Does Your Ophthalmology Practice Have a Strategy to Combat Employee Tardiness and Absenteeism?

Does Your Ophthalmology Practice Have a Strategy to Combat Employee Tardiness and Absenteeism?

How much is employee absenteeism and tardiness costing your practice? According to one survey, employee paid absences cost employers between 20.9% and 22.1% of total payroll. Another study estimates unscheduled absenteeism costs $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 per year for each salaried employee. In fact, researchers entitled that study Absenteeism: The Bottom-Line Killer. Tardiness is just as destructive to a business. Inc. magazine reported on one study that found 15-20% of U.S. workers are late on a regular basis, costing the American economy billions. For medical practices, the stakes are high. Late or absent employees directly affect the workload of other staff and the quality of care received by patients. What are the most common reasons for tardiness and absenteeism and what can you do about them?

Why are Staff Absent or Late?

There’s no employee that is always present and on time. Emergencies happen. People get sick. The average absentee rate in the U.S. is 3.1%. That equates to 64 hours per worker, per year. However, there are chronic, underlying issues that often contribute to a bigger problem. Consider some of the most common reasons for employees missing work or being late.

  • Stress: The American Institute of Stress estimates one million employees are absent every day due to stress. This includes personal stress, such as family problems, or work-related stress. Heavy workloads and being underappreciated contribute to higher stress and low morale.
  • Childcare: Parents often have to miss work because their child is sick or due to other unexpected circumstances such as a snow day at school.
  • Depression: One Gallup poll found that depression costs $23 billion in absenteeism each year. Workers who have been diagnosed with depression miss 68 million more days of work each year than their counterparts.
  • Disengagement: Another Gallup poll reported that over 50% of employees say they are disengaged, costing the American economy between $450 and $550 billion annually due to poor productivity.
  • Illness and Injury: Researchers found that illnesses, from regular sick days to workers compensation, cost $576 billion annually.

The Biggest Victim: Productivity

Absent and tardy workers cost the practice in many ways including the actual money they make when they are out and the overtime paid to other employees or fees for temporary workers to fill-in. However, the area that takes the biggest hit is productivity. For example, habitual tardiness means the employee is starting a little later every day. All those little bits add up to a lot of lost productivity over time. In addition, the late employee’s tardiness affects the productivity of other staff as well. Timelier employees are distracted or might lose focus dwelling on their frustration with the late employee. Additionally, if other team members are dependent on the later person’s contributions, practices will see a workflow bottleneck. Productivity can further be harmed simply because it breeds resentment among coworkers and erodes morale. In a medical practice, low productivity also affects patient services, increasing wait times or giving an overall feeling of chaos. Low productivity stems from all these effects of absenteeism and tardiness:

  • Poor patient services due to understaffing
  • Increased manager time spent dealing with discipline or scrambling to find replacements
  • Errors due to inadequately trained employees filling in or rushing to catch up
  • Low employee morale

How to Combat It?

Can you combat absenteeism and tardiness? Consider these three tips.

  1. It’s not all about discipline. While clear-cut policies are important, enforcing disciplinary steps isn’t the most effective route. Create an office culture that prioritizes attendance and punctuality. That means managers and physicians must set a good example. Offer flexible scheduling whenever possible. Have managers personally meet with chronically absent or late team members to identify the causes. Offering support will help stressed, depressed or disengaged employees feel the practice values their work.
  2. Create a less-stressful environment. Medical practices are fast-paced. How can you make it less stressful? The American Institute of Stress pointed out that, “it is not the job but the person-environment fit that matters.” Some people thrive in a fast-paced environment while others do not. When hiring, look for employees that thrive under pressure, are good at multi-tasking and are effective problem solvers. AAFP suggested job sharing for some positions. It’s common for workers to want part-time employment in order to have more time for caring for personal or family needs. Consider hiring two part-timers instead of one full-timer for appropriate positions. Physicians report it reduces stress, prevents burnout and decreases turnover.
  3. Engage your staff. Engaged employees feel like part of a team and want to contribute to its overall success. How do you foster this kind of environment? Use a participative management cycle. Give staff a voice. Consult with them when decisions must be made that affect the practice. Managers will benefit from the input and increased buy-in from staff. Staff will be self-motivated, feeling like they are contributing to the greater good. Next, simply care. Show personal interest. Ask about their families. Lastly, give commendation. Tell an employee when they’ve done a great job handling a challenging situation. Each time you do, they’ll be emotionally rehired, further investing themselves into the success of the practice.

Don’t Allow Employees to Take Advantage of the Situation

Flexible schedules…job sharing…personal interest…all these terms might make managers feel they are bending over backwards to accommodate employees. The may feel that employees will take advantage of their efforts at keeping employees engaged. Avoid this by having clear policies. If you arrange with an employee that they can come in late and stay late, or leave early on certain days, put it in writing. If you offer work at home days, write out what days the employee has agreed to work at home and what days they have agreed to be in the office. Clearly writing expectations makes employees more likely to stick to the agreed upon schedule.

Secondly, track when employees are absent or tardy. Do they call in sick the day after vacation every time? Do they never have a back-up plan for days when schools are closed? Is there a pattern? Having a documented pattern and a record of discussions will help if the absenteeism or tardiness becomes a cause for termination. Managing a medical practice is a delicate balance between enforcing policy and being a considerate, understanding employer. Be flexible. Communicate policies clearly and track attendance. Contact us for more tips about managing your ophthalmology office.