In The Workplace

We have an absenteeism rate of 21% and a tardiness rate of 7% across all departments covering more than 650 workers. This puts a lot of stress on the workers who must take up the slack and be paid overtime premium. To correct this problem, we’re planning to offer a perfect attendance award that allows qualified workers to join the monthly raffle for home appliances worth about P15,000, which is a small amount compared to what we’re losing due to the poor attendance of our employees. What’s your view on this proposal? — Vietnam Rose.
These days, going to church doesn’t make one a religious person. It’s the same thing when you take a wheelbarrow into a garage. The wheelbarrow doesn’t convert into a car.
Looking at a parallel situation, I’m asking the same thing: How to change the ways of habitually absent workers so they achieve perfect attendance? How do you attract an employee to a monthly raffle where he will try his luck with 649 workers? At best, the perfect attendance award may only end up benefiting the same employees who already have unblemished attendance.
Therefore, a cursory examination of why some workers persist with bad attendance is necessary. It could be due to force of habit related to their extra-curricular activities like alcoholism, gambling, and to some extent, the use of illegal drugs. On the other hand, habitually-absent employees do it because they have no other recourse but to take care of an ailing or aging family member, among other related personal concerns.
Sometimes, people absent themselves because they don’t like their toxic bosses or their working environment. If not, some are not motivated to work with their colleagues due to bullying, sexual harassment, or other unsavory reasons.
However, the important question you should answer is this: First and foremost, why reward people who are required to come on time and report daily for work? Sure, we can always agree that the perfect attendance award is a positive approach that could go hand-in-hand with the negative approach of instilling progressive discipline, ranging from oral reprimand to termination.
Fine, but how long can you sustain the award? Perhaps you can improve everyone’s attendance record and reduce the absenteeism and tardiness rate to a manageable level within six months. Again, how can you sustain it beyond six months? Where will you get the funding to sustain the monthly raffle that costs the company P180,000 a year, assuming that you’ve reduced the absenteeism rate of all workers.
How would you solve a complex problem like this? The best approach is no other than one-on-one counseling of workers by their line supervisors and managers. It’s like eating an elephant. You can only eat an elephant in small, manageable pieces. For this, the line executives are best line of defense of management.
The following tools and techniques are necessary:
One, Human Resources should release a monthly attendance report. This report must contain the list of departments with major issues on absenteeism and tardiness, classified according to an “honor” list and a “horror” list and its adverse effect on employee morale, work-life balance, and a calculation of the excessive amounts paid to overtime work.
This puts on notice all line executives to counsel their problem workers, starting with those with the worst attendance records. It may not be easy at the start considering the personalities of some people. But there’s no other way. You need to start somewhere. And the way is to show to those concerned how this supposed to be minor issue can balloon into a complex problem, if left unchecked.
Two, counsel the line executives on how to conduct employee counseling. This could be unnecessary for some supervisors and managers, but you will be surprised that many of them may refuse to perform this task to avoid being branded as a difficult boss. The best approach therefore is to remain positive and diplomatic with people.
This can be done by offering assistance to employees by exploring the following questions: How can I help you minimize, if not eliminate your excessive absences (or tardiness)? How many paid leaves do you still have? Would you like to be transferred to a branch near your residence? How about a job in the field where you will be measured by actual sales results, and not by your physical presence in the office?
Three, crack down on people who abuse their “emergency” paid leaves. Insist that employees contact by mobile phone their line executives in case of an unscheduled absence due to illness or emergency. This allows supervisors and managers to have the opportunity of asking questions like: “Will you be in tomorrow?” or “Would you like us to send you our company doctor?” These may be followed with a statement: “Get well soon!”
With these questions alone, you can readily understand if a worker is malingering or feigning an illness. The inevitability of a personal talk with a boss is more than enough for some malingerers or those with Monday or Friday “illnesses” to avoid a similar situation in the future.
Last, cross-train all employees so everyone can readily pitch in. Educate people on what to do in case of an unscheduled absence. That way, you can have workers ready and able to fill in adequately with minimal disruption to the business. This approach also enhances the skills of all workers so they can take up more challenging tasks in the future.
Not only that, it brings peer pressure from the workers themselves when one or two workers take “emergency” leave or feigns illness that could unsettle the daily operations of the business. While line managers would consider see most cases as abuse of employee leave privileges, the co-workers themselves are even more adept at finding out who among them is guilty.
ELBONOMICS: Employee absences make the boss’s blood boil.
Send anonymous workplace questions to or via