Magazine article HRMagazine

Being There

Magazine article HRMagazine

Being There

Article excerpt

Companies take diverse approaches to attendance rewards programs.

The House of Lords "must be the only institution in the world which is kept efficient by the persistent absenteeism of most of its members," said British politician and diplomat Herbert Louis Samuel.

Although it may have been a blessing for the House of Lords, absenteeism is often a workplace challenge for today's employers. The Integrated Benefits Institute, which specializes in health and productivity research, reported in September 2013 that poor health costs the U.S. economy $576 billion a year, including $227 billion in lost productivity.

And according to the ADP Research Institute's 2012 survey report Total Absence Management: Two Decades After the Passage of the FMLA, most U.S. employers do not take concrete steps to control workplace absenteeism, even though about half of the decisionmakers in midsize and large companies report that absenteeism has reduced their productivity.

"Coming to work every day on time is not an easy task," says Donna Towle, SPHR, vice president for human relations at United Airlines. She should know. Back in 1995, when she was with Continental Airlines (before its merger with United in 2010), the airline had a reputation for not being on time, she says. Employee absenteeism was one of the main contributing factors. "If you're not running an on-time airline, your customers are not happy," Towle notes.

Beginning in 1996, a new CEO changed all that-and so did annually awarding cars to 18 employees with perfect attendance, a practice that was continued after the merger. While United uses giveaways, a variety of attendance rewards programs are in place at other companies.

Typically, these incentives are more prevalent in manufacturing, warehousing, businesses with contractors and tradespeople, and call centers, says Paul Munoz, president of HR Group Inc., a consultancy in Plainview, N.Y. The goal, he says, is not to encourage people who are genuinely sick to come to work, but instead to motivate people who chronically show up late, leave early or abuse their sick leave.

Point System

"We wanted to reward responsibility," says Amy Taylor, PHR, HR manager for Steel Warehouse's Memphis and Chattanooga workforces. "We are a manufacturing environment, so when people aren't at work, we're not able to produce."

The steel service center, with 5,000 employees, has an attendance rewards program that provides monetary and other incentives; each of the company's 11 locations has tweaked the program to make it work for its individual culture. At the two plants Taylor oversees, the program is open to part-time and fulltime hourly employees who work onsite.

Steel Warehouse's attendance policy is built on points. Generally, employees accumulate:

* Half a point if they arrive late or leave early.

* One point if they are absent or miss more than half their shift.

* One-and-a-half points if they fail to call in when they will miss work.

To receive the monetary incentive, employees cannot accumulate any points in a quarter. The reward is $100 the first quarter, and it increases by $50 each subsequent quarter, for a possible total of $700 annually. The point tally resets to zero each January. The company pays all of the employees' taxes on the rewards.

Besides losing out on the attendance rewards, employees with four or more points are not eligible for job transfers or raises.

Because one of Steel Warehouse's main goals is to encourage employees to call in as early as possible if they cannot make it to work, employees who notify their supervisors ahead of time about an expected absence-a doctor's appointment, for instance-may be taken offthe schedule and not receive any points.


Carla Juelfs, PHR, HR administrator for the Mehlville Fire Protection District, a fire department that serves several communities in St. Louis County, Mo., says its attendance rewards program is about saving money. …

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