Three-Fold Path to Managing Absenteeism

Kathy Simpson

Absenteeism is an inconvenience to be expected. The stuff of life – whether it’s sickness, injury, family demands or personal issues – will inevitably interfere with work schedules. One employee out sick for just one day can pose hurdles to small business owners. When absences become excessive or extensive, the effects can take a toll on productivity, morale and the financial health of a business.

This three-fold path can help in managing absenteeism in the workplace.

1. Be Proactive

The best way to manage absenteeism is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

  • Provide an engaged workplace. When employees are engaged, absenteeism isn’t usually an issue. Engaged employees are willing to go the extra mile to help your business succeed. Compensation and the nature of the work itself contribute to a sense of engagement but more importantly, engaged employees feel respected, understand their contributions to the overall mission, have the tools and information they need to do their jobs well, and trust their manager and peers. If work is a fun place to be, all the better.
  • Offer alternative work programs. Flexible schedules, compressed work weeks and telecommuting can provide just the give your employees need to meet the demands of their work and outside lives without taking time off.
  • Make safety count. Attention to safety helps prevent personal and financial losses and protects your most valuable asset, your people. A safe workplace has fewer injuries and less absenteeism as a result.

2. Be Clear About Your Absence Policies

It’s helpful to review with your staff company policies for paid and unpaid time off as well as family and medical leaves. When it comes to the normal work day, a standard absence policy clearly communicated is essential. Apply it consistently to ensure you’re not confronted with complaints of favoritism or discrimination and include sufficient detail to prevent misinterpretation. For instance:

  • Define the work day. When does your business’s work day begin and end? If you offer flexible hours, what are the core hours when all hands should be on deck? What constitutes tardiness, and at what point does lateness become an unplanned day off?
  • Set a limit on sick time. You may set a number of days off per year that employees can take at their discretion, whether for unplanned or scheduled absences. Optionally, you can set a limit on the number of unplanned days off or occurrences per year, after which it’s time for an employer-employee conversation.
  • Require an early call-in to report an unplanned absence. Employees should call their manager, not a peer.
  • Conduct a return-to-work interview. This allows you to welcome the employee back to work and ensure they’re well enough to be on the job. It’s also a way to demonstrate your commitment to your absence policy.
  • Spell out the consequences. Define the process that will be followed when absences become excessive or chronic.

3. Respond to Absenteeism When It Occurs

To manage employee absenteeism and minimize its cost to your business:

  • Keeps records of all absences, whether for sick time or leave. These records will allow you to recognize trends and problem areas, quantify costs and identify corrective action.
  • Document your discussions with employees regarding absenteeism as well as any decisions reached and their outcomes. This will be essential in the event of an employee lawsuit or an investigation regarding your compliance with state and federal laws for workers’ compensation, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and others.
  • Introduce a Return to Work (RTW) program for workers recovering from an occupational injury or non-work related illness or injury. Options such as flexible scheduling, special adaptive equipment or alternative temporary work can help workers get back on the job while helping your business remain productive. A good workers’ compensation plan should be able to provide return to work programs as well as other benefits for employees.
  • Reinforce workplace safety practices.

Insurance companies such as The Hartford offer workplace safety and absence management services to their policyholders as part of their workers’ compensation or disability insurance contract. If you have a workers’ compensation policy with The Hartford, you’ll also find a wealth of information on The Hartford’s Loss Control website.

Contact your insurance agent for further information. If you don’t currently have an agent, you can find one in your area using The Hartford’s small business agent locator.


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