BlogTop Tips For Reducing Employee Absence

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Published: December 1, 2020

Employees who are constantly late – or worse, don’t show up at all – can be a complete nightmare. We’ve had a look at a few ways you can work to reduce employee absence and build a happier workforce in the process.

An empty cafe, with no staff in sight

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Write A Policy

The first, and most simple, move you can make is to create a clear leave policy. Admittedly that doesn’t sound overly simple, but don’t run screaming just yet; the internet contains hundreds of different policy templates, so most of the hard work has already been done. Have a look around and find the right one for you. Once you’ve got your starting point the key thing to remember is to keep the rules straightforward for staff, so that they know what they’re supposed to do and what will happen if they don’t. The policy doesn’t need to be written in complicated legal jargon to do the job; in fact, it’s better if it uses plain language to make it accessible for everyone. Legislation varies depending on the country you trade in though, so make sure your policy complies with any relevant laws.

Handling Absence

Ideally, your policy will include guidance on how employees should report an absence, the circumstances in which an absence is allowed, and the disciplinary procedures which will be followed if they’re consistently late, don’t turn up, don’t report absences, or are absent without good reason. It’s also worth including a method for employees to log planned absences ahead of time. Yes, it would be lovely if they never needed time off and turned up promptly every day with robotic dedication. (Did we say ‘lovely’? We may have meant ‘creepy’.) But in reality, staff will occasionally have appointments, childcare issues, or holidays which they’ll know about in advance and need to take time off for.

It’s also significantly better, both for your staff and for your business, if they do take the occasional break; well-rested employees are happier, perform better, and are more productive. Making it clear to employees how to record planned absences makes sense because it lets you plan around them. That's far better than being surprised when they call in ‘sick’ on the day because they’re not sure if they’re allowed to have time off.

Handling The Return To Work

Conducting return-to-work interviews for any unplanned leave as part of your policy can also be a useful deterrent; it’s amazing how much less willing people are to call in ‘sick’ if they know they’ll have to have a face to face conversation about it when they’re next working. Having meetings after unplanned leave should also help you to establish the causes behind the leave. Hopefully this will stop it from reoccurring, either by reminding the employee of the rules or by enabling you to make adjustments to help them.

Figure Out What’s Going On

So, you’ve crafted a beautifully detailed policy but certain employees still seem to be struggling to follow it. The next step is to work out why. Now that you’ve removed the possibility of them just not understanding the rules you’re left with two possibilities; either they’re absent because of something that’s happening at work or because of something going on outside of it.

The best way to figure out the cause is to start tracking the problem properly. Is the employee always late, or only on certain days? Are they more likely to call in sick if they’re scheduled for shifts at certain times of the day? Do they always fail to show up if they’re working with a particular colleague? The better you understand the situation the easier it will be to resolve it. If you use shift scheduling or clock-in software you should be able to use this to track any repeating patterns. If not, consider keeping a log of any incidents for a few weeks, filling in as much detail as possible.

Once you have an understanding of the problem talk to the employee and get their input; it might be different from what you’d expect. Maybe they’re always late because they have to take their children to school before work. Maybe they have an underlying health condition which gets worse as the day goes on, making evening shifts difficult. Perhaps they’re avoiding a colleague who makes them feel uncomfortable. Sure, it could be that they’re just not that committed to the job, but that’s not always the case and talking to the employee is the best way of getting to the root of the issue.

Review Management

A common cause of employee absence is poor management. Employees who actively dislike their manager, or who lack motivation because of mismanagement, are far more likely to skip work or even look for work elsewhere. If you’ve found that employees reporting to a particular manager are the ones who are constantly absent then your first course of action should be to work with both the employees and the manager to establish the issue and resolve it.

Making sure that the manager has had sufficient training in leading a team is a good place to start; if they’ve only recently been promoted they may be struggling themselves and having a knock-on effect on their team. Providing support and highlighting best practice can also help to enable the manager to work at their best. This, in turn, should help their employees to feel more engaged with their role. If that doesn’t work and the manager is actively mismanaging or making employees uncomfortable then you may need to consider taking disciplinary action. It’s not pleasant but it’s better than allowing the rest of the team to continue suffering as a result.

