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Absence Management: The Complete Guide for Small Businesses

Whether it’s paid time off, sick days, family leave, or no-call-no-shows, absences are an unavoidable part of business life. Although business owners and managers often rue the day that an employee will call out sick unexpectedly and leave the team short-staffed, smart managers understand that it’s best to plan ahead for this eventuality instead of just crossing their fingers and hoping it won’t happen.

And that’s precisely where absence management comes into the picture. In this guide, we will cover how to get ahead of absences so that you can minimize their potential negative effects and keep your business running as smoothly as possible.

What Is Absence Management?

Absence management refers to any set of policies and processes that businesses implement to better react to, handle, and reduce employee absences and their potentially negative consequences. Ideally, these management strategies will cover a broad spectrum of potential absence scenarios, ranging from acceptable absences, like paid time off (PTO), to unacceptable absences, like simply not showing up to work one day.

An effective absence management policy sets out rules and procedures that teams can use to both educate employees on consequences for unsanctioned absences as well as instruct them on how to properly take PTO, sick days, family leave, etc.

Why Every Business Needs an Absence Management Policy

When it comes to absences, managers and employees tend to be at odds. Although managers would often prefer that their employees never take days off (it would make planning easier for them, after all), employees greatly value their PTO and sick days.

In short, absences are an inevitable part of the workplace, and managers need to plan ahead for them. Without sufficient foresight and preplanning in the form of an absence management policy, a small business is setting itself for potentially disastrous interruptions to its normal flow of operations. After all, if there is no standardized procedure for taking PTO, you could theoretically end up with every employee deciding to take it at the last minute at exactly the same time.

Absence management policies are crafted to avoid these types of nightmare scenarios. Not only do they discourage workers from engaging in unapproved absenteeism by setting out the consequences, but they also explain how and when employees can request PTO, take sick days, etc.

In other words, an absence management policy is a tool that a business uses to get a handle on this inevitable part of having employees. Just by the mere fact of having employees, you know that they will be absent at one point or another, so it’s crucial that you plan ahead and set procedures in place so that these absences affect you as little as possible.

Different Types of Absences

Not all absences are the same, and your absence management policy should handle the various types differently. Here are three categories of absences that you should make sure you plan ahead for.

Planned Absences

A planned absence is just what it sounds like: any absence that is scheduled in advance or otherwise planned for. This category typically covers paid-time-off (vacation days), family, medical, or military leave, and jury duty. Each of these situations will usually give ample time to plan ahead.

There are other absences that kind of skirt the line between planned and unplanned, such as sick days and personal days. In some cases, an employee will be able to give a bit of a heads up before taking off, but it won’t be much.

For example, if an employee has a debilitating medical condition, that has a consistent prodrome (lead up period), like severe migraines or cluster headaches, they may be able to notice the starting signs at the end of work Friday and say that they’ll need to take a sick day on Monday. However, most of the time, these fall into the next category.

Unplanned Absences

An unplanned absence refers to any time that an employee doesn’t come to work without providing any lead time that could be used to plan. Usually, this refers to sick days, personal days, bereavement leave, any other type of sudden leave, and no-call-no-show. In this case, an employee might call in a couple of hours before their shift saying that they’re too sick to come in.

It is important to note that unplanned absences can be divided into two further categories: excused and unexcused absences. Sick days, personal days, etc., are excused absences, but if an employee simply doesn’t show up to work, then that’s an unexcused absence. The unplanned nature of the absence, however, does not necessarily make it a violation.

Chronic Absenteeism

Although this doesn’t strictly refer to a specific instance or type of singular absence, it is a problem that managers need to plan for. Sometimes, employees have a problem of being absent from work very often. In that situation, it is referred to as chronic absenteeism.

Keep in mind that chronic absenteeism is not the same thing as planned leave, even though both of them refer to extended periods of absence. Typically, chronic absenteeism refers to a habit or pattern of unexcused absences.

How to Develop an Absence Management Policy

When it comes time to develop an absence management policy, it’s important to keep in mind what the purpose of it is in a very practical sense. Sure, ultimately the goal is to maintain efficiency and productivity to maximize profits, but there’s a more pressing purpose at hand: clearly communicating expectations and procedures to your employees.

Essentially, your absence management policy needs to set up very specific and standardized procedures for requesting and dealing with absences so that your employees can easily understand how to navigate the system. The specific policies you decide to implement will be largely dependent on your own unique situation, and deciding how many sick days, vacation days, etc., each employee gets is a topic that’s beyond the scope of this guide.

However, when it comes to actually writing the policy, clarity should be in mind first and foremost, and your primary goal should be to communicate.

4 Tips to Improve Your Business’s Absence Management

If you’ve already got an absence management policy in place and want to make it better, or if you need a bit of inspiration for how to set up your absence management procedures, here are a few tips that can help you out.

1. Use ZoomShift to Track PTO

One of the hardest parts of absence management comes down to pure logistics: juggling all your employees’ schedules and keeping track of them. Unfortunately, some managers are still stuck in the old days of paper schedules and calendars, which makes the whole process that much harder.

Nowadays, managers can use digital tools, like ZoomShift, to streamline their absence management. Instead of referencing several different calendars and schedules, checking various documents, and using several communication methods, managers can see all the information they need in one place. Plus, they can even reach out to employees through the app, and employees can request PTO with the app as well.

This not only speeds up the process of requesting and noting down time-off but also reduces the risk of human error. With ZoomShift, managers don’t have to worry that they’ll get off a call with an employee who requested time off, fully intending to note it in the calendar, only to get intercepted on their way out of the office by another employee who needs help and then forget to put it down in the schedule. Instead, requests are automatically added to the schedule once they’re approved, which makes things easier for everyone.


2. Create a Flexible Work Culture

Adding more flexibility into the workplace may seem at first glance like it’s counterproductive to planning ahead and reducing disruptions. However, when you give your employees enough flexibility, they’re more likely to schedule time off in advance instead of trying to game the system by taking sick days and personal days last minute.

3. Make Sure Your Team Members Have Enough Days Off

Just like the last tip, giving your employees more time off sounds completely counterintuitive to minimizing absences. But remember that the main goal is to reduce disruptions, which are more likely to come from unplanned or unexcused absences. By giving your employees ample time off, you’re increasing the likelihood that they’ll tell you about their PTO plans in advance, and decreasing the likelihood that they’ll just decide to go to the beach one day without telling you.

4. Forge an Enjoyable Workplace

The logic behind this tip is a bit more straightforward than the others: if you create an enjoyable workplace, your employees are less likely to want to take time off in the first place. Plus, this can also reduce the amount of stress that your employees endure, and since stress contributes to various illnesses, it can also minimize the number of sick days your employees take.

Additionally, if your employees feel respected, they’re more likely to reciprocate that respect and less likely to engage in disrespectful behaviors, like just not showing up for work one day.

Key Takeaways

Absence management is an integral part of running a business. Although absences can’t be eliminated entirely, they can be effectively planned for to mitigate any disruptions they may cause.

By investing in absence management software such as ZoomShift or Workday Absence Management, creating an enjoyable and flexible work environment, and clearly outlining an absence management policy, you’ll be well on your way to a streamlined and efficient business.


Sam Molony

Sam Molony is the marketing strategist at ZoomShift, the leading employee scheduling software. When Sam's not publishing or promoting new content you can find him playing his guitar or baking.

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