To help address employee retention and attendance issues, some districts look to add employee attendance incentives. While they may reward employees for being at work, they don’t always achieve what districts expect.
Who Will Benefit?
For districts trying to address teacher attendance problems, it may be helpful to look at teacher attendance data and identify trends. Are the same people out all the time? Do the absences happen on the same days (e.g., Friday)? Are the absences regularly occurring at the same campus?
In many districts, teachers fall into three general absence categories:
- Teachers who are rarely, if ever, absent
- Teachers who are occasionally absent, though not excessively
- Teachers who are regularly absent and/or use all their annual leave entitlement
Teachers in the first category will benefit from an attendance incentive, but the district will not. Those teachers would be in the classroom with or without an attendance incentive.
Teachers in the second category likely won’t benefit from an attendance incentive because their absences may be driven by personal illness, family illness, or other outside pressures that cause occasional absences. And you wouldn’t necessarily want to motivate a sick teacher to choose to come to work sick.
Teachers in the third category are who districts are really trying to target with the attendance incentives, but the financial incentive must be significant enough to entice them to come to work more frequently. If the dollar amount is too low, or if it’s only granted at the end of the year, the teachers may not see the trade-off as worth it. They’d opt to be absent anyway. And while substitute costs are forever increasing, the amounts needed to incent better attendance could be cost-prohibitive.
For example, if a district pays a substitute $85 per day and a teacher has 10 total days of leave he or she can use in a school year, the cost of the substitute to the district is $850 for the teacher’s annual absences. An attendance incentive typically would be more than that—perhaps $1,500—so the district would be paying 76 percent more to the teacher for not using his or her leave. While research certainly supports the value of having the regular teacher in the classroom as often as possible, is this cost trade-off worth it? Each district would need to decide what makes the most financial sense.
Changes in Policy
Districts also should review leave policies to determine if they’re more generous than intended. If employees are using leave time in ways allowed by policy, is this an attendance issue or an attendance entitlement issue? Perhaps changing policy to provide less leave entitlement could address the issue, rather than trying to create incentives for staff to not use leave they’re entitled to by policy.
Policy choices affecting absence rates to consider include the following:
- Rules and practices that govern the amount and use of leave (e.g., failure to apply catastrophic illness threshold to extended leave and leave donation programs)
- Verification of medical need
- Consequences that occur when all leave benefits are exhausted
- Whether different types of leave must run concurrently
- How much unused leave can accumulate and carry over from year to year
Tracking absence rates and identifying and reporting trend data to campus principals and department heads is important. Tracking furnishes supervisors with the evidence they need to confront employees and stop abuses of leave. Reviewing absence data and communicating trends to principals and supervisors.
Additional information on organizing data and other management tools are available in the topic Absence Control (for community colleges, see Absence Control - College) found in the HR Library and The Administrators Guide to Managing Leaves and Absences.
Amy Campbell joined HR Services in 2012. She has more than 20 years of experience in human resources, including 19 years as an HR consultant for school districts and other public sector organizations.
Campbell has a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. She is a Society for Human Resource Management certified professional (SHRM-CP) and has received the professional human capital leader in education certification (pHCLE).
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