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Do Your Absence Policies Make Matters Worse?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 13/10/2015 Margaret Jacoby

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All small businesses want to hire good employees -- people who work hard, show up on time, and generally help things run smoothly and efficiently. Unfortunately though, employees can't be available at all times, and your company absence policy may be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to good employee relations.

Why The System Is Abused


Different employees have different needs -- for example, a mother with young children may need to take them to the doctor on short notice, or leave work at a certain time to pick them up from a daycare center. Other employees may be caregivers for aging parents and need to respond to related emergencies. Still other employees may be enrolled in college to enhance their skills on the job -- class times may run close to the end of the work day. Handling these kinds of absences can be a headache, but if not handled well, can be the cause of employee dissatisfaction and turnover.
Generally speaking, there are two factors that tend to come into play here:
  • First, people are more likely to abuse the system if they believe they can do so and get away with it. This is more common in companies where employee relations are not what they should be -- happy and motivated employees don't want to abuse the absence policy.
  • Second, certain types of absence policies generate more abuse than others. Particularly strict policies are actually more likely to be violated than policies that are flexible and try to give employees time off when they need it. "Use it or lose it" policies also tend to discourage employees who are conscientious about taking time off.

It is possible that your absence policies are actually making things worse. If your idea of a good absence policy is intimidating employees into showing up, or punishing them for absences, or threatening them with the loss of their job, that's already a problem. Your employees ought never to be frightened about time off, regardless of your industry or how important your work is.
The stick, in other words, is not a good form of motivation for reducing absences. Consider the carrot of HR solutions instead -- imagine an absence policy that has an allowance for fun. Maybe the employee wants to go see a concert featuring a band they love, or take part in a class that supports their hobby, or just take a day off after a particularly difficult project.
Employees who know that they can take time off for things like that are far less likely to abuse the policy -- especially if they're remote workers, who require different managing techniques anyway.

What Does A Good Absence Policy Look Like?


Employers can control excessive absenteeism by creating a culture in which good attendance is valued. A formal attendance policy can help ensure that attendance problems are dealt with fairly.
A good absence policy from your small business HR department is flexible enough to allow your employees to take time off when they want it or need it, while still ensuring that you have enough people doing the work at any given time -- and it can help reduce turnover, too.
One increasingly-popular method is allowing employees to "bank" time off. -- Every time they work a certain amount of hours, they get one hour of paid time off that they can use whenever they want, without needing to explain what it's for. This time is used for all needs they might have -- sick leave, vacation time, going out to see an event, etc.
The only things this leave would not apply to are absences specifically required by law, such as jury duty or military duty -- which could easily last much longer than the time off any given employee has saved.
The ultimate goal of such policies is to improve employee relations to the point that nobody wants to abuse the system. It is acceptable for these HR solutions to add a few restrictions to when employees can ask for time off -- for example, if it's crunch time on a project and you need everyone in the office, you can announce well ahead of time that vacation hours will not be available for a specific period of time.
In short? The more you treat your employees like they matter, the better they'll perform.

Next Steps


By using the ideas in this post, you can be on your way to running a more successful business and retaining your talented workers. Recognizing that engagement of employees impacts your bottom line is the first step. If you are thinking of implementing a solid absence policy in your business, we have some HR Solutions tailored for your small business. Contact us now.Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.Let's connect: LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Google+

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