Why Attendance Occurrence Programs are Bad for Business

Written by: Lorrie Coffey, Horizon Point Consulting

In 2003 I got one of those calls every child dreads. My mother was in the hospital and being rushed into emergency surgery. Turned out she had an allergic reaction to a medication and it almost killed her. She was at work when she started to notice something wasn’t right and within a matter of a couple of hours, her hands swelled up so much that she had to have emergency surgery to cut her hands open to relieve the pressure. She ended up with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and was in the Intensive Cardiac Care Unit for almost a week.

Her employer, a nationally known retailer, gave her an occurrence against her attendance record for leaving work early.

A co-worker of hers received an occurrence a few weeks before for leaving work early as well. In her case, she had a heart attack during her shift and was carted out of the building on a gurney and into an ambulance.

While these are two extreme cases, attendance occurrence programs are bad for business. Here’s why:

  1. Occurrence programs discourage employees from taking sick days. If you get an occurrence for calling out sick, you’re more likely to go to work sick and suffer through. As a result, you’re less productive while at work, it takes you longer to recover from an illness, and you end up passing your germs on to everyone else you work with. And if you offer sick leave, but punish employees for using it, what message are you really sending?
  2. They penalize employees for things outside of their control. Life happens. You get sick, your kids get sick, you get stuck in traffic because of an accident. Whatever the case, sometimes life just happens. And occurrence programs penalize you for those things that may be completely out of your control.
  3. They’re counter-intuitive to a culture of work-life balance. Most companies today promote a culture of work-life balance. But if you punish employees when life does happen, you’re showing your employees that while you talk the talk you don’t really walk the walk.
  4. Occurrence programs punish all for the actions of a few. While I fully believe in addressing attendance issues, many companies that implement an occurrence program have done so as a result of the actions of just a few employees. Attendance issues should be addressed individually. Occurrence programs punish good, productive employees just the same as it does those poor performers. Which then leaves those good performers wondering why they try so hard.
  5. If you’re concerned about lost productivity as a result of absenteeism, why aren’t you worried about the cost of turnover that results from an occurrence system? If you analyze the data of lost productivity due to absenteeism and compare that to the lost productivity as a result of termination due to that occurrence system (also add in there the cost of replacing a termed employee), what you may find is that it’s costing you more in turnover than it is in absenteeism.

Again, I’m not saying let attendance issues go. I fully believe in addressing attendance problems individually with those employees who abuse the system, and it’s usually pretty easy to determine when the system is being abused. However, attendance policies need to be flexible, they need to allow for the unexpected. They need to show employees that while they are expected to be at work and be productive, the organization understands that life happens and that when life does happen they can go and take care of it without the added stress of wondering if their job is in jeopardy as a result.

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