Our response to “5 reasons NOT to have an absence policy”

Some time ago, we came across an article that suggested it is sometimes better not to have an absence policy. The subject of criticism was strict attendance policies, which were said to breed discontent. They can also be counter-productive to employee engagement among other things. Being, as we are, an absence management company, this was a really interesting viewpoint on the topic of absence.

We often advise employers on their policies and get asked a lot what is a good absence policy or what triggers we would recommend. Each company should, of course, use triggers appropriate for their situation but generally we advise for what, I guess, could be called a strict absence policy. That’s not because we don’t believe in employee engagement or because we subscribe to some sort of punitive management philosophy. It’s because the triggers in an absence policy should be the first indicators of arising issues and they should ensure early intervention by managers before the problems become more serious. It is much easier to prevent issues from escalating if early warning signs have been detected than it is to re-actively try to mend a situation that has already become a real problem.

The article referred to above suggested that there are 5 reasons in particular why having an absence policy can be detrimental. Below are  our comments to each of these five arguments to suggest otherwise:

1. Presenteeism due to worries about job security

It is true that presenteeism (going to work whilst unwell) is on the rise – or at least it is being acknowledged more. An absence policy should set the standard that employees are expected to be at work. It should also note that if their health is getting in the way of this, then that is an issue for the employee and the employer to fix. Presenteeism, on the other hand, should be tackled through company culture. Starting from the top, setting an example, discourages employees from working whilst ill. Wellbeing at work should be of equal importance as attendance at work is.

2. Increased stress due to pressures to avoid accumulating absence days

If attending work every day is causing an employee stress and anxiety, then there is probably an underlying issue. This could be dealt with either within the team, in the role and workload or the employee’s aptitude for the job. Having high expectations for attendance should not in itself cause anxiety to staff members. Setting up a caring and supportive management approach can help with this.

3. Inflexibility and resentment from employees bound by stringent rules

A strict absence policy doesn’t exclude flexible working arrangements. On the contrary, where the working environment allows this, savvy employers encourage flexible working, which has been proven to increase employee engagement and productivity. Working from home is still a day ‘at work’ and will not count toward the absence triggers!

4. Lack of personal touch and not treating employees as human beings

There is always an element of discretion within any policy and this should be used to take personal situations into account. Each case should be reviewed in line with the absence policy, when the triggers so suggest. But, managers should be allowed to make considered decisions based on the individual employee’s circumstances. This doesn’t mean that the policy should simply be ignored because the boss is “matey” with some employee. It means that each case should be reviewed based on the same triggers, to ensure all employees are treated equally. Further, decisions should be discussed with the employee so that they are aware that their absence has been noted.

5. Confusion due to lengthy absence policies with technical jargon

To avoid confusion, your policy should be simple, short and to the point. Lengthy policies that go on for dozens of pages are not recommended. Few managers, let alone employees, will bother to read through them in detail. It’s important that the policy is easy to understand and to implement by line managers, who are ultimately the key people putting your policy into action. A good absence policy doesn’t have to be more than a few pages long. The guidance about procedures around absence should be part of the employee’s induction to avoid any misunderstandings.

You can read our advice about absence policies and triggers in previous articles or, if you’d like some help with your absence policy, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Or to put your policy into action with Engage, check out our tools with a FREE TRIAL!