How-to Deal With Poor Staff Attendance

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 03/01/2022
staff attendance

When you hire an employee, as an MD or a founder, you naturally expect them to do their job in exchange for the payment. However, sometimes the workers you hire may try and cheat the system by getting the same pay for lesser performance. Poor staff attendance is a very expensive problem to have. In this article, we’ll be trying to solve it.





What is Employee Absenteeism?

Employee absenteeism is a term used to define the frequent, habitual absence of a worker. Such can be unscheduled absences, repetitive sick days and blatant no-shows. However, it can also surface in the form of continuous lateness and early finishes. All in all, it’s malpractice that’s particularly damaging to any business.

The Best Solution is Prevention

What makes attendance issues so colossally damaging is that they usually only get recognised when they’ve made a noticeable negative impact. In other words, if you have spotted the case of absenteeism - it’s already too late.

Workplace attendance issues only become apparent when they form a pattern, and that naturally requires months if not years to emerge. From the moment they begin and up to the moment you address them, these poor practices are draining your budget and thus lead to giant financial losses. With that said, the wisest course of action is to ensure the abuse of the attendance system doesn’t occur in the first place. The good news is that preventing such issues is much easier than identifying them in the early stages.

Common Poor Staff Attendance Indicators

It’s important to have awareness of what are the red flags your staff is engaging in business-damaging attendance practices. There are certain signs that indicate the worker needs to be investigated - we are going to cover three of the main ones. Keep in mind, they don’t necessarily guarantee your employee is guilty of absenteeism - sometimes these are simple missteps and one-offs.

Frequent Sick Days

Everyone gets ill once in a while and that’s understandable. That’s why sick pay exists. However, the loophole here is that, unlike holiday entitlement, sick days are not limited. Additionally, unless they last for over 7 days, the employee doesn’t need to provide proof from a doctor to get paid statutory sick pay. In other words, if a staff member calls in sick and stays home for under 7 days, they will still get paid and this time will not be calculated out of their holiday entitlement.

There’s no legal outline in terms of how many sick days can a worker take and that’s usually set by the job contract that’s signed by both parties. However, even if a specific number has been agreed on, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used maliciously. It’s advisable to analyse how often employees call in sick to try and see the pattern.

Unless you’re informed of some underlying condition the worker has, 1-5 sick days every month should raise some red flags. Don’t rush to call the employee out immediately, however. Instead, enforce the self-certification policy. Upon their return, request them to confirm they have been sick via email, a form, or any other way that makes it documented.

Buddy Punching

Buddy punching is an act of tampering with the timesheets of another employee in order to hide they were late or overall absent. It is most prevalent in workplaces that operate on an hourly rate as opposed to a set salary and require workers to clock in and out. It is as harmful to your business financially as it is to the company culture.

Not only do you end up paying a staff member that wasn’t working, but it also puts a strain on the employees that are present. The team is forced to work with a lesser capacity which is likely to reflect negatively on the overall performance. This may breed resentment within, resulting in good workers quitting as they don’t feel treated fairly.

It can also go another way, where the entirety of the team is on board with the malpractice and actively engage in it, covering for one another. In this case, it may be particularly difficult to spot and could only become known if you frequent unannounced visits to the worksite.

Unscheduled Absencenses and No-shows

Short notice or no notice absences are other frequent offenders. The latter can easily become grounds for termination if repeated several times in a row. The key problem here is the strain it puts on the team, who will be left with no other choice but to work extra to account for the absentee.

Similarly to buddy punching, it can create resentfulness within the team and drive employees away once they get fed up with picking up the slack. Unless actioned upon at the earliest instances, it can also send a message to the rest of the team that such behaviour will be tolerated and therefore encourage more employees to start behaving in such a way.

It’s worth noting that this is the case when a pattern is indicating there’s an underlying cause for this behaviour your employee is hesitant to reveal to you. It can be anything from struggles to find childcare on particular days or having to run errands that cannot be cancelled - e.g. attending medical treatment.

Most of the time, the problem stemming from these sources can be solved by introducing flexibility. Haphazard no-shows or unscheduled absences, on the other hand, are pointing at malicious misconduct.

Ways to Fight Absenteeism 

As discussed previously, the most effective weapon against absenteeism is prevention. However, it’s a fairly broad term that offers little clarity on the exact steps to be taken. Below, we will discuss specific measures that could be put in place to prevent poor staff attendance.

Digital Timesheet Software

The key problem of traditional timesheets is how easily they’re tampered with. From accidents like spillages, rips or losses to malicious intents such as editing previously added time readings and many more. This makes paper timesheets unreliable and therefore perfect for aiding absenteeism practices.

