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HR leaders create policies that they believe will support a healthy and productive workplace. Sometimes, however, those policies can backfire. Here are four policies that ReedGroup has identified as potent drivers of absenteeism within an organization, along with some tips and tactics that will counterbalance these absentee drivers and help tip the scales in your favor.

#1 – Zero to Hero Attendance Policies

The term “zero flexibility” is used for these policies because these work environments have very strict, rigorous schedules that typically don’t allow working from home. Zero flexibility attendance policies are very prevalent in call centers, manufacturing facilities, or distribution centers, because these environments require a certain number of people at all times to maintain service level agreements or production quotas assigned per shift.

These work environments are unique and require their employees to be present and on time for shifts. However, zero flexibility policies drive employees to take unplanned absences.

How to Fix “Zero to Hero” Attendance Policies:

Well-designed plans can control the number of unplanned absences and minimize negative disruptions to the workforce by building in more flexibility and options for employees. We’ve found that when organizations were willing to cross train their employees, they created a greater pool of expertise, so employees could find replacements by swapping or splitting shifts with other colleagues rather than calling in a last minute, unplanned absence.

#2 – PTO, But Only If You’re Lucky…Or Have Seniority

Do you have employees lining up at midnight on January 2nd to claim PTO for the new year? Are other employees being denied PTO due to greater seniority of other employees? Do you require six months’ notice to take PTO? We’ve encountered all of these situations among employers who technically offer PTO, but have made it difficult or impossible for their employees to use.

Making PTO difficult to take forces employees to abuse intermittent absences, which can cause negative disruptions to the workplace. PTO is a planned event, meaning an employer can make arrangements or find a replacement if needed. Intermittent absences are unplanned, meaning an employer has no opportunity to make coverage arrangements or find a replacement.

How to Fix PTO That’s Only For the Lucky, Or Senior, People

Loosen the reins on PTO and make it easier for employees to take, regardless of their seniority or tenure with the company. By allowing employees to utilize their PTO time, you shift absences into a planned, controllable state. From a big picture perspective, this allows your company to prepare better and experience less negative impacts from absences.

#3 – Employee Incentive Plans that Actually Reward Absenteeism

Do your salespeople disappear after they hit their target or goal for a given period of time? Sometimes the way performance is measured within an organization can unfortunately encourage absenteeism, disengagement, or “ghosting”.

Are your incentive plans easily manipulated? If so, engagement is not optimal. Salespeople have plenty to offer your organization above and beyond simply bringing in new deals; they are usually key internal partners for other functions, like marketing and product.

How To Fix Employee Incentive Plans That Reward Absenteeism

Consider restructuring incentive plans in a way that rewards overall performance over goals, so a steady state of engagement is necessary and encouraged.

#4 – Very Generous Plan Design

Sometimes problems arise from the best of intentions. The intent of disability or salary continuation plans is to ensure that if employees have a health issue, they will be financially supported during their absences and can focus on their recovery.

A generous plan can unfortunately encourage employees to take longer absences longer than they need to support recovery from injury or illness. Some plans can be so financially generous that there is no monetary motivation to return to work. Plans that have very low medical requirements also make it easy to take an absence without proving a serious medical condition.

How to Fix Very Generous Plan Design

There’s a delicate balance between taking care of your employees and ensuring absences are taken legitimately. Some employers adjust disability or salary continuation plans to offer financial incentives to return to work. Employees that will make more money working than they’d make by staying on leave are more likely to return to work in a timely manner. Also, objective medical test results from a doctor that specializes within that diagnostic realm are recommended. This will help ensure that the employee has a legitimate condition and is receiving proper treatment. Obviously, the ongoing pandemic may necessitate flexibility, especially regarding diagnostic testing, as valid diagnostic testing is available through a wide variety of providers.

Troubleshooting your organization’s plan and policy designs to make sure you’re not inadvertently encouraging employee absenteeism is worth the effort. If you’re looking for better ways to manage employee absence, ReedGroup has solutions for you.


Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.

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