Employee attendance issues and how to address them

Regular employee attendance is essential for keeping your business running. Most small and medium-sized businesses have just enough staff to keep business operations running smoothly, and poor attendance can greatly disrupt key business functions.

Excessive employee absences or tardiness can lead to negative customer experiences, hurt employee productivity, and put undue work and pressure on the team members that do show up every day. As such, you’ll want to do your best to ensure that employees abide by their work schedules and show up on time.

While some absences such as sick leave can’t be avoided, there are plenty of steps that you can take to improve employee attendance within your organization. Find out how to create clear attendance expectations, maintain more detailed attendance data, and work with employees to improve their attendance.

Common employee attendance issues

Explore the top three workplace employee attendance issues that you need to be cognizant of in your workplace.

Excessive absenteeism

Excessive absenteeism is an attendance problem that occurs when employees accrue a large number of unexcused absences (also known as unapproved absences). Every manager runs into unreliable employees at some point who demonstrate excessive absenteeism. These are the employees that call off last-minute frequently when they aren’t actually sick or fail to properly submit vacation and time off requests through the proper channels to get them approved.

Remember that not all circumstances should be considered excessive absenteeism. An employee taking intermittent medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may have a large number of absences, but those are approved and federally protected absences. Employers should always dig into an employee’s attendance history and look at the causes of the absences before considering disciplinary action for excessive absenteeism.


Employees arriving late or tardy is generally less disruptive than absenteeism, but it’s still not ideal for businesses. An employee arriving late can disrupt morning meetings, create service delays for customers, or result in reception desks or phone lines being opened late.

How you manage employee tardiness will typically vary based on your business and its location. If your business is located in the busy downtown area of a large city, periodic employee tardiness may be inevitable as employees rely on public transportation which may face unexpected delays. If you have a remote team, there are no traffic or transit delays to worry about, so you may expect a higher degree of punctuality.

Employers need to work to find the right approach to this attendance issue for their business. Some employers like to be more flexible and relaxed, while others may have less tolerance for tardiness.

Improper clock-ins or time tracking

This is arguably the most serious employee attendance issue, as intentional improper time tracking can be a form of time theft or fraud. Employees who engage in buddy punching (having a coworker clock in or clock out for them) or who falsify their timesheets are being dishonest and costing the business money. In many cases, these attendance issues may be grounds for termination.

How to improve employee attendance in the workplace

Employee attendance can be a big issue, but you can tackle it by taking these simple steps to improve employee attendance.

Develop a clear attendance policy (and stick to it)

As with all company policies, it’s important to put your attendance policy in writing and make it available to all employees. Most employers choose to include the attendance policy in their employee handbook. This policy should set up transparent expectations for employee attendance.

Start by detailing your expectations that employees arrive on time and complete their scheduled work hours each day. Then, explain your expectations surrounding absences. Share how much advance notice you’d like for scheduled absences such as vacation time, and any request procedures or details on how requests are processed (ie. is it first-come-first-serve or by seniority?). There should also be guidelines in place for reporting unplanned absences such as sick days. The goal of this policy is for employees to have enough information to properly communicate any planned or unplanned absences appropriately and to understand employer expectations regarding consistent attendance.

If you don’t have a solid policy in writing yet, check out our employee attendance policy template as a starting point.

Offer flexibility where possible

Providing opportunities for flexibility in employee scheduling and work options can make all of the difference in improving employee attendance. Often employees are late because their scheduled start time does not work well with their children’s school schedule or the public transit schedule for their route. Encourage employees to come to you to request scheduling adjustments and do your best to accommodate them when it does not cause undue hardship to the business. After all, it’s typically better to have an employee arrive reliably at 8:30 AM rather than inconsistently at 8 AM, so adjusting employee hours is an option to be open to.

It can also be helpful to provide flexibility in terms of working from home. Employees who are sick should be able to take time off to fully rest, but remote work may be a good alternative to absences in some circumstances. For example, employees with kids may be willing to work remotely while they stay home with a sick child rather than calling out of work fully as long as they know management will be understanding if they need to step away here and there.

If you show that you are willing to work with your employees to find compromises that accommodate their needs and business needs, you’ll likely have better overall employee attendance and better communication around attendance matters.

