Absence management: how your business can show up for shift workers

Absence management can be a tricky thing. Sure, you can account for sick days and vacations, but what about when employees are taking off too much time too frequently? What happens when that’s unexpected, unexplained, or unannounced? 

We’ll review everything to do with absence management, including ways to help manage it for your small business, and how to create a plan that keeps you and your team prepared. 

What is employee absenteeism?

Employee absenteeism is when an employee doesn’t show up for work on a consistent or frequent basis. 

When this is the case, the absent employee might give advance notice, but other times, there’s zero communication between the team member and their manager.

Employee absenteeism can be an issue, especially for small businesses who might not have the staff ready and available to cover for no shows. This also poses problems when it happens too much, unexpectedly, and begins to impact the other workers on schedule. 

How do employee absences affect small businesses?

Employee absences can take their toll on small businesses and the teams who work there. Here are just four negative impacts of employees missing their shifts, with or without notice. 

Employee absences can leave you short staffed and underprepared 

Small businesses rarely have big staff counts. And while that’s normally not an issue, it can be when employees don’t show up for their shifts and absence management isn’t, well, managed.

Being short staff can mean a few things for you, your customers, and your team. But let’s start with you: the business owner.

When you’re short staffed, you’re on the hook for finding a cover. That means your time is spent scheduling, coordinating, or working the floor. And if you’re not doing any of the above, you might be trying to find someone who is. These jobs take you away from what you should be doing—running your business. And who has time for that? 

When you’re short staffed, your customer experience can suffer, too. Can you think of a time when you’ve been in line for a latte, but there’s only one person working during a typically-busy shift? That 10 minutes of waiting to place your order, plus the eight minutes it takes to get your drink adds up for customers. Unfortunately, it can decrease your 5-star review, too. 

Employee absenteeism causes increased workload for coworkers

Employee absences can cause your team to be overworked, especially when absences are unplanned and unapproved. When this happens, their coworkers have to pick up the slack, and that doesn’t always go over so well.

Imagine a keyholder at a restaurant who’s supposed to open, but doesn’t show up for their shift. This is a problem for many reasons. First, your restaurant isn’t open on time and all of the duties that were supposed to be completed by the keyholder are now postponed until someone else shows up to take over.

That person could be you—the owner who closed the restaurant mere hours ago—or another team member who got the key or code from the original employee. Along with the resentment that might occur from picking up someone’s shift, the morning work that is supposed to be done might be not up to par, or it could be too much for one person to do on their own, especially without the proper training.

This can cause stress or burnout, which can lead to even more employee absenteeism. The double-edged sword of scheduling. 

Employees may experience a drop in morale 

As a business owner, you work hard to keep your team members happy. You give them tasks that are fulfilling and help them grow, and you even distribute workplace-satisfaction surveys to make sure employees are getting what they need out of their roles.

But when absence management is lacking, the level of satisfaction your employees might feel can drop–and drop significantly.

When employees feel like they’re picking up slack from their coworkers, they might wonder if they’re being seen, heard, or valued for the extra work that they’re doing. This feeling gets worse when absences go untracked or staff aren’t reprimanded for their lack of work.

As this problem persists, staff may start to assume that they’re being taken advantage of by their coworkers or managers, and may even place fault on their managers for not finding a replacement.

Employee absences can result in a lack of trust and transparency

When employees don’t show up to shifts, workers might start talking. Cue the rumor mill. In fact, some employees at major North American food chains have even gone viral on social media apps with their anger toward absent coworkers. Trust us—it’s not a good look.

As a business owner, you take pride in the team you’re building and the work they do. But when people don’t show up for the shifts, it can be frustrating. This is especially the case when you sense that other employees start asking questions, or lose their trust in the way the workplace is being managed.

This is why transparency is so important. Managers should notice and have an understanding of why staff are absent, so they can staff appropriately and resolve any frustrations or questions that arise from missed shifts. This level of communication builds trust with workers—something that can be broken if absenteeism isn’t addressed.

What is absence management and how can it help?

Absence management is the process of tracking and managing your employees’ missed shifts from work. It goes beyond a spreadsheet or checklist, and includes active monitoring, identifying patterns in behavior, and developing a plan to reduce missed shifts and the impacts they can cause.

Absence management exists to help businesses of any size operate with efficiency. Here’s how the process can counteract the negative impacts of missed shifts for your business.

