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Supporting Front-line Managers to Better Manage Employee Leave

It’s no secret that employee absences can hamstring your organization’s ability to achieve its strategic goals. But what may be surprising is the scope of the problem or how much it actually costs American businesses.

  • In 2015, an estimated 3 percent of an employer's workforce was absent on any given day, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Paid absences cost employers between 20.9 and 22.1 percent of total payroll, according to a SHRM/Kronos survey.

A comprehensive, cloud-based employee leave and attendance program can play a strategic role in keeping employees at work and reducing the costs of healthcare and workers’ compensation. The result will be an increase in productivity and overall business performance. But for those programs to work, you need to be sure your company’s leave and attendance policies and practices are comprehensive; promote appropriate employee behaviors; and are well communicated and understood by employees and supervisors.

The first two elements for success are all about the design of your leave and attendance policies and programs, and can be pretty concretely defined. The last critical measure — making sure your leave and absence policies are well communicated and understood by everyone — is more subjective. In fact, ensuring the success of even the best comprehensive, technology-based leave and management program depends on how you communicate it to and gain the support of front-line managers and supervisors.

Yet leave management is part of the job of your front-line managers. Unfortunately, front-line managers at best get one-time training on leave and management policies and programs and get relatively little, if any, time to coach or work with employees to use those policies to better manage time away from work. Consider these workplace findings from McKinsey & Company:

  • Across industries, front-line managers spend 30 to 60 percent of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50 percent on non-managerial tasks.
  • They spend only 10 to 40 percent of their time actually managing front-line employees by, for example, coaching them directly.

By comparison, the McKinsey research found that at best-practice companies, front-line managers allocate 60 to 70 percent of their time to the floor, “much of it in high-quality individual coaching. Such companies also empower their managers to make decisions and act on opportunities.”

Here are five tips to help your line managers better manage leaves and absences to boost employee engagement and help achieve business goals.

  1. Use absence and leave management software to identify trends. Managers could probably tell you which employees tend to take more time off than others. Having hard data — easily accessible from a leave management software solution — gives managers meaningful insight into absence trends and sets the stage for one-on-one conversations to identify problems and improve attendance.
  2. Understand, know, and communicate the rules for extended leaves. Regardless of whether the right to an extended leave of absence is mandated by federal law, local law, or your organization’s policies, managers need to know how to respond to requests with knowledge and empathy. A quality technology-based leave management system will include updates for any rules or laws that affect your workforce.
  3. Set and follow realistic return-to-work schedules. Having comprehensive medical leave guidelines in your leave and management software gives managers the tools they need to have an informed conversation with the employee about the length of leave and any accommodations that may be necessary upon return.
  4. Encourage employees to plan for vacation as far in advance as possible. The more line managers know about who will be out and when they’ll be gone, the more easily and effectively they can plan for coverage. A comprehensive leave management solution will help employees apply for time off sooner and help managers plan for absences in advance.
  5. Respond to absence requests quickly. Front-line managers can benefit greatly from a cloud-based leave management system that gives them real-time capabilities for reviewing and responding to requests for time off.