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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
How to Reduce Absenteeism at Work

Gregory P. Smith

It is more difficult to find employees who have a strong work ethic and are willing to put in a "good days work." A lot of people tell me, "I hire for attitude and train for skills." That philosophy is as outdated as carbon paper when you consider today's work environment.

Today, there are more jobs than people. Employers now tell me it's tough to find either the attitude or the skills. So what is a boss to do?

First accept the fact, that we are going to have to manage people differently today. What worked yesterday is the very same thing that will get us in trouble tomorrow. Further complicating the matter is you can't treat everyone the same. With each new employee you hire they bring a totally new set of expectations, needs and problems. It takes more time and skill to manage today's workforce. Bad managers are the biggest cause of high turnover, low attendance and low morale.

For those of you who have people with good attitudes and good work ethics... count your blessings and insure you take good care of them so they don't leave you for someone else. Here are a few ideas to think about.

Nucor Steel has a unique pay-for-performance compensation system. Employees earn money based on their individual productivity. Employees are paid a lower than industry average hourly rate. On top of that they receive an additional bonus if they exceed hourly quotas. For example the steel industry average says an individual should be able to straighten 10 tons of steel an hour. Therefore, Nucor's goal is to straighten 8 tons an hour and for every ton over 8 tons they get an additional 5% bonus. However to qualify for the bonus they have to meet the following requirements.

  • If they are late to work they loose their bonus for the entire day.

  • If they miss a day of work during the week they loose their bonus for the entire week.

As a result, Nucor's productivity took off like a rocket. Absenteeism rarely falls below 1.5% a year. The key strength of this program is employees see a direct correlation between what they do and their paychecks a major incentive. Employees were working so hard Nucor decided to give them 4 non-forfeiture days a year. Even with this only half their employees use their 4 days.

Lottery System- One company uses a lottery system to reduce absenteeism. Only employees with no absenteeism during the month can participate. The lottery includes prizes such as a television, a bicycle and so on. They were able to reduce of absenteeism by 75% and reduce costs by 62%.

Play Poker- Another company improved attendance in a game of poker. Employees who came to work each day were allowed to draw one playing card. Those who attended all week owned five cards on Friday. The player with the best hand wins 20 dollars.

Try a Perfect Attendance Program- One large rental business has several excellent incentives for its 200 plus employees. Any employee who has perfect attendance during the year receives $300.00, a limo ride to a restaurant for a free dinner with their spouse and a gift certificate worth $100.00.

These ideas won't work in every situation and could backfire if you are not careful. Keep in mind that good employees don't need the carrot and stick approach and might find these ways offensive, unfair or unnecessary. The key is to know the individual needs of your workforce.

Be aware that workers who have child care responsibilities find it difficult, if not impossible, to have a perfect attendance record. One study completed in Canada shows that women with preschoolers took an average of 11 days off in 1998, compared with an average of 6.3 days for men with preschoolers.

Flexibility may be the best strategy. A better attendance strategy may simply include flextime for people who have children or parental responsibilities. Some businesses give their employees 5 personal days in addition to normal vacation times to be used any way the person sees fit.


Gregory P. Smith shows businesses how to build productive and profitable work environments that attract, keep and motivate their workforce. He speaks at conferences, conducts management training and is the President of a management-consulting firm called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. Phone him at (770) 860-9464 or send an email at greg@chartcourse.com. More information and articles are available at www.ChartCourse.com.

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