Absence management can provide employee support

Are your workers burnt out? Getting there? If you can sense that they’re overworked, absence management might be able to help.

With active tracking in place, you can soon see patterns in missed shifts. And we’re not just talking about the staff who call in sick after a night out—yep, they forgot you follow them on Instagram.

When your business is practicing effective absence management, you might start to notice trends that you didn’t pick up on before. These trends can be indicative of the health of your employees.

For example: depression is a major cause of employee absences in the US, and it can exacerbate symptoms of stress, burnout, and other physical health issues. You might also notice parents taking more days off due to childcare issues.

Once you can identify what’s causing missed shifts, you can put in the support systems to help. 

Absence management can lead to better shift management

We’ve been there: missed shifts, the flurry of emails and texts that coincide with trying to find someone to cover, and then the tracking who-worked-when and for how long, and who requires PTO. To put it simply, it’s a lot.

Fortunately, the more you know about your absenteeism, the better you can schedule future shifts and the people to fill them.

When you can spot trends and see who shows up and who doesn’t, you can put the right people in the right spots. For example, if you notice that one of your morning shift workers repeatedly calls in sick every Monday, you can have the conversation to understand why, and then decide if it’s the best shift for that worker. 

How to create and implement an absence management policy

Absence management policies are important to keeping staff happy and your business operating at full speed. Here are seven steps to get you started and running smoothly.

1. Measure employee absenteeism

The first step to creating and implementing an absence management policy is to see if you have a problem with employee absenteeism in the first place.  To do this, you’ll use a basic formula to find out the percentage of time employees have missed in a given period.

Here’s how to calculate it: divide the number of missed days by the total number of scheduled days. Then multiply your absentee rate by 100 to get your percentage.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a good benchmark for an acceptable absence rate in a year is around 1.5%.

While this time tracking method is good for calculating absentee rates, it still takes time to add up your total absences and do the math. This is where Homebase can help.

Homebase’s free employee time clock integrates with reporting tools so you can track late clock-ins, missed breaks, and no-shows. Then, follow up with team members about any issues using our team messaging feature.

Homebase’s reporting feature also lets you compare scheduled hours versus actual hours worked over the past week or month using simple timesheets so you can quickly spot any downward trends in attendance. 

2. Set up an employee absence management policy

If you want your team to be accountable for the shifts, put it in writing with an employee attendance policy.

This is a document that contains a set of guidelines, policies, processes, and consequences regarding work attendance. Usually, it outlines business expectations for scheduling, punctuality, and leave requests.

This type of policy can list your business’s different attendance-related documents like tardiness or late-for-work policies, set internal expectations when you define attendance and absences, explain how they’re tracked and reported, and outline the consequences of policy violations—like missing a shift without notice.

Not only is a policy helpful for staff, but it also supports staying compliant with labor laws. For example, depending on your business type and the state where you’re located, you might need to maintain accurate records of employee attendance.

Not sure where to start? Our HR support can help you  keep in line with government rules and regs on what you can (and can’t) dictate. 

3. Communicate your policy to your employees

Once you have an employee attendance policy in place, make sure to communicate it. Your team should have access to it as soon as it’s ready so they know how to manage days off, absences, or showing up late.

You’ll want to ensure it gives workers access to schedules and indicates how to request shift changes.

If this is a new policy for your team, you’ll want to ensure you give your team time to ask questions. Nothing’s worse than thinking everyone’s on the same page, and then being shocked that no one understands your complicated policies. 

Follow the example set forth by Morgan and Andy Sommer, owners of Houston-based Forth and Nomad. After dealing with confusing communication and an unsatisfied team, they created a solid communication system that keeps their whole team in sync.

One thing that worksfor them? The opportunity to provide anonymous feedback.

“We had an instance… but nobody wanted to say anything because there was no clear channel for somebody to file a complaint or a suggestion,” shared Andy. “So we overhauled that feedback process to allow people to give anonymous feedback.”

Pro tip: Make sure your team is reading and understanding the policies you have in place. To confirm, use software that will keep records when employees review your policies, handbook, and more.

4. Address concerns and issues, and offer support

No matter how proactive you are, as a business owner, you can’t predict every shift missed or health and wellness issue your employees might face.

However, you do have the power to create a transparent and open workplace where your team feels safe to talk about issues like mental health or physical illness, child care, stress, burnout, and more.

