Establishing a formal absenteeism policy

Shop owners discuss policies they've adopted to ensure consistent employee attendance, and how those policies are administered. September 26, 2000

I am a manager at my father's mill. We are having a hard time with absenteeism.

We have no formal policy regarding absenteeism. Such as, one unexcused absence and a warning, next absence and a suspension, etc. It seems the present approach -- just chewing them out -- does not work.

I would like to hear from people who have succeeded in getting employee absences down.

We instituted a bonus plan several years ago and it helped quite a bit. It's not perfect, but it did reward those that had good attendance and hurt those that are often absent or late.

We give employees one point for each hour worked and subtract eight points when late for work or late after lunch. We subtract 40 points for each absence, regardless of the reason. That way we do not have to decide if the excuses are legitimate or not, and no one has to lie. Too many absences, and all points can be lost.

At the end of each quarter, I have a pool of money that we divide the total number of points into. That is how much each point is worth. The pool is based on how well we did that quarter. It works out to 25 to 50 cents per point. As I said it isn't perfect but the employees like it and it helps our sawmill run more smoothly.

My policy is easy: Don't show up for work, don't come back.

If you call in and there's an emergency (it has to be real), you're off the hook. I have found that there are more emergencies on Mondays and Saturdays.

In my first few years of business the turnover was high. But as the people I hired got older, their work ethic seemed to change. When I grew up, you were considered to be an adult and to act like one at 21. Today, you're considered an adult at 18, but not expected to act like it until you're 30.

Keep whatever policy you decide on as simple as possible. The more complex you make it, the more it will be abused. You might lose a few people, but that might be for the better.

I made our bonus plan work in reducing missed hours by tossing anyone who doesn't put in his "scheduled" hours for a given pay period out of the bonus pool for that period. This allows people to make up hours if they're away for a legitimate reason, and has helped to cut down on the number of missed days.

Hire older workers if you can. Upper thirties to sixty. Twenty- somethings seem to have a problem about showing up for work, and have a world of excuses for being absent. A generalization, I know, but one I can back up with our own stats.

I have noticed a definite decline in the quality of workers available and their motivation to be on time and not absent.

We have combatted this by offering a $.50-per-hour premium for any pay period that the employee is not absent, not late, and has no time-loss accidents. It has helped, but certainly hasn't solved the problem.

One must be careful when invoking any discipline for absences, due the Family Medical Leave Act. This legislation imposes some rather sticky rules on employers regarding absences.