Should staff attendance be rewarded

Staff attendance

I’ve always thought the word attendance a bit formal although it neatly sums up the act of recording employees turning up for work (or not) and leaving, (the core data that drives time and attendance reporting).  Attendance apparently comes from old French and in the UK we’ve been formally attending on kings, lords and bosses since the Middle Ages.

Every so often attendance comes under the media spotlight when parliamentary workers and shirkers attendance records are published and various under-attending MPs get into trouble.

In 2013 after a House of Lords ‘attendance scandal’ (where it was claimed that a number turn up for the up to £300 daily attendance fee and stay less than 30 minutes), it was suggested that lords should be required to officially clock in – a biometric clocking in system would do the trick!

Should good attendance be rewarded?

This is a difficult question for a lot of employers. It’s often assumed that staff getting to work on time increases productivity – unfortunately it seems ‘it ain’t necessarily so’! In organisations with timekeeping issues, incentivising staff to turn up on time is often considered, but a number of studies have shown that in some cases it can actually be counter-productive. And as some point out lateness may be down to bigger problems within an organisation which need tackling or just a few individuals causing issues for their colleagues.

In a 2013 study called “The Dirty Laundry of Employee Award Programs: Evidence from the Field“ the authors used time and attendance and productivity data to establish the effect of an ad hoc incentive programme that managers in one plant put in place to get more staff in to work on time and increase productivity.  The case study was of a US Mid-Western laundry company which had 5 sites, each employing around 35 staff. The company did have an established attendance policy so all staff knew what the score was.

The incentive: Staff who were less than 7 minutes late or who had had no unexcused absence in the previous month were put into a monthly draw and one person was drawn to win a $75 voucher for local stores or restaurants. There was also an element of peer recognition at the monthly draws.

During the 10 months the incentive ran, staff were more punctual – a result, you might think.

Think again – the downside was that staff ‘gamed’ the system. Latecomers were still late but within the 7 minute tolerance set and those who were habitually late were more likely to call in sick if they thought they’d be late and miss out on going into that month’s draw.

And the unforeseen (at least by some) knock-on effect on those who had previously conscientiously turned up to work on time when there were no rewards on offer other than being paid took the hump and their productivity declined.

When head office found out about the scheme the incentive programme was withdrawn, the overall company philosophy being that staff were paid to turn up to work on time.

The report authors concluded that (amongst other things) more thought and deeper analysis need to be employed when considering the introduction of an employee attendance incentive scheme or it could end up costing a company somewhat more than the value of the incentive.

Attendance bonus

Another issue is whether paying an attendance bonus to staff (which often includes sickness criteria) helps productivity.

I came across an article by John Timpson, Chief Executive of Timpson shoe repairers and business agony uncle in The Daily Telegraph who offers employees a weekly attendance bonus but under strict criteria. So for example if someone comes in to work sick to get their bonus they are sent home and the bonus isn’t applied to them that week.

“This rigid approach is as fair as possible, avoids lots of petty appeals and gains the respect of our workforce. Conscientious and punctual employees resent management that is lenient with poor performers. So the secret is to be inflexible. Ignore the pleas from poor attenders and support the people who always turn up for work.”

Timpson suggests that being seen to reward good attendance behaviour and deter tardiness where it hurts (financially) benefits the company overall. Others such as the US laundry company might disagree.

In a recent Employment Tribunal case Land Registry vs Houghton (Pure Employment Law website), the rules of an annual sickness related attendance bonus were found to be discriminatory to a number of workers with disabilities – as the authors of the article suggest it pays to be careful when implementing any sort of attendance incentive scheme.

Peer recognition

Another school of thought is that simply being praised for good attendance is sufficient to keep staff motivated to turn up on time (the laundry company did use recognition as part of their incentive scheme).

But for me, maybe it’s a cultural thing (both country and company style), I know some employees would hate to be singled out and held up to their peers as shining examples of punctuality even if it’s true.

Other US incentive top tips to keep staff motivated included the suggestion from one boss that a bunch of flowers freshly plucked from her garden and suitably arranged in a crystal vase on the ‘good’ employees desk had other employees falling over themselves for the honour.

Zero tolerance

Some organisations operate a zero tolerance to lateness policy. A number of HR experts suggest that a zero tolerance policy can lead to a build-up of employee resentment – the many feeling punished for the behavior of a few.

And US Evil HR Lady aka HR professional Suzanne Lucas sums this view up in a reply to a respondent who’s had a zero tolerance policy applied to their work situation “And right there is the key and what clues me in that this is a very bad policy. Because what your management has done is designated on time behavior as a surrogate for good performance.” Which rather supports some of the Laundry case study findings.

Grace and rounding

One thing all pundits are agreed on is that organisations must have a clear policy on lateness and other absence so that all employees ‘know the rules’ and ideally the rules should be applied to all firmly (and fairly).

Time and attendance systems like our Chronologic Workforce Management System (CWFMS) measure and report on ‘attendance’, whether it’s timeliness, sickness or other absence.

When it comes to lateness, grace periods can be set within the CWFMS. For example if 3 minutes late is acceptable to your organisation this can be set as ‘grace’ in the clocking in system so that if employees clock in within the 3 minutes grace period they have effectively started work on time.  You can also set roundings so if an employee is due to clock in at 9:00 and is 5 minutes late they can be clocked in as starting at 9:15 losing 15 minutes pay – which may be an incentive in itself as by the end of a week of persistent lateness they’ll have lost over an hour’s pay.

Being able to accurately track and report on attendance also means that you can pick up any underlying attendance issues early on, whether it’s with an individual having problems at home or wider operational issues.

Some of our customers simply pay the time that the employee has been working so even if they’re due to start at 9:00 but arrive and start work at 8:40 they’ll be getting paid from the time they actually clock in.

Our time and attendance systems are flexible, enabling organisations to arrange and apply ‘rules’ that suit the way they work.