I will never forget when I brought my report card home for the first marking period of my junior year in high school. I received an 89 in math, accompanied by the teacher’s comment: “Absence affects achievement.”
The next day, my friends told me they saw my dad at school talking to the math teacher. When I got home that evening, my dad told me that I had to start taking the bus to school. I had been getting a ride to school every day, and my ride was always late. That made me late for my first class – math. And being late, my teacher explained to my father, was impacting my performance.
The next three marking periods, I took the bus, arrived on time, and received a 100 in math.
Being absent affects achievement in workplaces just as it did for me in high school math. And, unfortunately, absence affects achievement in the form of both employee and leader performance.
We most often equate absence with employee attendance.
It’s frustrating for leaders and co-workers when employees call off from or don’t show up for work.
Simply put, if Jane doesn’t show up for work, Jane’s work doesn’t get done. If Jane repeatedly doesn’t show up for work, we have to shift Jane’s work to Sue and Joe. After all, the work still needs to get done. We look to our top performers to pick up the slack. Our top performers become frustrated, because they’re working harder and longer for the same pay to make up for an absent colleague.
There also are employees who are physically present at work, but they really aren’t working.
They’re on their cell phones or watching YouTube videos or socializing excessively or doing who knows what to pass the time. Again, work isn’t getting done.
It’s a vicious cycle. A single, absent employee affects the achievement of that employee, and it also affects the achievement of other employees and the company overall. The ripple effect is real.
It’s critical for leaders to manage expectations.
Are there times when employees need to be absent for legitimate reasons? Absolutely. It’s important to try to understand the underlying cause of an employee’s absence so that we can accommodate needs and help solve problems when possible.
Always be mindful of how legitimate absences impact the employees who are showing up each day, and reward them accordingly. If employees are repeatedly absent without a legitimate, lawful or excusable reason, then call them out on it. Don’t wait, or you might lose quality employees because they’re tired and frustrated.
Absence also affects the achievement of leaders.
Leaders are absent in different ways, though. Maybe they never leave their offices. Maybe they’re hyper-focused on meeting with clients, investors or board members. Maybe they’re just ‘too busy.’ Maybe they’re physically absent from the office because of a heavy travel schedule.
A leader’s absence can negatively impact employee engagement and motivation. A team that isn’t engaged or motivated isn’t thriving. And if they aren’t thriving, they aren’t delivering maximum results. Without those results, company performance suffers.
No matter the reason for being absent, being aware of it is the first step to preventing problems.
There are ways for leaders to be present even if being physically present is difficult. Capitalize on video calls to connect with team members. When physically present, schedule purposeful time to connect with team members. It doesn’t have to be an hour. Fifteen minutes to check in or grab a quick cup of coffee can go a long way toward staying connected.
Most importantly, listen. Ask team members how they’re feeling and if they need anything from you. Listen to the answers and be willing to act on them. What they want more than anything is to know their leaders care about them.
If we can maximize being present and properly manage our inability to be present, we can drive both employee and company performance in the right direction.
A former associate general counsel for The Hershey Co., Claudia Williams is founder of The Human Zone, a firm focused on leadership development and employee engagement. She can be reached at www.humanzonebiz.com.