The individual's performance is very good, but her attendance record is spotty. How do I convince someone that we need to come to work, on time, every day?

Start by making your attendance expectation clear. The attendance expectation the organization has of every single employee is the same everywhere: "We expect each employee to come to work every day, on time, fully prepared, clean, straight, and sober, for the full duration of the scheduled workday." Any variance from that is a variance from the company's expectations.

Red Flag

The most important issue to concentrate on in dealing with attendance problems is the effect of the absence, not its cause. Supervisors must continually point out to people with spotty attendance records that ultimately the cause of any absence is irrelevantonly the effect counts. The point is a simple one: Regardless of the quality and truthfulness of the excuse, if the employee doesn't come to work, the employee's job doesn't get done. We can't justify Bobbie Sue's nonperformance to customers simply because she had a really good excuse for not showing up.

Tell Me More

Many people erroneously believe that if they have some sick leave available, then it's okay to take off some time. This is not true. Sick leave has no relationship to vacations or holidays or other forms of time off. Sick leave is an insurance policy, just like life insurance or collision coverage on your car. Just because we give you life insurance doesn't mean we want you to die; just because you have collision insurance doesn't mean you want to have a car accident. The purpose of sick leave is to provide salary continuation for a certain number of days when the employee is unable to work for a specifically defined set of reasons. But it has nothing to do with the organization's attendance expectation.

Hot Tip

Some supervisors erroneously believe that if the reason for absence is accurate, and the person is not a liar or a malingerer, the company must tolerate and accommodate the employee. This is not correct and is unfair to the employee's coworkers, who must take up the slack when the absentee is missing. The statement that the supervisor needs to make to the employee is, "Sally, I understand that you may have child-care problems/medical difficulties/car troubles/runaway pets. The fact is, I need someone who can show up for work every day. If you can't come to work every day that you're scheduled, I will need to find someone who can. Now what are you going to do so that you can meet your responsibility for showing up on time every day?"

People often don't realize that courts and arbitrators have consistently upheld the right of an organization to terminate employees for failure to maintain regular attendance even when all of their absences have been for legitimate medical necessity, each has been confirmed by medical certification, and the employee has "sick leave" in the bank.

In writing the statements of desired and actual performance in preparation for the discussion with the employee, avoid writing down the excuses the employee has offered. The statement of desired performance should always read: "Be at work, on time, every day." The statement of the individual's actual performance should read: "On [dates] Betty Jo was absent and on [dates] Betty Jo was late." Then concentrate on writing a complete summary of the impact of the problemall the things that don't get done or go wrong because the employee wasn't there.

Hot Tip

An effective way to get control of attendance and reduce absenteeism is to compute the company's or a specific department's average absence rate. Then concentrate on those people whose attendance record is below average. The advantage of this approach is that it avoids considerations of the cause of the absences. You can then say to the employee, "The average absence rate in your department was 4.6 percent, Joe, but your personal absence rate was 5.5 percent." Even better, it gives the employee a reasonable target to shoot for; for example, "We realize you can't be perfect, Joe. All we want you to do is be just a little better than average." As the people with attendance problems improve to better than average, the overall average absence rate goes down.

If an employee ever challenges a supervisor who's discussing attendance by whining, "Well, you don't want me to come to work when I'm sick, do you?" the appropriate answer is, "Yes, we do. We want every employee to be at work every day." This is a hard-line response, but is sometimes necessary with hard-line cases.

Hot Tip

In dealing with attendance problems, never ask the employee to improve. Ask the employee to correct the problem. You don't want improvement, you want a total and complete correction.

Red Flag

When taking disciplinary action or terminating an employee because of an attendance problem, never use the phrase, "Excessive absences." That suggests that there is some standard that the employee has exceeded. Instead, say, "Failure to maintain regular attendance." What is regular attendance? Coming to work, on time, every day.

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