Effective Strategies to Curb Excessive Absenteeism in the Workplace

Effective Strategies to Curb Excessive Absenteeism in the Workplace

Time tracking is an effective solution in the battle against chronic absenteeism
Excessive Absenteeism

In the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” the main character, Ferris Bueller, a high school slacker, elects to play hookey and take a day off from school. Played by actor Matthew Broderick, Bueller fakes an illness and hacks into the school’s attendance system to enjoy a day of leisure in Chicago. His ninth absence of the semester catches the attention of the school’s dean, Edward Rooney, who becomes determined to expose Bueller’s truancy.

After an eventful day – which includes an afternoon Chicago Cubs game, a visit to the Von Steuben Day Parade, and more – the adventure ends in the destruction of his friend’s dad’s Ferrari. At the end of the film, Bueller’s parents, unaware of the chaos that has ensued, find him in bed and, ironically, encourage him to take the next day off to recover.

While Bueller’s actions may seem harmless and comedic, absences in the business world are serious issues that significantly impact a company’s productivity, morale, and overall performance.

This article will examine chronic absenteeism, the steps managers can take to curtail it, the elements of an effective attendance policy, and more. 

So, if attendance is an issue for you, you’ve come to the right place. Let us help you implement the right processes and practices so that you never again find yourself in Rooney’s shoes, uttering that famous refrain: “Bueller? Bueller?”

Defining Excessive Absenteeism

Just as Bueller made a habit of skipping school, excessive absenteeism refers to an employee who is frequently absent from work beyond what’s considered acceptable or normal. Frequent absences often surpass the company’s standard allowance for time off (paid or unpaid), including sick days, personal days, holidays, and other forms of leave.

Excessive absenteeism can negatively impact productivity, morale, and profit. Chronic lack of attendance can be divided into four categories. 

  1. Unplanned Absences: These are frequent and/or often unplanned absences that disrupt a business's workflow. 
  2. Patterned Absences: Consistent absenteeism on certain days, such as Mondays or Fridays, which may be identifiable as a pattern. 
  3. Extended Absences: Lengthy absent periods without a valid medical excuse. 
  4. Excessive Absences: An employee logs absences that exceed the company’s average absentee rate. 

Tip: Use a time clock system to quickly spot patterns of absenteeism. Digital time clocks help you track attendance in real-time, so you can address issues early and keep your team productive and engaged.

Absenteeism’s Impact on Productivity 

Absenteeism is a costly concern for American businesses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 7.8 million workers reported an illness-related work absence in January 2022, a 110% increase over 2021. Absenteeism cost U.S. companies approximately $226 billion in 2022 – the equivalent of $1,685 per employee. 

These costs are compounded in many ways, including:

  • Who’s Picking Up the Slack? When employees fail to show up for a shift, their responsibilities often fall to their colleagues, leading to an increased workload, burnout, and ultimately, a reduction in productivity. 
  • Missed Deadlines: Each individual is responsible for his or her duties at work. When he or she fails to show up, that may disrupt the continuity of projects and tasks. As a result, the quality of work may suffer and deadlines may be missed. 
  • Culture Shock: If and when an individual repeatedly misses work, coworkers may expect a strict punishment. If that consequence never arrives, those individuals may create resentment toward the worker and employer, negatively impacting the company’s culture. 
  • Prone to Make Mistakes: As employees aim to fill in for their missing compadres, they may lack the knowledge of their predecessors, which may result in a higher likelihood of mistakes and accidents. 
  • Substandard Service: Absenteeism may lead to a decline in the quality of services delivered. In customer-facing occupations, such as restaurants, convenience stores, etc., a lack of manpower may lead to a decline in the services rendered or longer wait times. Repeated events, depending on the magnitude, could negatively impact the company’s reputation. 

Signs of Chronic Absenteeism

You may assume excessive absenteeism is easy to spot. Well, that’s not always the case. And, crafty employees, much like Ferris Bueller, may do everything they can to game the system.   

Excessive absenteeism comes in many forms and flavors, including:

  • No Call, No Show: A no call, no show situation results from an individual’s inability to communicate his or her absence (no call) and simply not being present for his or her shift (no show). Many companies punish repeated no-call, no-show incidents with termination. 
  • Calling in Sick: While all human beings are prone to sickness, some tend to struggle with illnesses more than others. Monitor those who tend to call in at the last minute or account for numerous absences that exceed the time allotted. 
  • Time Shavers: Some employees will aim to cut any corner placed in front of them, i.e., arriving a few minutes late, leaving a few minutes early, lingering in the lunch room beyond scheduled break times, etc. Multiple instances of this behavior can be costly over the long run. 
  • Chatterboxes: Employees who prioritize socialization over completing their work may be stealing from the business. While some level of socialization is to be expected, keep an eye on employees who spend more time chatting than working. 