To start, make sure employees know that they’re never expected to come to work when they’re ill. Not only do you want them to rest up and heal, but you also want the rest of your team to stay healthy.

Encourage your team to take the time they need: sick leave, PTO, vacation, bereavement, the list goes on. Ensure they know how to request time off, and if they aren’t able to provide notice, know how to reach their manager to let them know about the change in scheduling.

5. Set up accommodations

Every attendance policy should include the need for accommodations. For example, if you hire a caregiver who’s responsible for driving their sibling to therapy each day at noon, talk to them about what that means for their schedule. Is a morning shift better, or is a later afternoon shift more ideal for their needs? Have the conversations you need to create a workplace where teams feel valued, understood, and cared for.

Find yourself making the same type of accommodations over and over again? It might have to be an exception to your attendance rules. Once that’s determined, establish a process for requesting each exception. Some exceptions might include extra unpaid vacation time or last-minute needs like child care.

6. Keep tracking

Look at your absence management strategy as an everyday part of your work-life. Monitor and assess it regularly to make sure it fits the needs of your growing business.

Make sure that your absence management strategy includes real-time feedback of the data you’re tracking. For example, if you notice that team members are missing key shifts, improve their performance with automated shift reminders. Not only does this let them know that you’re aware of their absenteeism, but it also lets you add notes and instructions that they can see when they clock in for a shift.

Bonus: you can share stats with employees so they can keep track of how they’re doing themselves. How’s that for accountability?

7. Continue to get and give feedback

Just like you track your employees’ time, make sure to track their feedback. Determine a process where team members can provide insights on their shifts, management styles, workplace tools, and policies.

You’ll also want to give feedback to your team, too—and not just at performance review time. With Homebase’s team communication tools, you can do that immediately with shout-outs, or send feedback to employees with the free messenger feature.

Plus, all of your feedback is stored which helps with the big performance review. With Homebase, you’ll see stats that show the percentage of your employees arriving to work on time, both for the last thirty days and since they were hired. You can also check out average shift feedback to see how they’re feeling, which is great for keeping an eye on things like burnout and stress levels.

The result? Better performance, transparent reviews, and shifts that people actually want to show up for.

Absence management FAQs

What is absence management?

Absence management is the process of tracking and managing your employees’ missed shifts from work. It goes beyond a spreadsheet or checklist, and includes active monitoring and identifying patterns in behavior. It helps you develop a plan to reduce missed shifts and the impacts they can cause.

Why is absence management important for businesses?

No matter the size of your business, absence management is critical to reducing costs, boosting morale and productivity, and promoting health and safety with your teams. Plus, it helps support you as you comply with labor laws.

When employees miss their shifts, workflows are disrupted, productivity drops and resentment can rise. And unfortunately, your team might not be the only ones to witness this—your customers can be impacted, too.

Depending on the type of business you run, customers might notice delays in their orders—whether that’s food, drink, or other goods—and experience inconsistencies in service. Not only that, but certain customers might be able to sense workplace toxicity, especially if coworkers are visibly stressed or overworked.

How can an absence management policy help my business?

An absence management policy can help your business in many ways. It can reduce absenteeism by communicating both rules and consequences to missing shifts, and also ways to request time off. Absence management policies can also increase productivity, support compliance and HR regulations, and help create a healthy and happy work environment for teams.

How do I know if I should have an absence management policy? 

No matter the size of your business, put employee attendance policies in place to ensure staff performance is monitored and documented fairly. Even if you don’t have HR to help, there are tools, like Homebase, that can support with expert advice on policies, and share examples that you can use for inspiration.

Where can I host my absence management policies? 

Keep your absence management policies handy for all new and existing employees. A great place to store it is within a digital employee handbook. You can use the same app to track your team’s hours, schedule shifts, pay their salaries, and chat with them, so if there’s any questions about shift changes or absences, you can ask and document everything in one place. 

Is your business struggling with absence management? Get Homebase for everything you need to help keep your team in sync, on track, and happy —all in one app. Get started for free.

Related posts

Understanding and managing employee absenteeism

Your workforce is the lifeblood of your business. With happy and motivated employees, your company is more likely to grow…

Read article
Effortlessly schedule and track your team's time with Homebase.
Try our basic plan free, forever.
Try Homebase for free