Manage Workloads

Excessive workloads can also have a significant impact on employee attendance. Keeping track of the quantity and difficulty of tasks assigned to employees, as well as how quickly they’re able to complete each one, can help you to work out whether this is the case. Of course, it’s important that your staff have enough to do, but if they’re overworked they’re likely to become less productive as they spend more time worrying about the amount of work they have to do. This is even worse when the workload is distributed unevenly, with a few employees doing most of the work. Employees will gradually burnout, taking sick days to recover and potentially avoiding coming in altogether to escape from the stress.

Using task management software can help with this, ensuring that jobs are shared out equally and that employees are given long enough for each task. You could also consider allowing your team to set their own workloads, taking on extra work as and when they have the capacity for it while still being overseen by a manager to check that the team is still productive. Whether that works depends on your business and your staff, but where it’s suitable it can be very effective.

If you’ve tried several different options and nothing's helped it might be time to look at taking on more staff. That way, you can spread the load before your existing staff leave for good.

Boost Morale

Sometimes the cause of employee absence can be as simple (and as complicated) as low morale. If employees can’t find purpose in what they’re doing, don’t feel valued, or generally don’t enjoy being at work then it’s all too easy for them to slide toward arriving late or not turning up at all.

Making sure that the workplace is a positive place to be is key to tackling this. Thankfully there are a few straightforward steps which you can take to start making a difference. Giving positive feedback may sound like a small thing to do, but it can go a surprisingly long way; when employees feel that they and their work are valued they’re far more likely to see the point in working harder and making an effort to be on time.

Providing guidance on managing stress levels can also have an impact. Even if employees aren’t stressed they’ll appreciate the effort on your part, and feel more motivated as a result. You should also generally be paying attention to making the workplace safe both physically and mentally. As well as being a good idea for any business, this will help to keep employees comfortable in the workplace, which in turn will encourage them to show up!

Your key aim here should be to promote pride in the team as a whole; the more employees appreciate their work and their coworkers the more likely they are to enjoy being at work and trying to make a difference.

Show Support

There are still steps which you can take if employee absence is being caused by factors outside of work. The first, and most important, is to provide support for the employee. You may not be able to resolve the problem but providing a safe space for employees to discuss personal issues at work can go a long way toward helping them to cope. It’s crucial to make sure that employees aren’t afraid of raising personal issues for fear of being judged, or worse discriminated against, as a result. Whether they're struggling with a sick relative who needs care, a damaging relationship, or an ongoing physical or mental illness, supporting an employee will achieve a lot more than just pushing them to prioritise their work commitments. If you act as though you don't care then best case they’ll resent you for it, while worst case they won’t be able to cope.

Where possible and appropriate you could also consider providing access to external resources. As well as being a powerful employee perk this could help staff to handle any issues more effectively, allowing them to be more focused when at work.

It’s also incredibly important to provide support to employees who are returning to work after a period of absence. Making reasonable adjustments to help employees to return to work and making sure to be understanding can help to ensure that their absence is a one-off occurrence, and not the beginning of a trend. Depending on where you’re based, making reasonable adjustments could be a legal requirement too, so it’s worth bearing in mind.

Balance Work And Home

A final point to consider is that the employee’s problem might not fall solely in their work or home life, but somewhere between the two. If an employee has a large number of commitments then their absence might come down to them struggling to juggle everything rather than a lack of effort or motivation.

The best way to tackle this is to try to work with the employee, rather than against them. Flexible working can be a great way to do this, especially if there's a pattern to their absences. Adjusted working hours can help if the employee struggles with childcare or has particularly bad traffic on their commute.

Advertising the schedule ahead of time and allowing staff to set their availability can also make a big difference. You may find that your absent employee is far more motivated when they’re working afternoon shifts, or that the staff member who’s always late on a Tuesday is happy to work weekends instead. You'll still need enough cover each day, of course. But allowing employees to have a say in their schedules will help them to plan their time more effectively, freeing them up to be more focused when they’re on the clock.


We almost hate to say it, but it just so happens that Shiftie can help with these issues. We can track staff clock-in and out times, allow you to report on any absence trends, record employee availability preferences, and even let users log their own sickness on their phones so that at least you’ll know straight away if they won’t be showing up. We're not claiming that we can force employees to show up after a big night out with their mates. But hey, it’s worth giving us a go just in case, right?

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