An employee’s alarm clock doesn’t go off and they are late for their shift. Children get sick and their parents have to stay home to take care of them, even if that means missing a few days of work. We’ve all experienced similar situations and don’t usually give them a second thought. But what if these incidences start becoming more frequent? Is it just an unlucky streak of illness and accidents, or is it signaling a more significant issue? While illness and honest mistakes are a part of life, it’s important for employers to keep an eye on behavior patterns that may signal absenteeism in the workplace.

What is absenteeism?

It’s a pattern of behavior where an employee frequently is late for or misses work without good reason. For example, if an employee is fifteen minutes late for the same shift nearly every day, that signals absenteeism. Uncontrollable circumstances, like illness or car trouble, are often a different matter.

Absenteeism is important to monitor because it affects employees and employers in significant ways. When an employee misses work, it can cause an increased workload for other employees, decreased productivity, and interpersonal conflict among employees and employers. Not to mention, if your business is service-based, employee absenteeism reflects poorly on the company and could cause you to lose customers.

If employee absenteeism appears to be a problem for your business, it’s better to take action immediately and start implementing procedures that benefit both you and your employees.

Here are five steps toward reducing employee absenteeism in the workplace.

1. Create an Employee Attendance Policy (If You Don’t Have One Already)

While it’s impossible to account for every “What-If” scenario, creating an employee attendance policy is crucial for every business. The policy should cover everything from scheduling and expectations for attendance to requesting time off and addressing unscheduled absences. Remember to keep the employee attendance policy straightforward. Including notes on who to contact if an employee is sick or late or how to request time off can go a long way in managing employee and employer expectations for attendance.

Don’t know where to start with your new employee attendance policy? The Society for Human Resource Management offers a basic attendance policy that you can use to build the perfect document for your company.

2. Address Your Attendance Policy on Day One

Once you have an employee attendance policy in place, don’t let it get lost in the employee onboarding shuffle. Including the attendance policy in an employee handbook or orientation can help ensure new employees understand the rules and have a chance to ask questions. If you have implemented a new employee attendance policy for your team, take time to go over it in a staff meeting so that all of your employees have an up-to-date understanding of your expectations.

3. Keep a Record of Absenteeism

Having an employee attendance policy is only the first step. For large teams, especially those that work remotely or on job sites, it can be challenging to track absenteeism manually. That’s why we recommend finding the right attendance-tracking tool for your business. An online time clock is often the perfect solution for a company looking to track absenteeism and manage schedules more efficiently.

For small teams, you may be able to note absences in a spreadsheet each time they occur. However, if your team is larger and relies on supervisors to manage your workforce, utilizing an employee time tracking system may be essential. No matter what process you have in place for tracking employee absenteeism, you must consistently track patterns in employee behavior.

Recording absences also protects your business if you do need to let an employee go due to absenteeism. You can be sure that if legal action is taken, you have a record of the employee’s patterns of behavior.

4. Enforce Your Attendance Policy

There is no point in having an employee attendance policy if it is not enforced. When patterns of absenteeism arise, that’s often a sign that the behavior is already accepted. To stop absenteeism before it becomes a problem, employers must enforce the employee attendance policy. Address unscheduled absences as they happen. Build procedures for calling in sick or letting supervisors know that an employee will be late. Many businesses have success with laying out clear consequences for attendance violations, such as verbal warnings and formal reviews. Just be sure the consequence matches the offense.

5. Keep the Line of Communication Open

As with any team, it’s essential to keep the door open for conversations on best practices in the workplace. Ensuring your employees feel comfortable sharing why they might be struggling to make it to work on time can go a long way in creating a positive work environment that leads to success for the whole team. Remember to handle tardiness and absences with empathy when necessary. Family emergencies and accidents do happen.

Communication can also help identify ways you, as an employer, can adjust the employee attendance policy to help better hold employees accountable and provide them with the support they need as your business grows and changes.

Implementing and enforcing an employee attendance policy won’t solve absenteeism in the workplace in a day. However, it is an important step towards a better work environment for employers and their employees. We recommend viewing your employee attendance policy as a living document that adapts as your business’s and employees’ needs change. As long as you keep your employees updated on any changes made to the policy, filling in gaps found along the way will allow your business to have a clear strategy to combat absenteeism in the workplace.