How to Talk to an Employee About Excessive Absenteeism
Nov 01, 2022   |   By TeamSense

How to Talk to an Employee About Excessive Absenteeism

Why talking to your hourly employees about their absences is more effective than automatic disciplinary actions.

Absenteeism is a big deal. Team members making a habit out of excessive late arrivals and early departures is a major problem across multiple industries. And it doesn’t take very long for absenteeism to negatively affect productivity and business profits.

On top of that, absenteeism can completely cripple large front-line operations that depend on manual labor or shift work of hourly employees. According to the CDC, the productivity loss related to absenteeism costs employers $225.8 Billion each year, or $1,685 per employee.1

What is considered excessive absenteeism?

In its simplest definition, excessive absenteeism is when an employee is absent continuously. Over and over again. Without giving notice that they’ll be out. SHRM defines excessive absenteeism as “two or more occurrences of unexcused absence in a 30-day period.”2 That’s a valuable data point to use as a gauge for what counts as excessive absenteeism.

Now, some amount of absenteeism is to be expected when running a business. That’s just the reality of operating a company with people. People get sick. People have doctor appointments. People take vacations. People have outside-of-work commitments that they need to keep. To expect every one of your team members to have perfect attendance is not realistic in any way, shape, or form.

Are Vacation Days and Sick Days Considered Excessive Absenteeism?

No, using vacation and sick days doesn’t usually fall into the “excessive absenteeism” category. That is, unless someone is thoroughly abusing their company’s vacation policy or sick leave.

From scheduled absences like vacation days to unscheduled absences like sick days, there are times when workers have legitimate reasons to take time off of work. And that’s all part of what comes with running an organization.

But team member absences become excessive when they fall above a normal level of absenteeism or become unreasonable. The definition of how many absences equals an excessive amount is up to you and your attendance policy. 

How To Know If an Employee Has Excessive Absences

To figure out if an absence is excessive—look at data to find out. According to the Academy to Innovate HR, 1.5% of aggregated absence is illness-related.3 That means that anything above that 1.5% threshold is usually because of non-illness-related reasons, such as personal issues or work conflicts.

To decide if the absences are unreasonable, you’ll need to base your decision on the underlying reason for the absence, your company’s policies and procedures when it comes to time off, and the average level of absences expected in your industry or at your worksite. Of course, this is another reason why having an attendance policy at your company is essential.

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Include Attendance Expectations in Your Employee Handbook

Don’t wait for chronic attendance issues to keep popping up before you address your workplace’s requirements and make your expectations clear. Make sure these policies and procedures are known from the get-go. From day one on the job, employees should know your attendance policies and who to contact when they are absent.

Proactively improving your employee handbook and reminding your team of your policies can go a long way to help you avoid absenteeism. The handbook policies impacting absenteeism include time and attendance, disability accommodation, leaves of absence, ethical conduct, and disciplinary actions.

Speaking of your employee handbook, make sure it includes these things:

  • Easy-to-understand language

  • Text written in your workforce’s primary language

  • Clarity on the procedures for handling absences

  • Clear communication on expectations of disciplinary action

In addition to that, make sure reading and understanding the employee handbook is emphasized upfront as part of new hire onboarding and orientation. And, of course, always have your employee handbook looked at and approved by a labor attorney licensed to practice in your state.

Employees should also receive occasional reminders about the policies and procedures and where to find them. Don’t make a practice out of forcing employees to sign acknowledgments of policies they’ve never seen or can’t access. Not only is it ineffective, but it can also create extra liability for your organization.

Once the handbook policies are explained to an employee, all employees should sign, acknowledge, and agree to the handbook policies.

How To Discuss the Problem of Absenteeism

Once you’ve discovered the pattern of excessive absenteeism, it’s time to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with the team member. But that’s easier said than done sometimes. The reality is, clearly communicating with an employee about their excessive absenteeism (and addressing the issue head-on) can be tricky. Here are six tips to help you talk about excessive absenteeism with your employee.

1. Clearly Communicate Attendance Policies and Absence Procedures

With your attendance policy clearly laid out in your employee handbook, use that to help back you up as you talk with your employee about their excessive absenteeism.

