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No Calls and No Shows at Work: How to curb absenteeism

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No calls and no shows at work are a tough problem to handle. The smaller the location, the harder one absence impacts the team and customers. When staffing’s easy, a no call / no show qualifies an employee for immediate termination. Last year, however, we saw those policies shift dramatically as a result of COVID and the rising worker shortage. In this post, we discuss why no calls/no shows are more frequent and what businesses can do about it.

How absenteeism has changed

Last year, managers began seeing a surge in absenteeism. This is due to a combination of factors, such as:

  • Employees genuinely concerned that they had been exposed or potentially COVID-positive,
  • Parents struggling with child care during COVID-related closures,
  • Employees expressing their anxiety through excessive call-outs,
  • Staff being uncomfortable with safety measures taken (or not taken) by their employers, and
  • Employees taking advantage of the new “no questions asked” policy when they said the word COVID to their manager. (After all, what could the manager do – write them up for being safe?)

The frequent call-outs quickly spiraled into frequent no call/no shows, and as the labor shortage began to take its toll, many managers became grateful for anyone who did show up to work. We saw some policies shift toward 3 uncommunicated absences qualifying an employee for termination. Yet, it was much more common that managers simply didn’t terminate employees because someone who sometimes showed up was better than having nobody ever show up. The prospect of hiring to backfill the position was more dire than just hoping the employee would come to work. 

How to curb no calls and no shows at work

As a result of all the changes, we saw businesses begin to experience significant disparity between corporate policy and location-level execution, with many managers simply bypassing corporate’s progressive-discipline systems and taking things into their own hands. And not always in a good way. Retaliatory scheduling and other no-nos became commonplace, and many work cultures took a hit. The organizations with strong feedback cycles between Ops and HR adapted more quickly than the silo-centric organizations, facilitating negotiation and alignment between corporate Ops, location Ops, HR, and IT. These agile organizations figured out how to align process, people, policy, and tools to solve for the changes around staffing and absenteeism. Everyone else is still looking for answers.

“It’s been a tough problem for many businesses to deal with,” says Mike, our Implementations manager here at TimeForge. “If you set expectations ahead of time, and are hiring the right people when you can, no call/no shows aren’t as frequent. During a normal labor market, I’d suggest calling the employee to check in. Most folks will call ahead, and it’s typically an emergency if they didn’t. If it wasn’t an emergency, and they just didn’t want to show, usually corporate policy is an instant separation. If it was an emergency, I think it’s common sense to let it slide and call in help if available.”

But Mike admits that times have changed. The team’s advice for how to deal with no calls and no shows at work today is thus very different than it was 2 years ago. Here’s some tips from the TimeForge team, boiled down into 4 steps:

Step 1: Put a no call / no show policy in place

If you haven’t already, you need to work with HR, IT, and ownership to put a policy and strategy in place that you can all live with. You need to advocate for yourself and for your team. To do this, help corporate understand how no calls / no shows are impacting the things they care about. For example, talk about service levels (CSAT), turnover, and sales. And ask for help. If HR hasn’t already invested in a solid recruiting strategy to help you backfill, they need to. If you’re in an area with fair workweek legislation, you could unintentionally put the business in real jeopardy through actions that aren’t sanctioned by HR. Seriously. Some of the penalties we’ve seen are the things of nightmares. 

Step 2: Communicate the policy clearly and often

“Make your attendance policies clear to your employees,” says Diego, our Support Team Lead. “If employees are aware about the consequences of calling in, they’re more likely to give you advance notice – or any notice.”

You need to communicate clearly and often with everyone on your team to ensure everyone not only knows the call-out policy, but understands how failure to adhere to it negatively impacts their teammates. Employees who no call / no show at work may not care about customer service levels or your policies, but they do generally care about not upsetting their coworkers. Be sure everyone knows that failure to call out causes unanticipated chaos for everyone else who gets stuck picking up the slack. Do keep adhering the documentation requirements of any progressive discipline policies you have.

Step 3: Make it easy for employees to call out

Make it as easy as possible for your employees to call out. “This may sound counter intuitive, but it’s better to know who isn’t showing up than to be surprised by it,” says Audrey, our Chief Operating Officer.

Fortunately, there are tons of tools, systems, and processes to make it easy for an employee to call out. You may be tempted to require employees to speak to a manager so that you have an opportunity to call their bluff. However, in the current staffing environment, this can drive employees to simply not call in. Facilitate a messaging protocol or allow emails, instead.

“Besides the obvious tip to anticipate no calls/shows, reducing the occurrence should be the goal,” says Don, our Software Architect. “Make it easier for employees to check their schedule, request time off, set their availability, and handle shift swaps. Preferably straight from their phone, which they likely always have on hand. A better scheduling system can greatly help with this.”

Step 4: Take proactive steps for dealing with no calls and no shows at work

Which brings us to Step 4: how to get proactive in your absenteeism battle. If it makes sense, hire more people than you need, because most of them won’t show up reliably. Figure out your no call rates and buffer your staffing by that much. Other things you can do:

  • Reward good behavior publicly and profoundly, and make sure your reliable staff know how much you appreciate them. And remember the inverse: it can be hard for them to watch another team member slack off or fail to show up without public consequence.
  • Be sure the core team knows how valued they are. If someone asks for a day off, give it to them. And honor that commitment, don’t call them in at the last minute. If your employees know that you value their time, the majority of them are more likely to reciprocate.
  • Cross-train your staff to keep things more flexible. “If your staff has the appropriate training, they’ll be more dynamic when short-staffing situations pop up,” explains Isla, one of our rockstar Solution Managers. “Training can also improve morale by empowering employees through store operation knowledge.”
  • Use shift confirmations and plan ahead of time. “Both TimeForge and Datedechoix have confirmations for employees and customer/clients respectively,” says Erik. “Many no-shows during the holidays can be avoided by planning well ahead of time and trading shifts. For example, yes, you can take vacation during Thanksgiving as long as you cover Christmas.”

If you follow the steps above, you’ll continue to have the frequent offenders until you can staff around them, but the good news is you will reduce how much of the “who cares” mentality leaks into your core team. The no call / no show work mindset is toxic, and your job is to keep it from spreading.

Learn how TimeForge can help reduce no call/no shows with mobile time off requests, shift confirmations, and shift swaps.

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