Workplace absenteeism is a significant problem across the entire economy, and an expensive one at that — experts estimate it costs businesses more than $84 billion a year in lost productivity. Sometimes, of course, employees simply can’t help but miss work: We all have to call out of work sometimes due to family crises, health problems, car trouble, and other unavoidable issues.
But what employers can’t afford to excuse is the dreaded “no call, no show.” We’ve all the experience of a team member — whether a peer, subordinate, or supervisor — not showing up for work without letting anyone know beforehand. It throws the entire shift into disarray. After all, managers don’t build the daily roster with extra fat to cut. They schedule exactly as many people as the business needs, and no more. When a shift starts without someone who was scheduled, managers have to scramble to reallocate jobs and every coworker has to pick up the slack.
The no call, no show is expensive as well, costing the typical business approximately $3,600 per year for each hourly worker. That adds up quickly. In fact, if you employ eight people and aren’t actively fighting unscheduled absences, you’re essentially paying a ninth full-time employee who never shows up!
The problems go beyond money and inconvenience, too. Tardiness and absences negatively affect employee morale, often leading to resentment among team members. Customer service can suffer, productivity can decrease, others can use others’ absences as an excuse to follow suit — the no call, no show is a problem that tends to snowball. Unsurprisingly, employees eventually lose respect for managers who put up with it.
Setting a policy is your first step against the no call, no show
Your primary goal should be to prevent unscheduled absences from happening in the first place, and the first step toward that is to set clear expectations with your employees. They need to know your policies around scheduling and availability: vacation and sick days, how to handle a shift replacement, and most pertinent to this topic, the consequences for tardiness and absence. If you don’t make the rules clear up front, your employees may think that violating these basic workplace norms is “no big deal” at your business. You’re also sure to run into problems with inconsistent penalties if your managers aren’t all following one clear policy. Acacia HR Solutions provides a good example of such a policy here — it covers nearly every possible situation and provides firm but fair punishments for broken rules.
Make sure that your policies fall in line with what the law requires, which can vary by state. There are legal protections for a number of reasons for absences, such as jury duty. There are also limitations on the repercussions you’re allowed to implement. For example, you can’t reduce someone’s rate of pay because they didn’t show up for an earlier shift. Follow the rules, and also remember that they provide protections to you as an employer too — the most important being that except in emergency cases where doing so is impossible, staff still have a responsibility to let their managers know ahead of time that they’re missing work — even if they have a good reason.
Of course, a policy will only get you so far. You need to engage your employees and build a genuine connection with them to minimize absenteeism. That doesn’t mean you need to be best friends with them. But in order for your policy to work, your employees do need to believe in you to a certain extent. That’s rarer than you think. A staggering 82% of workerssay they don’t trust their boss to tell them the truth. So, even if your policy is totally fair and clearly communicated, the data suggests that the majority of your staff won’t trust its veracity until they trust you. Each new hire needs to see that you consistently treat people fairly, back up your words with actions, and, yes, enforce your policies before they’ll buy into them.
Enforcement: What to do when the no call, no show happens
While a policy will no doubt nip a good deal of no call, no shows in the bud, you’re never going to eliminate them completely. Eventually, you’ll have to put your money where your mouth is and enforce the rules. That’s why your absence policy needs to have escalating levels of discipline that eventually reach termination. For example, the Acacia HR Solutions policy we referenced earlier looks like this:
- The first and second unexcused absences result in a verbal warning.
- The third unexcused absence results in a written reprimand.
- The fourth unexcused absence results in termination.
Don’t just take this policy and make it your own. Depending on the nature of your work, a single unexcused absence might be grounds for dismissal. It all depends on the impact the absence has on you and your customers. But whatever discipline your policy requires, make sure your employees understand what it is and why you’ve selected it.
But when a no call, no show occurs, there are still a few steps to take before you jump to punishments. First, as Stephen Covey writes in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you should first seek to understand, then seek to be understood. Ask the employee what happened and listen hard before assigning blame. There might have been an emergency or some kind of ongoing issue preventing your employee from giving you their best work — for instance, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the leading cause of absenteeism in the United States is depression. When you ask first, you’re letting employees know you care about them, which means they’re more likely to follow the rules moving forward. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do.
If your employee doesn’t have a legitimate excuse for their absence but it’s their first offense, you may want to start with a verbal warning. Explain the impact that their missed shift has on their coworkers, who have to pick up the slack to keep the business on track. This can be a powerful motivator, as employees often feel a stronger sense of kinship and empathy with their peers. The desire to keep them from struggling under the weight of additional work may prevent continued absences.
But if the behavior continues, you’ll eventually need to terminate the employee. Make sure you’ve documented their absences and the smaller punishments that followed. Dismissal should be quick, professional, and with an eye towards mitigating any gossip that might occur by other employees.
Focus on what you can control
Benjamin Franklin famously said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Setting your employees up to succeed gives them every opportunity not to disappoint you. Proactively write clear policies and guidelines, utilize scheduling software to minimize mistakes and reclaim time in your workday, then follow up appropriately and fairly in every instance. Doing these things will decrease your encounters with unscheduled absenteeism significantly.