Have a solid attendance tracking system

Small to medium-sized businesses don’t always want to invest in time clocks or time-tracking software for their teams. This is understandable as the pricing of such solutions can be a bit high. However, it’s best to have some form of daily attendance management system in place to track employee attendance. If you’re relying on self-reporting through manual timesheets, it can be tough to maintain clear attendance records and to really know who is coming in late each day.

Consider leveraging a low-cost attendance software system such as HubStaff or Clockify, or checking with human resources to see if the company’s overall HR software has a time-tracking feature included. You can also implement a good morning check-in via Microsoft Teams or Slack for remote or hybrid teams.

By using a more detailed attendance system, you can access up-to-date and real-time records of employees’ time. For busy managers, this makes it easier to identify attendance patterns such as increased tardiness, so that these issues can be addressed promptly.

Using an easy digital attendance software can also make time off requests and approvals easier for both parties. Streamline vacation or time off approvals by setting up automated notifications when requests come in, so that managers can process and approve them promptly. When employees know how to request time off and managers track and respond to requests promptly, it is easier to minimize unexcused absences and track excused absences.

Be cognizant of burnout

Employee burnout can be a huge contributing factor for employee attendance. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a form of chronic work stress that has not been effectively managed. It is characterized by excessive exhaustion or fatigue, reduced employee productivity, and a more negative outlook toward one’s job or profession. Standard work breaks such as two-day weekends may not be enough to recharge burned-out employees, causing them to call out sick more frequently.

To reduce burnout-related absences, every manager should be trained on proper workload distribution practices to ensure that they aren’t overloading certain team members and causing burnout. It’s also a good idea to create an open dialogue about burnout in the workplace. Encourage employees to talk to their managers if they are beginning to feel burned out.

Managers may also want to encourage employees who are feeling burned out or who have been under more stress at work than usual (such as working on a big, important project) to schedule time off to recharge. Encouraging them to plan and request time off during busy seasons or after high-pressure projects can help reduce unplanned, last-minute absences due to burnout or exhaustion.

Prioritize employee engagement

Employee disengagement is also a common contributing factor to increased absenteeism or poor attendance. If you’ve noticed an overall downward trend in employee attendance within your team, now may be the time to send out an employee engagement survey to assess whether disengagement may be a factor.

A survey is a great way to learn more about what employees want and how to improve attendance by boosting job satisfaction. Once the data comes in, you can create a game plan to address any areas that may be leading to a lack of engagement such as poor communication from management, a lack of workplace recognition, unreasonable workloads, poor compensation, or any other issues plaguing your employees,

Recognize good attendance

Don’t just focus on the employees exhibiting poor attendance, it’s also important to acknowledge those who show up on time and consistently. Be sure to highlight exceptional attendance and timeliness during employee performance reviews. It’s also a good idea to take a moment to say thank you to workers who have been showing up consistently during busy or high-stress periods at work or who have picked up the slack for absent employees recently. Showing them that their hard work and great attendance do not go unnoticed will encourage continued good attendance.

However, you will want to be careful about offering specific incentives for attendance. Including attendance in performance management discussions and acknowledging that more reliable and timely employees may have a better chance at promotions and raises is one way to incentivize good attendance (as long as those with protected excused absences such as FMLA leave know that they aren’t being penalized). On the other hand, perfect attendance awards or bonuses tend to have negative consequences such as burnout. The goal shouldn’t be zero absences as you do want employees to rest when they need it and to avoid coming to work while sick and spreading their illness to others.

Address attendance issues early

Many small businesses maintain fairly relaxed work cultures or simply don’t have the bandwidth to micromanage employee attendance. However, this can lead to small employee attendance problems growing worse. For example, if your employees realize that management won’t say anything about minor tardiness, they may stop working as hard to arrive on time. This tends to catch on throughout the employee population as they notice their peers arriving late without consequences, and eventually a large portion of your staff may be regularly showing up late in the mornings.

Instead, try to address any attendance issues and patterns that you observe early on. This doesn’t mean that you should jump to immediately write up an employee, but you should take time to check in and have a conversation with employees about increased tardiness or absenteeism. Sometimes a simple conversation can help you uncover the root cause of the attendance issue and find a solution.

If that initial conversation doesn’t work, you may need to advance to more formal warnings and disciplinary action. Have these check-ins early on and then provide verbal warnings if needed rather than waiting until the attendance problem has gotten bigger and the employee has developed bad habits. Turning things around after the first few tardies will be easier than trying to fix the attendance issue after it’s gone on for weeks or months.