A comprehensive guide to no call no shows (NCNS)

No call no shows (NCNSs) are every small business manager’s worst nightmare. They leave you understaffed, trying to find cover at the last minute, and worrying about your missing team member.

What makes NCNSs extra challenging is that they happen for a variety of reasons. Employees might fall sick, forget about their shifts, or even decide to quit by ghosting you. And each type of NCNS requires a different approach, or you risk damaging staff relationships.

So, let this article be your complete guide to NCNSs. We cover why employees might not show up, how you should respond, and some preventive measures you can take.

Potential causes for a no call no show

Before we dive into possible responses to NCNSs, it’s important to understand why staff may miss work without notifying you. That way, you can develop a comprehensive plan for every scenario and be better prepared to deal with last-minute absences. Doing so also helps you spot team members who need empathy and understanding so you can set a more supportive tone for your conversations. 

  • Personal emergencies — Sometimes employees have such serious problems that they’re too distracted or incapacitated to call you. This is usually due to an injury, illness, or trauma. 
  • Local and national incidents — Events like traffic jams, strikes, and bad weather conditions can leave staff stranded on their way to work.  
  • Health conditions — If a team member has a chronic health issue, it can cause them to oversleep or forget about their responsibilities. Some mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, can also affect people so much that they may struggle to make phone calls.
  • Disorganization — Some employees may simply forget when they’re supposed to work. Others might have poor time management skills, overschedule themselves, or not want to risk you declining a day-off request.
  • Job dissatisfaction — Frequent unexplained absences can be a sign there’s a bigger problem going on within your business. For instance, staff may want to avoid certain people or times of day, stop enjoying their work, or become burned out.
  • Lack of communication or confusion — Poorly communicated schedule changes may lead employees to mistakenly believe they’re not working. And if they’re not expecting to speak to anyone, they may not have their phone nearby to hear your calls or see your messages either.
  • Software malfunction — Occasionally, poor reception or glitches may prevent people from receiving team communications or alerts.

Potential employer responses to no call no shows

Once you’ve established the reason for an NCNS, there are several additional steps you should take. It’s important to be fair and consistent here. If your team notices you treat some employees differently from others, they may perceive favoritism. 

  1. Verify the reason for the absence — How to approach this depends on the reason the team member gave for the NCNS. If they’re sick or injured, you can request a doctor’s note. And if they got confused, you can check whether you communicated the current schedule clearly. Some reasons are harder to verify than others — you’ll have to consider whether the individual has a history of no-shows and use your judgment to assess claims like messages not sending.
  2. Decide on the consequences — Based on the reason for the NCNS, you may need to take disciplinary action. One-off occurrences might only warrant a quick conversation or verbal warning. However, continued absences require write-ups, suspensions, and even terminations. And if you already have an absence policy in place, refer to it for the appropriate response.
  3. Refer to state and federal laws — You may feel you have grounds to fire an absent employee. But before you take any action, check whether you’re complying with relevant labor laws. For instance, the Department of Labor (DOL) states you can terminate staff for job abandonment after five days of NCNSs and only if they didn’t have any good reason to miss work.
  4. Explain your decision — Whether you take disciplinary action or not, justify your response. You’ll help people who made a mistake understand the problem or reassure team members with a legitimate reason they have nothing to worry about.
  5. Clarify absence guidelines — When staff don’t have an acceptable excuse for an NCNS, remind them about their responsibilities and your business expectations. We’ll go into more detail on this in the section below.
  6. Record the absence and the action you took — To help spot patterns and keep documentation about unreliable employees, always note down NCNSs. For example, it would be suspicious if a team member kept disappearing on Fridays.

