Introduction to Attendance Management

This document has been reprinted with permission from Benefits Interface Inc. - a federally incorporated Canadian corporation that assists employers in maximizing the value of their employee benefit compensation through creative plan design, cost containment, communication and administration.

The management of attendance is an important aspect of supervision in the workplace. The cost of absenteeism is greater than the direct payment of wages and benefits paid during the absence. Organizations must also consider the indirect cost of staffing, scheduling, re-training, lost productivity, diminished moral, turnover, and opportunity cost.

The indirect costs often exceed the direct cost of absenteeism. Each occurence of absence costs $2,500 in both direct and indirect costs (based on 9 days absent out of 250 working days and an average payroll of $35,000). Effective supervisory efforts in attendance management will affect a relatively small percentage of employees but will generate substantial savings, increased productivity and morale.

Definition of Absenteeism

Absenteeism is referred to herein as failure of employees to report for work when they are scheduled to work. Employees who are away from work on recognized holidays, vacations, approved leaves of absence, or leaves of absence allowed for under the collective agreement provisions would not be included.

The Causes of Absenteeism

The causes of absenteeism are many and include:

  • serious accidents and illness
  • low morale
  • poor working conditions
  • boredom on the job
  • lack of job satisfaction
  • inadequate leadership and poor supervision
  • personal problems (financial, marital, substance abuse, child care, etc.)
  • poor physical fitness
  • transportation problems
  • inadequate nutrition
  • the existence of income protection plans (collective agreement
    provisions which continue income during periods of illness or accident)
  • stress
  • workload
  • employee discontent with a collective bargaining process and/or its results

The Cost of Absenteeism

Decrease in Productivity

  • employees may be carrying an extra workload or supporting new or replacement staff
  • employees may be required to train and orientate new or replacement workers
  • staff morale and employee service may suffer

Financial Costs

  • payment of overtime may result
  • cost of self-insured income protection plans must be borne plus the wage costs of replacement employees
  • premium costs may rise for insured plans

Administrative Costs

  • staff time is required to secure replacement employees or to re-assign the remaining employees
  • staff time is required to maintain and control absenteeism

Sources of Absenteeism Statistics

A good source of paid sick leave statistics are Labour Reports because of their frequency of issuance . Another source is Workers' Compensation Board Statistics.

Do You Have An Absenteeism Problem?

Many organizations set aside approximately 3% of budget for absenteeism. This makes an average of about eight (8) days a year per employee.

If absenteeism is above your budgeted figure or certain employees exceed the average in your organization then this could indicate that you have an absenteeism problem. However, even if absenteeism is below your budgeted or average days per year, a problem may still exist for individual employees or for individual departments. A focused effort will likely yield improved attendance.

Trends in Absenteeism

Recent surveys indicate the following trends in absenteeism.

  • The higher the rate of pay and the greater the length of service of the employee, the fewer the absences.
  • As an organization grows, there is a tendency towards higher rates of absenteeism.
  • Women are absent more frequently than men.
  • Single employees are absent more frequently than married employees.
  • Younger employees are absent more frequently than older employees but the latter are absent for longer periods of time.
  • Unionized organizations have higher absenteeism rates than non-union organizations.

Understanding Absenteeism

The definition of absenteeism, its causes, its affects on productivity, and its costs in terms of finances and administrative effectiveness are quite clear. What is not as clear is how to take affirmative action to control absenteeism in such a way as not to create mistrust, costly administration and systems avoidance (game players). Traditional methods of absenteeism control based only on disciplinary procedures have proven to be ineffective. It is almost impossible to create a fair disciplinary procedure because even well run disciplinary systems, which treat similar actions in consistently similar ways, are usually seen as unfair. The reason for this is discipline alone usually does not identify or address the root causes of absenteeism.

Every employee who takes time off in defiance of company regulations has reasons, right or wrong, which justify to themselves the legitimacy of their actions. Unless a management attendance program identifies and addresses the causes of employee absenteeism it will be ineffective and unfair. Traditional disciplinary programs alone can, at best, give the illusion of control. It is no secret that there are ways to beat even the best systems. The fear of discipline often only increases the desire to avoid management systems. If absenteeism is to be controlled. The physical and emotional needs of employees must be addressed. In a 1985 study on "Rates of Absence among Nurses" it was found that 50% of absenteeism could be controlled through attending to employees physical and emotional needs.

Purpose of Attendance Management

The purpose of attendance management is to develop a willingness on the part of all our employees to attend work regularly and to assist them in motivating their coworkers to attend work regularly. This can be done through:

  • addressing the physical and emotional needs of our employees
  • communicating the attendance goals of the organization so employees can understand and identify with them
  • dealing with cases of excessive absenteeism effectively and fairly so deterrence can occur

Successful administration of an attendance management program requires managers and supervisors to be aware of and create work environments in which the following can be actualized:

  • The greater the extent to which individuals identify their goals with the goals of the organization and care what happens to it, the greater their motivation to be regular in attendance.
  • The more people find their jobs meaningful to them, the greater their motivation to be regular in attendance.
  • As employees workload increases due to the absence of a co-worker, peer pressure is exerted on the absent co-worker to attend work on a regular basis.
  • The more people like working for the organization the higher their motivation to attend regularly. Recognition of good employee attendance helps improve attendance.
  • Employees will have a lower absence ratio if they feel free to discuss their on-the-job problems with their immediate supervisor.
  • Employees with a low absence ratio have attitudes of confidence and "team" spirit.
  • Low absence ratio employees are found to be more satisfied with their opportunity for promotion and upgrading.

Commitment to Attendance

This paper provides the information necessary to begin an effective attendance management program which will yield long term results. This paper is intended to be a guide rather than an instruction manual or policy. To make an attendance management program truly successful, it will require insight into the special dynamics present in your work place. It will require two-way communication, as both the needs of the employees and of management must be met if good attendance is to be achieved. Attendance is the responsibility of the facility management and ultimately the administrators.

Attendance is not an expectation. It is a right of employers to have good attendance. Each and every employee has a contractual obligation to attend work regularly. All levels of management must believe in, be committed to, and communicate their expectations of good attendance. If a specific number of sick days are considered acceptable per employee, at best that will be the result. Employees will live up or down to expectations. Expectations must be clear to both management and employees in order for an attendance management program to get maximum results. Goals must be tangible. Attendance expectations must be clearly communicated and followed.

Income Protection

A common misconception about income protection plans is that they are a benefit as are vacations, and as such, should be fully utilized. The truth is income protection plans are an insurance. The sole and only purpose of pay for sick leave is to assist in protecting employees against loss of income in the event of an unavoidable absence due to sickness or a non-work related injury. Use of income protection plans for any other purpose negates their intent and, therefore, is intolerable. Communicating the true intent of income protection plans and our commitment to maintaining this original intent is an essential aspect of attendance management.