At some point or another, business owners will receive a request for time away from work. These leave types may include vacation, sick and possibly medical. More and more the work culture and employers are trending towards work flexibility as a driver for employee engagement and job satisfaction, so how do you manage these requests effectively? Leave management can be a hazard of personal, legal, and regulatory problems, so preparedness is essential. Setting a clear, effective time off or attendance policy is an important part of your people strategy and should be at the top of your mind.

Sure, for some small businesses without a formal HR department, a written employee attendance policy may seem a bit formal. However, a fair employee attendance policy is critical to protect both you and your employees and keep business running smoothly. Writing it down helps you apply the policy equally for all employees, as well as serves as documented evidence of your policy should you ever need to answer a formal complaint.

Let’s start at the very beginning. First, do you have a solid understanding of the impact absenteeism can have on workforce productivity? This varies based on your industry or type of business. Individual performance, team productivity and profit margins are all reduced by absenteeism, and even more so by unplanned absences. Will someone need to work overtime to cover? Will fewer customers be served? Understanding the hidden costs will help you as you establish your Vacation, Sick, or PTO (paid time off) Policies. In a nutshell, what can your business afford while understanding that your employees also deserve work-life balance?

Next, acknowledge that whatever you may decide on as an acceptable number of days absent per employee, that you must create a formal process (including requests, approvals and a tracking process) to ensure that all circumstances are being addressed in a timely, fair and equal manner. Many employers make the mistake of implementing time off policies without giving enough thought as to how to track them effectively. If you are still using the honor system, it’s likely time to update your practices. Not because your employees are taking advantage of you, but because you should have documents evidencing that all employees are provided equal benefit. Automation can be a good thing to integrate requests, approvals and tracking, and we can talk about the pros of automation in another blog.

Once you have a planned process, prepare a written policy to be shared and discussed with employees; a documented set of acceptable behaviors designed to improve employee productivity, reduce absenteeism, and set clear and consistent expectations. People HR recommends that you keep your policy simple and straightforward. An employee attendance policy can quickly spiral out of control if you try to define every possible scenario, resulting in pages of policy that turns out to be burdensome. Generally, use plain common employee attendance categories and define expectations, for example; absences, unscheduled absences and tardiness. Some employers choose to have another category called “sick”, but many small businesses have rolled sick and vacation into one Paid Time Off bucket, from which absences (scheduled or not) will be deducted.

Lastly, it is imperative that you set appropriate disciplinary action guidelines for behaviors you wish to change, as long as they are applied equally from team member to team member exhibiting the same behaviors. You will be able to identify habitual “call-out” employees (there is a greater business impact between an employee who has 6 unscheduled absences vs the employee that had planned for and requested 6 days) or identify the team member who is consistently late that may need some coaching regarding the negative impact on productivity. Of course, it is not fair to establish a “zero-tolerance” environment, but you will be able to influence behaviors that may negatively impact business productivity and your bottom line – as long as you are coaching your team members in the same fashion for similar behaviors. We can talk about Progressive Discipline processes in another blog.

In the end, the Time Off or Attendance Policy is not meant to be burdensome to your or your team. As you build your policy, you can adjust what is appropriate to your workplace culture and what makes sense for your business. PEOPLE HR can help you establish a sound and equitable Time Off Policy and Management Procedures, as well as Coaching & Disciplinary guidelines for you to effectively manage your staff.