Establish Expectations 

Developing a policy to address employee attendance is crucial for maintaining a productive and dependable workforce. When crafting this guide, make sure it's as comprehensive as possible and accessible to employees 24/7. 

Here are a few values your policy should cover:

  • Define Expectations: Clearly outline your expectations regarding attendance, punctuality, and communication in writing. Specify standard working hours, the importance of regular attendance, and the impact excessive absenteeism has on the organization.
  • Clear Communication: Establish a clear protocol for reporting absences. Specify how and when employees should notify supervisors if they’re unable to attend work, including who to contact and preferred/acceptable communication methods (i.e., phone calls, emails, text messages, etc.).
  • Establish a Timeline: Define specific parameters for when employees must report an absence. Depending on the job and industry, this timeframe could be on the same day as the absence or well in advance.
  • Hold Employees Accountable: Clearly state any documentation requirements for absences, such as a doctor's note for medical-related absences. Specify the format and timeframe for submitting this documentation.
  • Identify Consequences: Clearly articulate the consequences for all attendance incidents. These may include verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension, and, ultimately, termination. Ensure consistency in the application of these consequences.
  • Defined Discipline: Implement a progressive discipline approach where the severity of the consequences increases with repeated violations. This gives employees an opportunity to correct their behavior before facing severe repercussions.
  • Employee Communication: Allow employees to appeal if they believe they were unfairly penalized for an attendance incident. This provides a mechanism for addressing potential misunderstandings or extenuating circumstances.
  • Inform Your Staff: Ensure all employees are aware of the company’s attendance policy. Conduct training sessions or orientation programs to communicate the policy and provide written or downloadable copies for reference.
  • Be Consistent: Apply the policy consistently to all employees. Avoid making exceptions unless there are clear and justifiable reasons for doing so. Consistency promotes fairness and discourages favoritism.
  • Edit and Revise: Review your attendance policy regularly to ensure its effectiveness and relevance. Update the policy as needed to address any changing circumstances or legal requirements.
  • Compliance in Court: Ensure your policy aligns with relevant labor laws and regulations. Seek legal advice to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local employment laws.

Effective Call-In Processes

When an absence is necessary, communication is key. For both excused and unexcused absences, make sure your company clearly defines how and when an employee is expected to communicate these events. While the FMLA allows eligible employees to take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons via group health insurance continuation, the way these absences are legislated is largely up to the employer. 

Some steps to consider include:

  • Set Communication Parameters: Specify a timeframe, such as at least two hours before the start of a shift, within which employees must communicate an absence. 
  • Who Are You Going to Call? Employees should be aware of who to communicate an absence to. A company’s attendance policy should also outline which forms of communication are most acceptable, prioritizing text messaging, chat messages, emails, phone calls, etc. 
  • Dive Into the Details: Employees should know which details are necessary when calling in, i.e., name, title, department, reason for their absence, duration of the absence, whether they have a doctor’s note, etc.
  • Did You Get My Message?: An employer’s policy should clearly define what level of communication is acceptable. An unanswered call, voicemail, or text may not be sufficient. Ensure a “Plan B” is clearly stated in your policy. 
  • Attendance Records: An employer must maintain accurate attendance records so that if and when a dispute arises, there is a definitive database to point toward. Ensure your company logs every attendance incident. 

Regarding absences, there are legal implications for both employers and employees. 

  • Collective Bargaining Agreements: If your company offers employment contracts or is part of a union, there are likely to be specific provisions on attendance and absenteeism. Make sure those terms are specified in your handbook. 
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Absenteeism may impact workplace safety, resulting in OSHA violations. These incidents may lead to inadequate staffing and/or unsafe working conditions. 

The best practice to mitigate litigation is to develop a clear, written attendance policy that outlines expectations, procedures, and consequences. Keeping detailed records of attendance, communications with employees, and disciplinary actions provide evidence of each incident. Documenting these actions with an employee’s signature is also of the utmost importance. 

Steps for Addressing Absenteeism

A written, comprehensive attendance policy is critical to addressing absenteeism. This document allows managers to point to a set of rules that have been broken and the consequences that must be enacted as a result. 

Assuming your company has a policy in place, the following steps should be considered. 

  1. Point to Your Policy: Your policy should answer every question about attendance, including excessive absenteeism, excused/unexcused absences, documentation, communication, etc. Once the policy is ready, make sure it is distributed appropriately and available 24/7.

  2. Maintain Accurate Records: Properly record and document each attendance incident, including tardiness, absences, extended breaks, etc. These records are beneficial in case of a future incident and/or in defense of litigation.
  3. Identify Trends: Regularly review attendance records to identify trends or patterns of absenteeism. Schedule an intervention with those who have high absenteeism rates to discover any underlying causes and discuss potential solutions.
  4. Consistent Consequences: Establish an enforcement plan. The first consequence may be a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, suspension, and ultimately, termination. Ensure your punishment is fair across all employees to avoid claims of favoritism or discrimination.

