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Amy Alvarez | 2/15/2019

My least favorite phrase to hear was “Michelle called out today”.  It almost sucked the air out of the room.  I had already planned out the whole day, for myself and the team.  Before hearing that, I probably had a project in place, hopeful to progress in some way. Adjusting and compromising on expectations would begin, priorities would shift and everyone’s stress levels would rise! And, let’s be honest, even down one person, we couldn’t show up the same way for our customers!

In your practice, I think you can all agree that there are few things as frustrating as when you have an unplanned absence.  It changes the entire dynamic of the day.  A call out is never easy but the smaller the team, the more burden it can put on our staff and our patients!  Sure, there are reasons why one would have an unplanned absence and we must respect that we all have full and busy lives with obligations to others and ourselves.  There are also people who have more obligations at some point in time than others.

But this isn’t the Wild, Wild West and there are a few things that we can do to address chronic issues of attendance.

Remove your own mental barrier: All missed shifts are not created equal but they all count.    They should all be discussed for accountability.  You don’t have to play detective to determine if Sally’s call out for a headache is weighted the same as Matt’s call out for a sick child.  It is OKAY for you to ask your staff to show up to work when they have been scheduled!

Approved/Unapproved: View time away from work as approved versus unapproved time.  Did the employee give the practice the ability to prepare for the absence?  If you were not able to adjust the schedule or prepare the team for this disruption, it is an unexcused absence.  If the employee came to you to request the time off and you approved it, the practice was given the opportunity to prepare by adjusting the schedule.

Viewing time away from work as approved versus unapproved removes some of the grey area of the weight held by each absence.

Paid Time: The time you give your staff to be paid when they are away from work is a benefit that you provide your staff but does not have to be tied to attendance.  Paid time allows your staff to have more flexibility – they don’t have to choose between missing their pay or resting with the flu.  However, even though you provide this time, it should not be used for excessive unplanned absences.

Set your own criteria: Determine what you think is excessive, while giving your employees the wiggle room to be human.  Anyone can get the flu.  Are you going to fire your employee for missing work for it? I doubt it – in fact I am sure you would rather they STAY AWAY!  This is an internal number that you set for yourself to be mindful of, not a number you share with your staff.  When we tell our staff they have a “free pass”, they will likely take it – pushing it just to the edge until they are “teetering on the line” (or worse… over it).

I recommend following The Rule of Three – 3 infractions in 3 months is starting to become excessive.  However, if you already have a concern about attendance, switch to 3 in 30 days while you get your staff used to the new format.  Remember, whatever you decide to use as a benchmark is your own information and not something you need to communicate with your staff.

Document, Document, Document: I say this so much to our members, some day you are going to start finishing my sentences!  I have a form I used but it could be as simple as a word document.  Write down, EVERY TIME, why you coached your employee, how the conversation went and what you asked them to change.  Keep these records together and use this information in future conversations, especially if you must escalate to more formal corrective action.

Amy Alvarez
Human Resources Consultant
Amy Alvarez, SHRM-CP is IDOC’s Human Resources Consultant. Amy has experience in HR in healthcare and retail, management in big box and specialty retail stores and physician recruitment. Through these roles and training, Amy is well-versed in recruitment and hiring strategies for “hard to fill” roles, dealing with low productivity, helping encourage employee engagement, on-boarding, training, day-to-day management in a retail setting, employee relations, and so much more.
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