Best Practices for Managing Unplanned Absences in Construction Management
If your first thoughts when seeing this title were anything like, Who needs this? It’s common sense. I always notify someone right away. This must be for management to use as a subordinate training tool, or any other dismissive thought, I hope you will think again. Almost weekly, we hear of construction management professionals and many at senior project management and general superintendent level who do not apply best practices when it comes to an unplanned absence.
These common unplanned-absence communication courtesies are not just for the perpetual no-show offenders. They are for those who want to understand how these unplanned absences affect others and your place of business. In addition, gaining awareness and following policy can prevent future incidences from happening at your workplace and possibly save a life, as people suffering from grief and depression tend to start their withdrawal by missing their obligations, like work.
The Impact of Unplanned Absences on Construction Projects and Teams
According to the US Department of Labor, 3.2% of the workforce is absent from work during regular scheduled business hours. That means if your place of business has 20 employees or more, on almost every day of the working calendar year, there is a good chance that one or more of them is not working. The majority of absences are hopefully from advanced requested paid or unpaid time off, although everyone from the top down will most likely need an absence because of unexpected sickness or personal life events. How you communicate in those situations is the difference between earning and losing the respect and trust of others you work for and with.
Many companies have a standard absentee policy, but few train or require new hires to sign off on it. Often, it is in the extensive handbook and skimmed over when onboarding, on the assumption it will not be an issue for you—that is, of course, until it is needed. Yet finding the handbook or policy is not feasible if you are ill or ill-disposed because of a life circumstance requiring you to miss work. Knowing in advance if you have a policy—and what it contains—is best practice from day one of your employment.
Organizational charts can tell you who to contact if you are unexpectedly absent from work for any period and when someone expects you to be available for communication or completion of a project. Part of your immediate supervisor’s responsibilities is to oversee you and support your success. Typically, the success of their job is directly correlated to ensuring your role is covered for the day, and most often, your direct supervisor is your backup in an absence.
Three Important Steps in an Unplanned Absence
So where does it go wrong and get misinterpreted as job abandonment or insubordinate behavior?
1. Timely Notification
The time to notify your supervisor is a minimum of one hour prior to when you are supposed to be fully available or at work (aka before someone tells another they can’t get ahold of you). The only exception would be if you were incapacitated somehow within that hour on your way to work. Being ill and oversleeping doesn’t count. Being on an airplane doesn’t either.
What not to do: No show for the time, call, place, etc. you are getting paid to be at, and where/when they are expecting you, and you expect them to search you down or just go on like nothing is out of sorts.
2. The Appropriate Notice
If your company has a policy, then follow it. When you are unaware of a policy, following this strategy will earn you respect and secure your job:
Whether by text, email, instant message, or phone, the goal is an acknowledgment back from your supervisor that they received the message and have you covered. The communication should not only include that you will be late or out that day or for multiple days, but also it should state when you will next touch base with them. In addition, if something time sensitive must be covered, that should be communicated also. If you are responsible for supervising others, then it is your responsibility to ask your supervisor to inform them immediately or inform your supervisor that you are sending your direct reports instruction in your sudden absence.
What not to do: Contact your co-workers or direct reports and ask them to notify your supervisor. It is not their responsibility.
3. Gain Emotional Support
Unexpected absences can be anything from waking up and feeling unwell to a severe accident or loss to you. Sharing the severity of the situation and that you have the outside support you need can go a long way. If you are emotionally distraught, like my daughter’s friend was recently after the sudden death of her fiancé, then having a friend or family member notify your work with or for you is best practice and provides a back-up emergency contact in the event they cannot reach you out of concern. It assures your supervisor and company that you are well and being cared for. So often, we think it unnecessary to share how we are doing and whether we are supported. Yet our colleagues develop an emotional bond with us, whether outwardly demonstrated or not. When you are in need, the natural tendency is for them to worry about you and your well-being. They may even want to be there for you yet have to take responsibility for their job and possibly some of your responsibilities until you return.
What not to do: Say you have a family emergency, sound distraught, and leave your supervisor or associates lingering with concern. Simply stating you will be fine until your next scheduled update time is all it takes to reassure others so they can stay focused on their jobs that day. In construction, this is critical as we are all risk managers, and emotional and physical well-being are key to a healthy workplace.
What Happens When You Don’t Notify an Absence Appropriately?
Three consecutive days of unauthorized time off is considered job abandonment in Florida and most states. Job abandonment will typically disqualify you from unemployment benefits.
According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM):
Job Abandonment. This is generally considered to be a voluntary termination. As a result, a worker who stops coming to work and violates an employer’s call-in and/or attendance policy (with no excusable reason) typically will not get unemployment benefits. An employer may consequently benefit from having a job abandonment policy in place. There are some situations where job abandonment might have a situational exception, such as a medical emergency, and the individual could qualify for unemployment benefits.
If your company needs a template for writing a job abandonment policy, you can find it on the site, SHRM.org along with other helpful templates and tools.
Dependability and Accountability
Dependability and accountability are two factors that add up big in the workplace. After all, your job must get done, and your company and associates are counting on you to do the job you were hired for. When life happens, causing your absence, the grace they give you can be equal to the professional responsibility and the respect you show your supervisor and associates when you can’t be there for them.
Until next Thursday, 2 p.m. (ET), when you will see the next newsletter,