People First HR Services

Keep keen eye on employee attendance

Colleen Coates

Supervisors need full support of manangement, proper training to manage absenteeism

It’s five to nine in the morning when the phone rings. Before the supervisor answers it, they instinctively look around and take a head count. Who’s calling in sick today?

Whether they want to or not, the responsibility for monitoring employee absences falls to immediate supervisors, who are often the only ones aware when an individual is away from work. They have a good understanding of their staff members’ work habits and are often empathetic to any extenuating circumstances surrounding an individual’s absence. This also puts them in a position to identify patterns of absence and flag potential abuses of the system.

Because of this, it is important that supervisors receive proper training in managing absenteeism rather than leaving them to carry out the unenviable task of identifying, confronting and resolving any performance or behaviour issues on their own. Considering that it is now estimated that almost two out of three employees who don’t show up for work are not actually sick — this people matter may be too large for anyone to handle alone.

First and foremost, supervisors should have the full support of the senior management team. This should include working together to develop and draft a suitable attendance policy. To be effective and provide consistency, the policy should outline all expectations of employees, such as specified hours of work, allowable break times, lunch periods and excused absences.

It also needs to include the steps employees should take if they are going to be late or absent (e.g. call their first-point-of-contact supervisor and plan to make up any work missed) as well as the disciplinary actions the employer may take if the employee does not comply with policy or if it is determined they have abused their sick-time benefits.

Once an attendance policy is in place, each supervisor should ensure that their staff members are fully aware of these expectations and their responsibility to report to work on time and call in when they will be absent or late. The organization can also support supervisors in enforcing good attendance policies and procedures by:


Hiring with care — The importance of consistent attendance should be addressed at the very first interview with job candidates. When talking to references, don’t shy away from asking about their previous attendance records.


Implementing a warning system — Develop a system of tracking attendance and identifying the high, medium and low risk employees.


Nip it in the bud — Just one unwarranted, unexplained or unjustifiable absence is a slippery slope; therefore, it should not be tolerated. If anyone flagrantly violates the rules, they should be dealt with immediately and according to policy; otherwise, ignoring such problems affects the team and sends the wrong message that it’s OK to come in late, take extended breaks or skip work altogether.


Treat everyone the same — All employees need to be held to the same level of performance, both in terms of productivity and attendance. For the policy to be effective, it must be enforced fairly and consistently.


Lead by example — Both supervisors and managers should demonstrate adherence to the attendance policy and set a positive example for employees.


Encourage an open-door policy — It is important that employees feel comfortable talking to their supervisor about any personal situations that may affect their ability to put in a full day’s work, be it a medical issue, a personal problem or a scheduling conflict. On the flip side, supervisors should be able to express their concerns to an employee who is accumulating a questionable number of absences. Together, they must work together to find a way to eliminate the problem before it escalates.

Dealing with employee attendance can be a time-consuming, unpleasant task if left unmanaged for too long. Dealing with attendance issues in a timely manner will save the organization time, money and a negative impact on employee morale.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai


Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at




Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2012 H2