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How to Deal with Excessive Absenteeism

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Written by Tom Fowler   


Absenteeism is a major problem in today’s business world. Used to be, a person could call in sick and that would be all that was required. Today, in large corporations managers are often required to report such absences multiple times to separate departments. Why is this? It is because tardiness and absenteeism have become excessive and costly. Let us examine the reasons for this and what to do about it.

Things You Will Need:


Professional attitude

Step 1:  The current environment

Today, employees call in sick or show up late at a disturbing percentage. This was not the case a generation ago when the depression era generation dominated American culture. The question is; why is this and what to do about it?

Step 2:  Why?

This writer does not pretend to have all of the answers, but does have some favorite theories. One idea is that persons in late middle age and older have a more intense work ethic, fostered by the depression era generation mentioned in step 1. Another idea is that younger people today, those under the age of 40, do not live by the clock as their parents did, especially if they are in occupations where it is possible to work from home. Cell phones, pagers, instant messaging; all of these things add up to a 24 hour virtual office. This is something the older generation did not have to deal with. The attitude is; I’m on call all the time anyway so why is it important to show up in the office on time? Please realize what the point is here: The work ethic between the generations may be different and generate different behavior patterns because of it, but is not necessarily better or worse from one group to the other. 

Step 3:  Another theory.

Younger people grew up watching their parents, who were fiercely loyal to employers, be repaid for that loyalty by suffering through corporate downsizings and layoffs. You may say that a tacit but important trust was broken. That trust was, “Come to work here, keep your nose clean and you will have a job always.” In the 21st century, that quiet agreement no longer exists and the point is; employees no longer display loyalty because it has not been shown to them.

Step 4:  How to address.

All of this reasoning is fine but does not address the problem modern day management faces: how to get employees to come to work and stay there. The wise manager knows there is no such thing as loyalty to the corporation anymore as big business forfeited that over 20 years ago. But, management also knows that absenteeism in most industries costs money and can play havoc with tight production schedules. So, in the following step, we will look at how savvy management teams addresses this challenge.

Step 5.  Lowering absenteeism.

The single most important thing in getting employees to come to work is morale. When there is undue stress in the office and caustic conflict, absenteeism skyrockets. There are more reasons than we can address in this article as to why this may happen in a work environment, but a sharp-eyed manager will quickly spot this trend and take steps to address it. These steps include being accessible, genuinely concerned about the people who work for him or her, setting, (inasmuch as possible), a relaxed atmosphere in the office and treating everybody with courtesy and respect. It also excludes favoritism and cronyism. Being as honest as possible with subordinates goes a long way in establishing personal credibility – and if you have that, a worker may think twice about calling in late or sick. In short, be a good manager and boss and your problems with absenteeism decrease.

Step 6.  Dealing with absenteeism.

No matter what you do, you as a manager will be dealing with a lot of it. Many corporations have developed very strict guidelines concerning this issue and you may find yourself having to discipline in some way a good and productive worker which you would rather forgive. What to do? Well – you cannot show favoritism or entirely disregard corporate policy, lest you get into hot water yourself, but you can soften the impact. When such a situation requires a documented warning or performance improvement notice, be certain to talk to your supervisor or HR department and let them know you retain confidence in this person and do not expect further problems. Be certain, too, to let the affected employee know that you have not lost confidence in he/her and do not expect further problems.

Step 7.  The overall picture.

Absenteeism in our time is a major challenge and probably will be until worker attitudes shift with the advancement of time. Until then, this problem is best addressed by keeping the office and/or workplace as upbeat and professional as possible, training managers and workers in the importance of satisfactory attendance and the economic costs when absenteeism is excessive.


Many corporations have “sick day” plans. Because of this, an unexcused absence should be a rare and unusual occurrence.

Be firm but reasonable. If a worker shows up 4-5 minutes late occasionally, do not make undue issue of it. Indeed, many companies have “come in 5 late, leave 5 early” policies. However, be careful not let this become habit by any individual, lest it become an office wide problem. Nothing impacts morale as much as the perception that somebody is “getting away” with something.


Modern day workplaces are stressful, often dangerously so. A wise manager will take steps to keep the office as upbeat and relaxed as possible. However, he or she must avoid the superficiality which often creeps into these attempts, lest he/she do more harm than good. Happy talk and rah-rah meetings are usually looked upon negatively by workers.

Be very careful about ignoring an unexcused absence or tardy from a favored employee. If you do it for one person, you will have to do it for all – and not all will deserve your consideration and forgiveness. 



Comments (1)add comment

Carl Benjamin said:

Carl Benjamin
As a coach and AD, I would always have a face to face confrontation on the seriousness of the matter.
July 22, 2010
Votes: +1

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