  5. Reward Good Attendance: Offer incentives for reliable employees who show up consistently. These rewards may include financial bonuses, time off, and public recognition. 
  1. Review Policies Regularly: Stay on top of federal and local laws to ensure your policy is compliant. Additionally, poll employees and alter your policy if and when a rule falls out of favor, i.e., remote work in the shadow of the pandemic. 

Technological Tools for Tracking

Luckily, there are digital tools available to help companies meticulously track attendance. OnTheClock is a preferred tool designed to help small businesses operate more efficiently through the use of time tracking. 

OnTheClock can help a company overcome the challenges of absenteeism in many ways, including:

Accurate Time Tracking — OnTheClock automatically records when employees clock in and out, reducing the chances of missed punches and ensuring accurate attendance data. With the software, managers can monitor attendance in real-time, allowing them to quickly identify where employees are, when they clocked in, and the path they took to get there.

Geofencing Capabilities — OnTheClock’s geofencing feature ensures employees can only clock in and out when they are within a designated geographical area, such as an office. This reduces the risk of time theft and ensures accurate tracking of work hours.

Automated Alerts and Notifications — OnTheClock can send automated alerts and notifications to employees, reminding them to clock in or out, which helps maintain punctuality. Managers can receive alerts when employees are late or have not clocked in for their shifts, allowing for immediate follow-up and intervention.

Comprehensive Reporting — OnTheClock provides detailed reports on employee attendance, including patterns of absenteeism, tardiness, and unexcused absences. This data helps managers identify trends and take corrective action. Managers can generate custom reports to focus on specific time periods, departments, or individual employees, providing insights into attendance issues and enabling targeted interventions.

Streamlined PTO Management — Employees can request paid time off (PTO) directly through OnTheClock, and managers can approve or deny these requests within the system. This streamlines the process and ensures accurate tracking of PTO. Additionally, the system automatically updates PTO balances, reducing administrative workload and ensuring employees have accurate information about their available time off.

Policy Enforcement — OnTheClock allows companies to set and enforce attendance policies consistently across the organization. Automated tracking and reporting ensure all employees are held to the same standards.

Documentation of Violations — OnTheClock keeps a record of attendance violations, providing a documented history that can be used for performance reviews, disciplinary actions, or legal compliance.

Clear Communication — OnTheClock facilitates centralized communication between employees and managers regarding attendance issues. Employees can easily notify managers of absences, and managers can communicate expectations and consequences clearly.

Integration with Other Systems — OnTheClock can integrate with several human resources (HR) and payroll systems, ensuring attendance data is seamlessly incorporated into broader workforce management processes.

Enhanced Employee Accountability — By making attendance data visible to both employees and managers, OnTheClock promotes accountability. Employees are more likely to adhere to attendance policies when they know their time is being monitored accurately.

Performance Metrics — Managers can use attendance data to inform performance reviews and identify employees who consistently meet or exceed attendance expectations, providing opportunities for recognition and rewards.

Working Remotely — OnTheClock supports remote work by allowing employees to clock in and out from various locations while still ensuring accountability through features like geofencing and IP address tracking.

Flexible Scheduling — The software can accommodate flexible scheduling, making it easier for managers to track and manage employees who work non-traditional hours or shifts.

Legal Compliance — OnTheClock helps ensure compliance with federal, state, and local labor laws by accurately tracking work hours, overtime, and breaks. This reduces the risk of legal disputes related to wage and hour regulations.

Audit Trails — Companies can maintain an audit trail of all attendance records on OnTheClock’s cloud servers, providing documentation that can be used in the event of audits or legal challenges at any time and place. 

By leveraging these features, OnTheClock can help companies effectively manage and reduce absenteeism, leading to improved productivity, better employee engagement, and a more reliable workforce.


Much like Rooney's relentless pursuit to catch Bueller, businesses must be vigilant about managing and curbing excessive absenteeism to maintain productivity, morale, and overall company performance.

If you find yourself struggling with attendance issues, it's time to take action. Don’t let absenteeism drive your company off course. Embrace the power of technology with OnTheClock to streamline attendance tracking, enforce policies consistently, and enhance overall employee accountability. Implementing OnTheClock ensures you’re always on top of your workforce management, minimizing any "Bueller, Bueller?" moments in your organization.

Take control today with OnTheClock and watch your company’s productivity soar. Try OnTheClock for free for 30 days and experience the difference accurate time tracking can make.

OnTheClock Employee Time Tracking

Written by

Herb Woerpel

Herb Woerpel is a copywriter with OnTheClock. He has 17-plus years of professional journalism experience working for community and national media outlets.

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