Attendance and punctuality should always be listed as essential parts of each employee's job duties. Remind your team member of what was expected of them when they accepted this role. You can even point back to the employee handbook they signed when they started with your company (which should have clearly covered absence and call-out expectations).

2. Show Employees You Care—Find Out Why They’re Absent

It’s easy to assume that every employee with attendance issues is either lazy or completely uninterested in their job. But there’s probably something else going on deeper than that. You’ll never know unless you ask. And guess what? The underlying cause matters.

Whether your employees are absent or tardy due to transportation issues, health issues, personal circumstances, or burnout, it’s essential to understand their barriers to success and find out why they are absent. Focusing on the symptoms of chronic absenteeism versus addressing the root cause can result in unnecessary turnover and wasted time on your part.

Listen and be empathetic, but take the opportunity to reinforce the expectations and requirements of the job. Reiterate how vital excellent attendance is to your operations. Ask what you can do to support them and help them show up on time, as scheduled.

Before talking with the employee, check with your HR representative. There are questions you should and should not ask employees in different circumstances, and it’s important to have HR looped in to avoid any potential bumps in the road.

3. Address Attendance Issues In Real-Time

Don’t wait to address attendance issues. Letting excessive absenteeism go on for months before you talk about it does a disservice to everyone involved. It’s like disciplining a child two weeks after they did something wrong. Delaying the discipline does no favors and just makes it worse when the hammer comes down.

If your employee handbook says that a warning is issued after three unexcused absences, then be prepared to follow through with those rules. It’s important that your team knows excessive absences will be handled in a way that lines up with the attendance policy with no surprises or special treatment.

Download An Engagement Survey To Gauge Morale

Poor employee morale can be a leading cause of excess absences. Our engagement survey can help pinpoint issues and get employees back in the door! 

4. Apply the Rules Fairly to Everyone

And speaking of special treatment, it’s key that your company applies the rules fairly to everyone—no matter who it is. You need to make sure no special treatment or favoritism is happening at your company. Upper management or entry-level employees—it makes no difference when it comes to enforcing the rules around excessive absenteeism.

Fair and consistent accountability is key to effectively enforcing your time and attendance policy, not to mention building respect from your team while inspiring integrity. When everything is laid out clearly, management is held accountable to follow through with the same kind of treatment for everyone.

5. Have Documentation That Backs You Up

Before you go and make accusations, be sure you have documentation to prove that the employee did not report for work. A simple-to-use attendance management system is perfect for this and works far better than an Excel spreadsheet to prove your point.

The ruling in the court case of Williams v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC shows us the importance of demonstrating when an employee is unable to perform the essential job function of regular attendance and punctuality. In this case, a well-documented employee attendance points system prevented AT&T from having to accept an employee’s continued absences and tardiness.4

The most reliable way to demonstrate patterns of policy violations is with an absence tracking system. TeamSense’s software allows your company to track and automatically keep documentation on unapproved absences for dispute resolution or audit purposes (if they pop up later on down the road).

6. Praise and Reward Good Attendance While Acknowledging Improvements

People love being rewarded for doing good things. Neuroscience research has shown that employees respond better to rewards and recognition than threats and punishment.5, 6 Instead of fearing the bad, disciplinary outcome, many employees are more inspired by positive reinforcement. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge when employees have improved their attendance and give public praise for achievements like no unexcused absences or perfect attendance.

And if you really want to motivate your team, make things competitive and add in prize rewards to promote excellent attendance. It doesn't have to be anything huge. A small cash bonus for perfect attendance for the quarter, a $25 gift card, or even free company swag can make all the difference to your team.

Track Attendance With Text and Spot Excessive Absenteeism Fast

You can nip absenteeism in the bud by leveraging smart, user-friendly technology. TeamSense’s simple absence management tool handles the immediate response when the employee calls out, along with instantly documenting their absence. The system sends you real-time, automated notifications altering you that an employee will be out—allowing you time to find coverage for the shift.

Oh, and the best part? There’s no clunky app to worry about pushing out to your employees and talking them into downloading. All the employee needs to do is use their phone to text that they’ll be out. Simple as that. Say goodbye to no shows that stack up to excessive absenteeism over time. Our text-based attendance management system shows you absences in real-time so you can do your job the way you need to.

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