Employee responsibilities for no call no shows

As noted in the section above, your team may need a refresher on how to handle unexpected absences. This will set their expectations and make them more likely to accept the consequences if they have an NCNS. Here’s what they have to do:

  • Alert a manager or supervisor — In some cases, like a serious injury, illness, or shock, employees won’t be able to contact you straight away. The important point is that they call as soon as they’re reasonably able to. 
  • Choose an appropriate communication method — Ideally, staff should either call you or send a direct message. Other methods like using social media, group chats, or getting someone to pass on the news are unreliable.
  • Verify someone received the message — Once an individual sends a message about an unexpected absence, they shouldn’t assume anyone has received it until they get a response. Establishing this responsibility also discourages team members from using ‘missing texts’ as an excuse for NCNSs.
  • Prepare any necessary documentation — If an employee is absent due to sickness or injury, particularly for several days or weeks, they may need to submit a doctor’s note to management.
  • Confirm when they expect to return — When employees are sick, injured, or dealing with a crisis, they might not know when they’ll be fit for work again on the spot. But they can commit to updating you as they recover or their situation improves.
  • Understand and accept the consequences of missing work — If team members miss shifts for unacceptable reasons, they shouldn’t oppose disciplinary action as a result of it.

Strategies for preventing no call no shows

While it’s helpful to have a plan in place for NCNSs, they’re still highly stressful and disruptive. Your business will likely end up understaffed while you arrange cover, meaning other employees will have to work harder and customer service may suffer. Then, you have to deal with the absent staff member in a manner that’s fair to them and the rest of your team. Worst-case scenario, they’ve quit or warrant a termination, so you’ll have to redo your schedule while looking for new hires.

So, it’s more beneficial to your business to find strategies to prevent NCNSs rather than deal with them once they happen.

1. Incentivize good attendance

Small businesses tend to hire part-time and seasonal employees, which means a higher ratio of people who are studying, acting as caregivers, or working another job. The problem here is that when things go wrong, like exam stress or missing babysitters, these individuals are more likely to forget about shifts or have no other choice but to miss them.

Encourage team members to prioritize your business by rewarding them for good attendance. You could offer preferred shifts, pay raises, or bonuses when people work over 90% of their scheduled hours. And you could make repeated NCNSs for no good reason automatically disqualify employees, so they wouldn’t be able to meet their quota and then stop showing up again.

2. Provide a reliable method of communication

As communication issues are a common reason for NCNSs, make sure employees have a foolproof way of contacting you. Then, people will be able to message you quickly and refocus on recovering or dealing with whatever’s going on in their lives. And other team members will be less likely to use technical difficulties as an excuse when they know it’s not believable.

The most reliable option is a dedicated team chat app like Homebase’s. Employees can message managers directly, so there’s less risk of NCNSs getting lost in the group chat. Homebase also uses WiFi or data instead of SMS, so staff don’t have to worry about additional charges. Automatic confirmations can also alert individuals when you receive their messages, so they won’t have to wait around for your verbal or written affirmation.

Screenshot of a no show alert and message box on Homebase's dashboard
Homebase gives admins the option to contact all available staff when no-shows happen.

Bonus: The Homebase app has a ‘cover shift’ feature, so you can respond to absent employees and message available team members in the same place.

3. Offer support

If employees have repeated NCNSs, they may be experiencing some challenges in their personal lives. That might be other commitments like family or school or difficulty managing their time. 

It’s worth exploring whether your business can offer any accommodations, benefits, or training to team members who are struggling. For example, you could offer a time management course for disorganized employees or alter schedules for those dealing with personal emergencies. Or sometimes, people with manageable injuries might want to work but need to sit down or work hours when a family member can drive them to and from their shift.

4. Create an absence policy

If you haven’t already, write a policy that outlines how staff should report last-minute absences. Outline all the responsibilities from the section above, have your team read it, and include it in your onboarding program. Knowing exactly what process to follow will help employees when they’re disorientated by an illness or distracted by an emergency. 

You can also agree on what your business considers a fair reason for an NCNS (like bereavement or traffic accidents) and what it doesn’t. Then, you can state the disciplinary action for each offense. That’ll discourage staff from not turning up without worrying them about being punished for situations beyond their control.

As a small business owner, you probably don’t have HR personnel to draft a policy and check it’s compliant. But Homebase HR and Compliance offers live access to experienced and qualified human resources professionals who can guide you through the process.

