Attendance Management

(Created January 1987 and last edited September 2013)

The management of workplace 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 durance the absence. Organizations must also consider the indirect costs of staffing, scheduling, re-training, lost productivity, diminished moral, turnover, and opportunity cost. The indirect costs often exceed the direct cost of absenteeism.

The annual cost of absenteeism is $2,500, which includes both direct and indirect costs based on 9.3 days absent (Dabboussy & Uppal, 2012) out of 250 working days (Dabboussy & Uppal, 2012) and an average payroll of $47,771 ("Industrial aggregate excluding unclassified businesses", 2013).

Effective supervisory efforts to manage attendance will affect a relatively small percentage of employees, but will result in substantial savings, increased productivity and morale.

Definition of Absenteeism

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

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, childcare eldercare etc.)
  • poor physical fitness
  • inadequate nutrition
  • transportation problems
  • the availability of income protection plans
  • stress
  • excessive workload
  • employee discontent

Cost of Absenteeism

Absenteeism may have repercussions, which include:

  • 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
    • overtime or agency cost for replacement workers
    • cost of self-insured income protection plans
    • 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

Do You Have An Absenteeism Problem?

Many organizations allocate 3% of their labour budget for absenteeism based on an average of eight (8) working days missed per employee annually. Since the rate of absenteeism varies by industry, division and department it is best to compare to the most relevant benchmark available.

Sources of Absenteeism Statistics

Labour Reports, Workers' Compensation Board Statistics and Statistics Canada provide paid sick leave statistics.

Trends in Absenteeism

Surveys indicate the following generalities 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
  • Older employees are absent for longer periods of time than younger employees
  • Unionized organizations have higher absenteeism rates than non-unionized organizations

Understanding Absenteeism

The definition, causes, affects on productivity, and costs of absenteeism are quite clear. The challenge is to develop methods that support attendance and control absenteeism, in such a way as not to create mistrust, costly administrative procedures and systems avoidance. Traditional methods of absenteeism control exclusively utilizing 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 with consistent repercussions, are usually seen as unfair. This perception is common, because discipline alone neither identifies nor addresses the root causes of absenteeism. Every employee who takes time off in defiance of company regulations has reasons, which they believe justifies their actions. Unless a management attendance program identifies and addresses the causes of employee absenteeism, it will be ineffective and viewed as 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 employees to attend work regularly, and to assist them in motivating their co-workers to attend work regularly. This can be done through;

  1. addressing the physical and emotional needs of employees
  2. communicating the attendance goals of the organization so employees can understand and identify with them
  3. dealing with cases of excessive absenteeism effectively and fairly to produce deterrence.

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

  1. The greater the extent to which individuals identify with the goals of the organization and care what happens to it, the greater their motivation to be regular in attendance.
  2. The more that people find their jobs meaningful to them, the greater their motivation to be regular in attendance.
  3. As employees’ workloads increase due to the absence of a co-worker, peer pressure is exerted on the absent co-worker to attend work on a regular basis.
  4. The more people like working for the organization, the higher their motivation to attend regularly. Recognition of good employee attendance helps improve attendance.
  5. Employees will have a lower absence ratio if they feel free to discuss their on-the-job problems with their immediate supervisor.
  6. Employees with a low absence ratio feel confidence and have supportive relationships in their workplace. 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 everyone, especially those who directly manage the human resources of your organization.

Attendance is not only an expectation; employers have the right to receive 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 to the expectations that you set for them. 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 entitlements, like vacation benefit, and as such, should be fully utilized. The reality is that income protection plans are a form of 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 inappropriate. Communicating the true intent of income protection plans and our commitment to maintaining this original intent is an essential aspect of attendance management.