Managing Absenteeism

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It is not unusual for managers to find themselves shutting down lines, scaling back services, or scheduling weekend work because they struggle to fill positions left open by absent employees.

Since your workforce may be absent 10% or more of their scheduled work hours each year, covering those absences can be challenging. Complicating the challenge is the variability of absence levels and causes for the absences.

Employee absences usually fall in one or more of the following categories:

  • Predictable
  • Unpredictable
  • Scheduled
  • Unscheduled
  • Controllable
  • Uncontrollable

Absence management systems should be designed to handle each of these types of absences with minimum attention from shift managers. The best systems take advantage of all available resources to provide the required coverage at the lowest possible cost.

Covering Absences

There are numerous resources that you may be able to draw on to provide coverage for absent employees:

  • Use a shift schedule system that allows employees sufficient scheduled time off.
    This allows them to deal with personal needs such as doctor’s appointments, recitals, graduations, and PTA meetings on their own time, and reduces problems associated with many uncontrollable sources of absences.
  • Provide incentives to the workforce to use their vacation time when the workload is low. For example, give employees an extra day of vacation for every week of vacation taken during your low production season. From a financial perspective, there are many situations where this is the best way to cover vacation time.
  • Staff your operation above the minimum requirements. When absences occur, the openings are automatically filled with the extra personnel on-shift. The biggest disadvantage with this system is that these extra personnel may be idle during seasons when absenteeism is low. Overall, this is often the most expensive source for vacancy coverage.
  • Use overtime to cover vacancies as they occur. While this is a very good use of overtime, it works best in an environment that does not experience large fluctuations in workload from week to week. In these organizations, overtime is a scarce resource that can be easily abused – resulting in fatigued employees, lower productivity, and increased costs.
  • Cross-train personnel between work areas so that personnel from one department can be used in other departments if there is a crisis. This is good business practice as long as the cost for cross training is not excessive. However, it often does not provide relief during peak vacation seasons or peak production periods when resources in all departments are scarce.
  • Use temporary personnel. In companies that have some positions requiring little training to perform, this can be the least expensive source of absence coverage. This works best when full-time employees cover all full-time positions. Some of the full-time employees must have the ability to “step-up” to the next job if needed. When an absence occurs, it is covered by a trained person in the next lower position – creating a daisy chain of step-ups until the actual vacancy is at the lowest skill level position. A temporary employee can then cover the vacancy.
  • Re-schedule work to be performed when resources are available. This strategy usually requires the operation to carry additional product inventory to smooth variations in production capacity and product demand. Another alternative is to use previously unscheduled production time such as weekend time or planned maintenance time. This is very common in manufacturing operations that run as many lines as they have staffing to cover each day. The dangers of using maintenance time for production time are obvious. Operating additional days usually increases overhead costs.
  • Smooth out the variability of controllable absences using pre-determined limits. This places some of the burden on the workforce to spread out their absences and makes it easier to cover absences with fewer resources.

The best absence management systems use a combination of a good shift schedule, incentives, overtime, cross-training, temporary personnel, and predetermined limits to manage absences. These systems use well defined procedures that everyone is familiar with to address each type of absence. Shiftwork Solutions can help you implement a state-of-the-art absence management system.

Call us today for a free consultation.