It doesn’t mean you should drop timesheets entirely - they’re still the best solution available. All you have to do is to adopt them in a digital format. Not only will they be more secure and accessible, but are likely to save you time correcting them. For example, if you use Timesheet Portal, you will be able to disapprove the timesheets that weren’t filled correctly, letting the employee who filled them know that corrections are needed.

Additionally, you can customise your digital timesheets to match the unique needs of your business such as paying different rates depending on the shift time, tasks completed or the location.

Another benefit of digital time tracking software is its accessibility. Most solutions will be available as mobile device apps, allowing your staff to log their time easily even if they’re away from the desktop. Some will even be equipped with a GPS tracker to ensure the workers have indeed arrived and left the site as stated per their timesheets.

Digital timesheets can also be exported to your payroll system, this way making the calculation of employee wages quicker and less prone to errors. If the solutions are integrated, your customised timesheet fields, such as overtime rate,  will also be calculated accordingly.

Clear and Strict Attendance Policy

A fool-proof prevention measure is to introduce every new hire to your attendance policy. Every business should have one, so if you don’t - start putting one together as soon as you finish this article. If you have one in place, you should revise it to make sure it’s straightforward.

It should be brief yet very clear, outlining what is acceptable and what happens in the event of non-compliance. A good policy should inform your employees in no uncertain terms what are your expectations and what are the consequences of not meeting them. This is where you should introduce a warning system if you decide to have one.

However, not even the best policy in the world will be effective if you don’t comply with it too. This means that there shouldn’t be double standards or exclusions from the rules you’ve set. For example, if your best-performing employee violated the policy for the second time, which may imply temporary suspension, you must follow through with their punishment even if this means temporarily affecting business performance.

If you don’t, this will send a message to the rest of your staff that the policy isn’t strict and only applies in certain situations. This can lead to a plethora of problems. So, once you write a policy - make sure to stick to it.

Acknowledgement of Absence

You need to let your staff know their absence doesn’t go unnoticed. Instead of confronting them in a blaming manner, start off with noting facts in the passing. For example, mention how you’ve noticed they are getting sick a lot lately. Or that they’re normally late on Tuesdays. Knowing their absence doesn’t slip your attention may be enough for the worker to fix their behaviour.

If it doesn’t, try having a bit more stern approach by introducing countermeasures. For example,  notify them that if they are late on Tuesday again, they will have to account for that time by working later on Wednesday. If they keep taking sick days, request them to do it via filling a form 3-5 hours before the shift, and vice versa.

Finally, start asking questions. Is there a reason they are late on Tuesdays specifically? Shouldn’t they get checked out by a doctor if they are not feeling well this frequently? Again, make sure the way you raise the questions doesn’t come out as an accusation; but rather from a place of concern.  And this takes us to the next section.

Identify and Address the Cause

Although there are plenty of preventative measures, it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, you work with living people. Absenteeism often has deeper reasons to it than a simple lack of responsibility. In order to put a definite stop to it, you must identify the said reasons and work together with your staff in finding a permanent solution.

By using the ‘care personally, challenge directly’ approach, not only will you spot the root of tardiness or poor attendance, but also build a better rapport with your employees. Becoming someone they trust means that in the future they will be keener on sharing their issues with you to work out what can be done about it instead of adopting harmful malpractices. This is a much longer route, but it’s the one that eradicates the problem entirely.

Key Takeaway

Staff attendance is one of the key nominators when optimising business performance. The frequent unexpected absence or systematic lateness of a worker puts a strain on the rest of your team, lowering the morale and leaving you with less workforce. Additionally, depending on your company’s arrangements, you’re under the threat of paying an employee for the time that has not been worked. This, in a long term, will lead you to huge financial losses.

The problem is that malicious absenteeism manifests in patterns, and patterns only form when the particular behaviour is repetitive. In other words, by the time you notice something is off, you’ve already been subjected to losses. The safest route and best solution are to prevent this from happening.

While there are several great preventative measures, such as swapping traditional timesheets for their digital counterparts or imposing strict rules. However, the best way to tackle the problem is to identify where it’s originating from to then try and solve it, together with the offender. It’s pretty rare that attendance-related issues come from tardiness or lack of responsibility; therefore with little trust and flexibility, you can meet your employees halfway. Not only will this stop you from losing money but will also improve your relationship with the staff.

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Timesheet Portal online software provided by Anfold Software Ltd, a registered company in the UK.