5. Respect your team’s availability

A major reason for no-shows is scheduling conflicts. When employees have other commitments and feel like management won’t understand or be responsive, they may deal with it by not coming to work. So, show you appreciate your team has lives outside work and make it easier for them to attend all their shifts by collecting their availability ahead of time.

Of course, this must be within reason. If team members refuse to work any shifts except their preferred ones, you can warn them they may end up with fewer hours.

Homebase scheduling lets you effortlessly collect employee availability as people can add the hours they can and can’t work into our app. Then, you can automatically or manually fill your schedule based on that data. And if you make a mistake, you’ll get a scheduling conflict alert before you hit publish.

Screenshot of a team's availability on Homebase.
Have your team input their availability to create employee schedules that work for everyone.

6. Allow self-scheduling

Sometimes, staff encounter unexpected issues and need last-minute schedule changes. Although you can accommodate personal emergencies, you might not be able to justify modifying timetables for activities like forgotten anniversaries or spontaneous vacations. But some employees may decide they’d prefer disciplinary action for an NCNS over the consequences of missing the event.

Encourage your team to use self-scheduling tools instead. That way, other staff members can choose to do their coworkers a favor instead of getting an undesirable shift assigned to them out of nowhere. Homebase lets employees arrange shift swaps and cover through the app, and all you have to do is hit approve.

7. Hire candidates to suit scheduling requirements

If NCNCs keep coming up due to scheduling conflicts, the problem might not be how you’re collecting availability or assigning shifts — it might be your hiring practices. Think about the way you advertise new positions. Do you mention the specific hours or shifts you need to fill? And do you make sure candidates can commit to working them?

Sidestep this problem by adding desired shift hours to your job advertisements. Homebase’s hiring feature prompts you to include expected shift times in your posting. Then, we publish the listings across several popular job sites so you’re more likely to find someone who’s great for the position and fits with your schedule.

Screenshot of a job template with expected hours on Homebase.
Screen candidates by telling them the expected hours for the position you’re advertising.

8. Remind forgetful staff with alerts

Occasionally, you may have an otherwise wonderful team member who keeps forgetting their shifts. This may be something they can’t help. Studies show around 4.4% of adults have ADHD, among other conditions that can make time management more challenging. 

When you have to reprimand forgetful staff for NCNSs, it can also damage their morale. And if they’re performing well except for the absences, you don’t want to accidentally send the message that you don’t appreciate their efforts.

Make sure everyone remembers their shifts with Homebase’s reminders and alerts. These inform your team when their new schedule is ready to view and notify them when they have an upcoming shift. 

9. Create a positive work environment

If you’ve taken all these steps but still get frequent NCNSs, your business might be the problem. That means undertaking an in-depth review of all your processes to find the root cause, which could be anything from unchallenging work to burnout and poor staff relationships. 

Homebase can help you uncover any underlying problems by prompting employees to leave feedback on their shifts. They can give a rating and write notes about any issues they faced. You can also use performance management tools that track late arrivals and absences to spot patterns. Perhaps you’ll see there’s a specific shift employees want to avoid because of an unpleasant customer. Or, you may realize Monday evenings have gotten busier and everyone wants to avoid the extra work and stress.

Whatever the issue, Homebase can help you identify challenges quickly so you can solve them before they escalate from NCNSs into resignations.

Say goodbye to no call no shows with Homebase

When you get an NCNS, you may feel like you’re being pulled in different directions. You want to keep your business running smoothly and discourage your team from unapproved absences, but also make accommodations for those in need.

If you choose the wrong course of action, you’ll either make your team feel you’re unsympathetic about their problems or too lenient with their unreliable coworkers.

So, the best option is to prevent no call no shows from happening in the first place. With Homebase, you can target the problem from all sides without doing any extra legwork. The scheduling tool lets you create the most optimal timetable for your people. Then, use alerts to remind forgetful team members about their shifts. And in the worst-case scenarios, Homebase helps you write policies that back up your decision to write up and terminate repeat offenders without risking compliance issues. 

Remember: This is not legal advice. If you have questions about your particular situation, please consult a lawyer, CPA, or other appropriate professional advisor or agency.

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