covered well enough, or that the team as a whole is under-motivated about reliably showing up to work.

- Target problem areas. Decide which opportunistic absences are causing the greatest problems, and whether each calls for individual or team attention. Some cases are best handled one-on-one.

For example, a team member might regularly add another day to three-day weekends. Another might miss the same day of the week with frequency that is more than coincidental. Others might disappear the first day of every duckhunting season, or the first day of the January white sales.

But other patterns can reveal teamwide problems. For example, absences can pile up, month after month, year after year, on the exact days when your team is expected to count inventory, attend refresher training, or do other workplace equivalents of dissecting that high-school science lab frog.

- Ask for team help. Begin mentioning the absenteeism problem — without naming names — in team meetings. Cite the numbers in staff reports or bulletin board postings. If necessary, add "reduce absences" to your team goals. Work with the team not only to uncover reasons for the problem, but to brainstorm and adapt solutions from other workplace situations.

One team, for example, noticed that people almost never missed a payday, and began scheduling some less-favorite tasks on those days when people were most strongly motivated to come in.

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