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Manage absenteeism—while you can

Nip it in the bud to avoid bigger problems later

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Office Management,Performance Reviews,Records Retention

If you have employees with chronic attendance problems, you can’t rely on company policy to make things easier. Even if you follow the rules and mete out punishment fairly, it’ll still drain your energy and divert you from more important matters.

Minimize the problem from the outset. By educating, tracking and warning people, you’ll reinforce the need for everyone to show up.

Use these preventive measures to keep absenteeism in check:

Get specific. During performance reviews, avoid vague characterizations of an employee’s attendance record. Labeling someone as “somewhat reliable” or “often absent” leaves room for interpretation.

It’s better to plug in hard data: the number of workdays since the last review along with the number of unexcused absences during that period. Express it as a percentage (“You did not show up 16 percent of the time”) and state your expectations in terms of percentages that are acceptable and excellent.

Document all violations. An otherwise fine employee fails to show up for work. Six hours later, you learn what happened and you’re tempted to let it slide. Don’t.

Even if the individual has a great excuse for not calling in, you should document the incident and add it to the personnel file. Explain that you treat all unexcused absences consistently—and that means writing up each of them. That way, you build a paper trail if you eventually opt for employment probation.

Explain what’s at stake. At staff meetings, help employees see the repercussions when they’re absent. Don’t nag or preach. Just walk them through the costs, from lining up temps to shoving more work onto beleaguered co-workers.

Follow up. When a worker returns from an absence, do more than say “Glad you’re back.” Ask some gentle, nonthreatening, forward-looking questions. Examples: “What do you think will prevent this from happening in the future?” and “Can we rely on you to be here every day as things heat up?”

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