In The Workplace

I’m a department manager at a small business. Our workers often take emergency leave on Mondays or Fridays. On Monday, six out of 15 workers called in sick. How do I manage this? — Clueless Charlie.

Polish actress Helena Modjeska (1844-1909) was known for playing Shakespearean roles. At a dinner party, she mesmerized an American audience with an address in her native language Polish.

When she finished, many of her listeners were emotional and on the verge of tears. What they didn’t know was that Modjeska simply recited the Polish alphabet.

Understanding a situation including habitual absenteeism is imperative. What does it mean when workers take too many unscheduled absences? There are many reasons, but you need to hear it directly from them. They may not tell you the truth, but at least they know that you’re serious about correcting their attendance record.

You don’t have to overthink it. All you need to do is look at past and current work performance and compare it with attendance records. If they are average or underperforming, chances are the attendance problem has its roots in how you manage them.

Do you tolerate them? Are they clear on work expectations? Why or why not?

They could also be hard workers who view their performance as a license to test your patience. Whatever the reason, you should explore asking the following questions to get an idea of what’s happening:

One, do you have proof of wrongdoing? This will require analyzing attendance records to detect patterns. How often is a worker absent during Mondays or Fridays? What are the reasons? What causes midweek absences if any? Absences that are few and far between might mean no reason to worry.

Two, are they ‘looking for a better manager’ elsewhere? That may be the alternative meaning of the “LBM” cited on the sick leave form. In my more than 30 years of managing human resources (HR), the people courageous enough to be honest during the exit interview do not hesitate to pin the blame on toxic bosses. That’s still true today.

Three, are they happy with their current work assignment? You will not know the answer if you don’t conduct periodic informal meetings to discuss job challenges. Do they have enough resources to do the job well? How about their work stations or their environment? Are their ideas being heard, or even their complaints?

Four, are they being supported in meeting their career goals? Managers must show great interest in developing their workers so they can perform and achieve their professional aspirations. The best approach is to train them. Coaching people may require giving them special projects that allow them to shine.

Last, are they being paid fairly relative to other workers? Even with confidentiality rules, you can’t prevent people from comparing pay slips. This can best be answered by HR, but as a manager, it’s your responsibility to lawyer for your workers. The issue here may include pay inequity, red circle pay or when a worker has exceeded the price limits on their job. Sometimes, the reason is an outdated pay structure.

These questions are not complete. You can improve on this list by paying close attention to what your workers are doing without micromanaging them. What is the best way to listen to your workers and when do you heed your gut? A good rule of thumb is not to jump to conclusions right away. Give each and every worker the benefit of the doubt.

Pay attention to what’s not being said. Have your ears on the ground. Compare notes with other department managers. Find out how your department stands in the comparative report on employee attendance. If your absentee rate is favorable compared to other departments, don’t celebrate prematurely. It could be temporary.

The workplace hides many complex issues. Therefore, sober reflection is necessary to understand them all.


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