Show Absenteeism the Back Door

Absenteeism, by definition, is an employee’s absence from a duty or obligation. It’s sometimes unplanned, sometimes intentional, and sometimes habitual.

When employees show up for work on-site, it’s a heck of a lot easier to monitor the time they’re putting on the clock than when they’re working from home. But as we rethink work environments it may be time to give the concept of absenteeism a rethink too.

Sure, there are plenty of distractions at home that can pull our attention away from normal working hours. Helping children with schoolwork, putting on a load of laundry, walking a pet, or prepping for dinner are interruptions that could be considered subtle forms of absenteeism – a lack of being present if you will. Add in the scale and speed of change brought on by lockdowns, and it would seem logical to expect that being forced to do our jobs from home would be less productive, right?

Wrong.

Research indicates that 75% of 12,000 employees surveyed prior to and during the first several months of Covid reported being able to maintain or improve their productivity on individual tasks.

So, if employees are reporting higher levels of productivity in their new home-based work environments, what’s driving this output? What’s stopping people from slacking off, checking out, missing work, and ratcheting up absenteeism rates? And how can employers maintain and build on this?

Absenteeism - Remote Work

Statistically, engaged employees have lower absenteeism rates

As we know, or should by now, productivity levels are a measure of engagement. And engagement levels also go hand in hand with absenteeism rates.

Workplace distractions the likes of ad hoc meetings, impromptu breaks, extended lunches, and corridor chit-chats impact productivity. Yet these social interactions also impact engagement. In a good way. When we see ourselves as part of a collaborative culture, we understand how the negligence of duties can impact our co-workers. In a negative way.

In environments where a supportive group mentality unites people, we also see how team members willingly pitch in when unfortunate circumstances cause a colleague to miss work frequently or for extended periods of time.

“Engaged employees statistically miss work less. Boosting employee engagement deepens employees’ emotional connection to their work and co-workers, strengthening their internal motivation to be meaningfully present at work .” – Forbes Councils Member, Lotus Buckner

When it comes to dealing with absenteeism, this new-fangled world of physical distancing and general disconnect lends itself best to a humane approach.

That means regular check-ins.

Daily team stand-ups via video give everyone a chance to update everybody else on yesterday’s accomplishments, today’s priorities, and tomorrow’s plans. It gives teams a chance to see one another, to share ideas, to collaborate, to say “hi”.  And it becomes an intrinsic part of a bigger employee voice strategy that gives people a chance to be heard.

Regular one-on-ones reinforce this human-centred approach.  Let’s remember though, a monthly one-on-one might have sufficed when people worked in the office and could pop-in for quick guidance. But under a work-from-home model, a manager’s ability to strengthen relationships takes more time and effort. Asking individual team members what frequency works best for them shows genuine and engaging curiosity. This sort of action-oriented inclusivity speaks volumes about a leader’s commitment to their team and the organization’s commitment to its workforce.

At the same time, ground rules keep everyone grounded and on the same track. That’s where frequent pulse surveying has a role. Solicit input. After all, statistics are clear: an employee’s emotional connection to their organization deepens when they feel involved.

Should working hours be set in stone? Or personalized? What suggestions are out there so that everyone can commit to a schedule that delivers a level of structure and accessibility while offering flexibility?

Discuss expectations around performance.  What matters most? Is it the time we put in and are visible online? Finishing tasks on deadline? Levels of productivity and output? What do these different scenarios look like? How can they be measured?

And what does absenteeism look like in a work-from-home setting where work is always “there” on the laptop tucked in a drawer or sitting on the kitchen table?  What do teams and the broader employee population believe are acceptable absences?

The answers might come as a surprise.  But you’ll never know without asking. And you’ll have a slew of ideas, some actionable, some not so much, that you can test and tailor to keep people feeling involved. Feeling connected. Feeling productive. And feeling engaged – while showing traditional notions of absenteeism the back door.

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