As a retail manager, my least favorite phrase to hear was “We have call outs”. It takes the air right out of the room. A call out really transformed the day, for the team and for my own plans. Even one unplanned absence would cause adjustments and compromises, priorities to shift and stress levels to rise! Plus, let’s be honest, even down one person, we couldn’t show up the same way for our customers!
In my work as a consultant, I often speak to practices about the best way to manage attendance overall. This can be one person who calls out often or several employees who have missed days. Even though it shouldn’t be tolerated, sometimes it feels like there is no other choice. There are different reasons for call outs and once we factor in doctor’s notes, personal feelings about the staff member, intimate knowledge of their personal life, etc., it makes attendance issues seem inevitable.
I think you can all agree that there are few things as frustrating as when you have an unplanned absence. It changes the entire dynamic of the day. A call out is never easy, but the smaller the team, the more burden it can put on our staff and our patients! Although there can be acceptable reasons for attendance issues, this isn’t the Wild, Wild West. There are a few things that we can do to address issues with attendance.
Remove your own mental barrier: All missed shifts are not created equal but they all count. They should all be discussed for accountability. You don’t have to play detective to determine if Sally’s call out for a headache is weighted the same as Matt’s call out for a sick child. It is OKAY for you to ask your staff to show up to work when they have been scheduled! If someone brings in a doctor’s note, that CAN make multiple absences count as one infraction, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Approved/Unapproved: View time away from work as approved versus unapproved time. Did the employee give the practice the ability to prepare for the absence? If you were not able to adjust the schedule or prepare the team for this disruption, it is an unexcused absence. If the employee came to you to request the time off and you approved it, the practice was given the opportunity to prepare by adjusting the schedule or team. Viewing time away from work as approved versus unapproved removes some of the grey area of the weight held by each absence.
Paid Time: The time you give your staff to be paid when they are away from work is a benefit that you provide your staff but should not be tied to attendance. Paid time allows your staff to have more flexibility – they don’t have to choose between missing their pay or resting with the flu. However, even though you provide this time, it should not be used as an excuse for excessive unplanned absences.
Set your own criteria: Determine what you think is excessive, while giving your employees the wiggle room to be human. Anyone can get the flu. Are you going to fire your employee for missing work because of it? I doubt it – in fact I am sure you would rather they STAY AWAY! Set a number that you will use as criteria to hold your staff accountable. This isn’t a number to share. When we tell our staff there is a number allowed, they will likely take it as a “free pass” – pushing it just to the edge until they are “teetering on the line” (or worse, over it). I recommend following The Rule of Three – 3 infractions in 3 months is starting to become excessive. However, if you already have a concern about attendance, switch to 3 in 30 days temporarily while you get your staff used to being held accountable.
Document, Document, Document: I have a form I used but it could be as simple as a Word document. Write down EVERY TIME why you coached your employee, how the conversation went and what you asked them to change. Keep these records together and use this information in future conversations, especially if you must escalate to more formal corrective action. These notes do not need to be shared with your employee.
It may be surprising, but accountability is a great engagement driver and culture builder. Holding an employee accountable to attendance issues will send a powerful message to the rest of their staff that their experiences at work matter.
Amy Alvarez, SHRM-CP, joined IDOC in February 2018 as Human Resources Consultant. Amy has experience in human resources in healthcare and retail, management in big box and specialty retail stores and physician recruitment. Through these roles and training, Amy is well-versed in recruitment and hiring strategies for “hard to fill” roles, dealing with low productivity, helping encourage employee engagement, on-boarding, training, day-to-day management in a retail setting, creating growth in retail business, employee relations, and so much more. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.