How to Address Employee Absenteeism

When employees don’t shop up to work, their absence can make a significant impact on your company’s bottom line. Discovering and resolving the root cause of employee absenteeism at your company can be challenging, but well-developed policies and tactful conversations can help you address these issues thoughtfully and strategically.


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What is employee absenteeism?

Employee absenteeism occurs when employees demonstrate a pattern of missing work, whether they are regularly late or frequently call in last-minute without providing a reason. Everyone may have to be absent from work from time to time due to personal or medical reasons, but absenteeism becomes an issue when employees do not communicate about their attendance or take advantage of company lenience to avoid doing their job. 

Someone calling their boss and informing them that they will be late due to a flat tire on their way to work is an example of an employee appropriately handling an absence that is out of their control. If that employee starts canceling their shift last-minute on a weekly basis, their one-time issue has developed into a case of absenteeism.

Related: Attendance at Work: An Introduction


How employee absences impact a company

While there are many valid reasons why employees miss work, ignoring absenteeism issues at your business can lead to an unproductive company culture and seriously disrupt the workflow on your team. Small attendance issues can eventually grow and have the following negative effects on your business:

  • Reduced productivity
  • Lowered morale
  • Increased stress
  • Lost income


Signs of chronic absenteeism

Before you can address absenteeism on your team, it is important to be able to identify signs of chronic absenteeism:



Many employers consider it to be cause for dismissal if an employee fails to show up for work without notifying someone of their absence. While no-call-no-shows have varying impacts depending on the employee’s role and the type of business you run, they can be a sign of poor attendance habits in the future.


Calling in sick

Everyone gets sick from time to time, but employees who call in sick regularly may be using illness as an excuse to avoid coming to work for other reasons, especially if they call last-minute or have used up all of their official sick time.


Extended lunches

Taking longer breaks than your company allows is another sign of possible absenteeism problems. If you notice that a certain employee comes back from lunch late every day, it may be worthwhile to talk to them about how long lunches can add up to become a significant issue.


Employees away from their workstation

If you drop by an employee’s desk and find that they aren’t there, this could indicate that they are not spending all of their time at work actually working. While they could very likely be working on a task that requires them to be away from their workstation, not knowing an employee’s whereabouts can indicate attendance issues.


Leaving early or arriving late

Showing up to work tardy or leaving before the shift ends is another form of absenteeism that can negatively impact both the employee and the employer.


Tips for encouraging good attendance

One of the best ways to prevent employee absenteeism is to have a workplace culture that encourages consistent attendance. Use these tips to prevent absenteeism on a wider scale:

  • Encourage work-life balance. Employees who enjoy their company culture and don’t feel stressed at work are more likely to be excited about coming to work and less likely to miss shifts.
  • Be transparent. Talk to employees about your concerns before taking official action so that they have the opportunity to correct their behavior on their own.
  • Allow for flexibility. Letting employees set their own schedules or work from home can help them set up a convenient work schedule that doesn’t require them to call in.
  • Reward good attendance. Give out small rewards or prizes for employees who are always on time to provide positive reinforcement and encourage others to improve their attendance.


How to create and maintain an absence policy

Follow these steps to develop and enforce your company attendance policy:


1. Choose an appropriate buffer

When creating your attendance policy, decide how many absences an employee can take before it becomes an issue and determine when lateness becomes an issue. Some companies may give their employees a 15- or 30-minute window before or after the official start of their shift, while others need employees to be ready to work promptly at the expected start of their shift.


2. Create escalation levels

Decide on a consistent warning system that you can use to enforce tardies. Instead of firing someone the first time they are late to work, consider starting with a verbal warning, moving to a written warning if they are late again and then putting them on probation after additional offenses.


3. Track attendance issues 

Develop a system for tracking all kinds of employee attendance issues so that you have a clear record of employee behavior to use as evidence when addressing absenteeism. Even a simple spreadsheet can be extremely helpful in maintaining awareness of absenteeism on your team.


4. Open lines of communication

Create a clear system that employees should use to communicate about possible absences. Determine who employees should contact if they expect that they will miss a day, want to trade shifts or need to leave work early. Opening lines of communication prevents no-call-no-shows and helps management avoid logistical problems associated with an unexpected absence.


5. Enforce rules consistently

Once you have a policy in place, apply it consistently. While all employees have different life circumstances that could impact their attendance and it is important to be understanding, being inconsistent when enforcing the company attendance policy can lead to favoritism and make others on your team feel discouraged or unappreciated.


6. Post the policy prominently

Include the attendance policy in the employee handbook and post it in a visible location such as an office break room. Even if your team does not have issues with absenteeism, regularly remind them of company policies to keep your standards high.

Related: Creating Attendance Policies for Your Business


How to address absenteeism issues at your business

If you have an employee who has chronic attendance issues, follow these steps to address the problem appropriately and professionally:


1. Talk to the employee about the root cause

Before punishing your employee for being absent, sit down with them and have a discussion about why they have been calling in or showing up to work late. If your employee is struggling with health or personal issues, you may be able to provide them with the support to correct their problems. 

Employees may be taking absences due to a disability or health reasons, so don’t assume that they’re simply trying to avoid work. They could also be bullied in the workplace or feel overwhelmed, leading them to take days off due to stress. When having this conversation, be empathetic, solution-oriented and respectful of your employee’s privacy.


2. Have the company policy in-hand

When speaking with your employee, have a copy of the company policy ready so that you can directly compare their behavior to the expectations they agreed to when they accepted their position. Providing employees with a justification for your concern can help them gain valuable perspective on how their absences impact the team and show that you are holding them to the same standards as other employees.


3. Refer them to helpful resources

Once you understand why an employee has been having attendance issues, refer them to resources that could help them correct the issue. For example, you could refer them to a counselor to help them address challenges in their personal life, help them find more reliable transportation to get to work on time or educate them about your company’s work-from-home opportunities and wellness programs.


4. Create a plan for improvement

When meeting with your employee, set a clear timeline for when you expect to see improvements. Work with them to create a plan to track their attendance and discuss the next steps that would occur if their absenteeism continues. This could include checking in with their direct manager at certain times in the day, reviewing their schedule at the start of each week or having the employee clock in and out during their lunch hour and breaks.


5. Schedule future check-ins

Arrange for regular meetings to assess their progress and ensure that the cause of their absenteeism is being resolved. If an employee knows they have a check-in with their manager coming up, they will likely be more mindful of their absences and work harder to show growth and progress.


6. Issue a formal warning

If an employee continues to be late or absent from work, issue a formal warning through HR. The formal warning should outline the next step in the escalation process, which could include probation or even termination. Keep a copy of the improvement plan and the formal warning in the employee’s file to protect your company against possible wrongful termination claims.

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