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How can I get my staff to come in as scheduled and on time?

June 30, 2009
by Susan D. Gilster and Jennifer L. Dalessandro
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Janice Hammond, RN from Indiana sent a question about how to get staff to show up for work and on time. This question often comes up during presentations, as absenteeism is a frequent and challenging task for many in assisted living and long-term care.

In a previous column we discussed the need to prepare employees to succeed. New employees must understand the expectations for performance and compliance with established policies and procedures. One of the most important expectations is that employees will arrive to work on time, and as scheduled. By developing a clear and concise attendance policy, facilities set concrete expectations for attendance. These policies and expectations should be thoroughly explained during the interview process, at orientation, and periodically reviewed with all staff throughout the year and as needed.

The more difficult task, perhaps, is to follow-through with the procedures for those employees who are not following the attendance policies. If your policy dictates giving an employee a written warning after four absences, it is most important that the department director or human resources sit down with the employee, explain the necessary disciplinary action, and have the employee sign to verify receipt of the warning. Remember that consistency and fairness is the key—all employees must be treated equally and there is rarely room for exceptions.

When adhering to policies on absenteeism, realize that you may lose a great employee who just can’t get to work as scheduled or on time. While this is truly a sad loss, you will have shown other employees that following attendance policies is a form of respect not just for the needs of the residents, but for their colleagues as well. Staff morale will suffer if employees who follow the guidelines believe others aren’t as dedicated to their position or are receiving special treatment. When a good employee loses their job due to attendance, other staff will take notice—no one is irreplaceable.

However, it is possible to be proactive with employees who have extenuating circumstances. Options may include changing their shift or adjusting a start time, if these changes can be advantageous to both the facility and employee. In one facility, laundry staff were able to adjust the hours to accommodate an individual employee without interruption to laundry services, alleviating the employee’s tardiness. Another example is that of changing a nursing assistant’s scheduled hours to accommodate her personal needs, which at the same time enhanced the staffing levels at a time when the resident needs were the greatest.

Any adjustments to individual employee schedules should be confirmed with a written “contract,” subject to review and in effect for a limited period of time. Both the department director and employee should review and sign, signifying that there are no misunderstandings.

Child care, parent care, college, and other pressures enter into everyone’s life at one time or another. Understanding, caring, and assisting staff at those times will enhance loyalty and retention. But it must be carefully examined to determine the effect of any change or decision on all, the impact on the residents and other employees. And, what you are willing to do for one, you must be willing to do for all—it must be consistent and fair.

If you have success stories on solving attendance challenges, please send them. We will incorporate them in future columns to share ideas to address attendance issues.

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