Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Cost of Absenteeism

No matter the function, call centres, customer service departments, or collection agencies will inevitably have absenteeism issues.  The question is, how they deal with it.  I am not necessarily talking about disciplinary actions or absenteeism policies, I'm suggesting getting to the root of the actual problem.

The actual problem?  You might be thinking that the staff member being absent is the issue.  I don't believe so.  If absenteeism is a recurring problem in your call centre, it's probably a symptom of a deeper problem.

Cultural Absenteeism

Several years back, I began work at a collection agency as a manager that had, on average, each staff member missing two days a month (that's 24 days per year -- per staff member -- on average!).  The company had no consequences for dealing with absenteeism, allowed their 'top performers' to come and go as they pleased, and kept staff members who missed 35-40 days a year without issue.  These absences cost the company somewhere between $15,000 and $30,000 a month in lost revenues due to manpower shortages -- once I showed the cost to the company owners, they understood something needed to be done about it.

The problem was it was culturally acceptable at this point, and had been at the company for years before I came aboard.  Any manager can write a policy, but if something is a 'cultural norm', it becomes very hard to change habits among the staff.  The 'laissez faire' attitude of the principals and former managers of the company trickled through the organization and annihilated motivation for staff to care about being there.  It wasn't about the pay (or loss of pay for missing time), the issue that needed to be addressed was 'why should I worry if I miss a day -- it won't matter'.  That's far more insidious an issue, and far harder to address.

Environmental Absenteeism

Call centres are often far too tightly packed -- if the environment is unpleasant or crowded, it will feed the cultural absenteeism issue (if your environment isn't comfortable, staff will choose not to come into work).  Furthermore, bad ventilation, shared equipment or close quarters can take a contagious bug and amplify it through the office -- instead of one staff member being sick for a day or two, you might have four staff off. 

Behavioral Absenteeism

Unlike cultural absenteeism, that affects the group, a company might have a behavioural issue -- a staff member that is chronically absent because they believe it's acceptable to not come in.  I'm not talking about legitimate medical issues, I'm talking about poor work ethics, outside influences in their personal lives, or a disregard for the company's well-being.

Often these 'behavioural issues' stem with high performing staff who believe, or have reinforced through selective management, that attendance is optional, and that they operate by a different set of rules than the rest of their coworkers.

So, How Do You Fix Absenteeism?

It's simple -- don't have an environment where absenteeism thrives.

That doesn't mean having a strict absenteeism penalty system, or being reactive to an absenteeism issue -- it's about being proactive to an environment where absenteeism isn't an issue.  It means thinking about the potential problem and coming up with methods that encourage and reward positive behaviour.

I'll give you some examples from our company.  We don't have an absenteeism policy -- the reason is we don't need one.  On average, our staff members miss four days a year outside of vacation.  Here's how we accomplished this:

1. We offer a flexible schedule, with one 'late night' until 7pm per week, and one 'early day' until 3pm per week.  We allow our team members to move their early and late days around, so if someone is feeling under the weather, they can move their early day to that day, and go home early.  That encourages the staff member to come into work that day, and it also encourages them to go home and rest when they need it.

2. We reward staff who rarely miss time.  For every month without absence, our staff earn 1/5 of a day in personal time, and can bank up to 5 'personal days' with pay they can take at any time.  This not only encourages perfect attendance, it allows a reward for the people who rarely miss a day.  This feeds into the 'cultural norm'.

3. We average approximately 160 square feet per staff member in both our branches.  Wider spaces mean a more pleasant environment, and less chance of staff passing contagious sicknesses through the office.  There are no shared desks or headsets, which helps as well.

4. Because our existing team have a low absenteeism ratio, it means that it's the 'pre-existing cultural norm'.  New staff that orient to the company culture understand that there's an obligation to be in the office.  Furthermore, almost every staff member has a recurring project they are responsible to manage beyond just being on the phone and collecting accounts -- this involves and engages the team members, taking responsibility and important outside calls from clients, and gives them motivation to be there and oversee their responsibilities.

5. It's all about results -- we have a monthly review card that measures positive behaviours (meeting targets, managing projects successfully, going above and beyond the scope of their role) and tracks negative behaviours (absenteeism, consumer complaints, etc) and weights them for a net result.  This is in place of needing a separate policy for performance, attendance, and risk management, and gives everyone a holistic view of how their behaviour and  actions influence the company.

There are other aspects of our company culture that influence absenteeism, but these are a few examples of how we took a proactive stance towards an issue that plagues many companies.


If you want to discuss the nuances of dealing with attendance of your company team members, or the effects of company culture, I'm always happy to have a discussion.  I can be reached at Kingston Data and Credit at 226-946-1730.


Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
Kingston Data and Credit
Cambridge, Ontario

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