Question:

I am a mid-size employer on the Peninsula.  I like to have a relatively flexible attitude at work, but lately I am feeling like my employees are taking advantage of me. People have repeatedly been arriving late for work, and sometimes they just don’t even show up at all and then make up some excuse after the fact. It is becoming a real problem.  Do you have any suggestions about how to handle this?  I don’t want to be harsh, but I am not sure what to do other than becoming a disciplinarian.

Answer:

Tardiness and absenteeism are very serious problems in today’s workplace.  While a certain amount of employee absence is to be expected (e.g., because of illness or family emergencies), employers are frequently faced with employees who are chronically tardy or absent, and who often do not have legitimate reasons for their behavior. This seems to be the situation that you have found yourself in with your employees.

While I certainly understand your reluctance to be “harsh” with your employees, the reality is that attendance issues can have a significant impact on your business’ productivity and on the general atmosphere in your workplace.  According to the Society for Human Resources Management, tardiness alone costs U.S. businesses more than $3 billion a year in lost productivity.  To put this in perspective, an employee who is 10 minutes late each day will have taken the equivalent of an entire week’s paid vacation by the end of the calendar year.  Another survey, which was done in 2005, found that employee absenteeism cost employers an average of $660 per employee each year.

Employers are not only affected by direct costs associated with employee absences (such as sick pay, overtime and staff replacement costs), but they must also take into account the indirect costs associated with the effects of absence on production and quality, management time and the potential loss of customers. Employees with poor attendance also negatively impact productivity in the workplace and w hen attendance issues are not addressed, or when they are addressed in an inconsistent manner, low morale can result. Employees often feel they have been treated unfairly if they perceive other absent employees are “getting away with it.” For example, i f one employee is habitually late but does not appear to face any repercussions, it will likely make others wonder why they aren’t allowed the same sort of leniency.  This is particularly true if there are no consequences for the tardiness or absenteeism. The other problem with this lack of consequences is that more and more employees will likely take advantage of the situation.

In some situations, employee a bsence can be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem, such as bullying and/or harassment, communication problems, or stress. These are the types of problems that, if not investigated, can lead to significant costs to a business. This is not to suggest that these are the reasons for your employees’ attendance issues, but it is a reminder that employee absences are a serious problem that should not be ignored.

So what can employers do to protect themselves? The first important step is to implement and enforce a strict attendance policy. Your policy should emphasize that punctuality and attendance are important to the operation of your business, and that employees are expected to be on time and ready to work when their shift begins. Your policy should set forth the consequences for tardiness and unexcused absences (e.g., verbal/written warnings, suspension, and termination) and should also explain the proper procedure for an employee to follow if he/she is going to be late or absent. Your policy should be enforced consistently, so that your employees know what to expect and also so that there is no sense of unfairness or of certain individuals being allowed to break the rules.

In order to keep your workplace a bit more “laid back,” you might consider offering your employees small rewards for good attendance. You might offer gift certificates, or you could have a monthly attendance award that entitles the winner to some sort of prize. Similarly, you should note good attendance in your employees’ performance evaluations, so that they feel their efforts at punctuality are being recognized. It is also a good idea for you, as the boss, and your managers or supervisors to closely adhere to the attendance policy, so as to set a good example for your employees.
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