How Facility Services Contractors are Solving Absenteeism

Rahkeem Morris
March 13, 2019

      How do you know absenteeism is a big problem in facility services?

When janitorial firms openly advertise that they have a large “fill-in” team - a reserve force of employees who report to work, then figure out where they’ll be headed based on the staff who’ve called-out sick (or worse, didn’t show and didn’t notify their supervisors).

If you have a reserve force of employees to respond to absenteeism, you definitely have high absenteeism.

As we’ve written before, being a janitor is a difficult job - little wonder the industry has much higher absenteeism than the 3% average across all hourly work.

There are a few ways to respond to absenteeism, and all ways have their pros & cons. Here we highlight three solutions to absenteeism.

Solution 1: Recruit reliable janitors and punish absenteeism / reward attendance

      This is what we most commonly hear from operators and see in marketing materials: “What differentiates us is our high-quality, reliable staff.” Plus, lessons from other industries indicate that employees do respond to incentives - like a bonus if they show up to work every scheduled day over a month or quarter.

However, operators also admit that, given the general labor shortage, the industry’s high turnover (256% per year on average, with a stellar turnover rate being 40%), and severe competition for qualified labor, it’s clear: Absenteeism is just unavoidable.

So while we at SYRG wish this was the answer - it would be a lot easier for everyone in the industry* - let’s look at some of the other options.

Solution 2: Build a “reserve” force

      Like the example at the beginning of this article, companies may have a group of location-unassigned janitors who show up to work, then figure out where they’re headed. At some larger accounts, contractors “pad” their staffing numbers in anticipation of absenteeism.

Pros: Can rapidly respond when employees are absent.

Cons: It’s a blunt tool - if your reserve force is larger than your needed employee pool, you’ll end up paying some on your reserve force for hours they don’t work. (In some cities, you don’t have to pay these workers, but it is increasingly becoming the norm to pay a minimum number of hours even if they’re not needed).

On the other hand, if your reserve force is smaller than your needed employee pool, your team is making tons of phone calls last-minute, and potentially resorting to giving out overtime. That, or being understaffed and risking customer dissatisfaction.

Solution 3: Build an “on-call” force

     Similar idea as option 1, but for this solution to absenteeism, you have a bench of employees who don’t show up to work as a reserve force. Instead, they are contacted when there’s an opening, but don’t have to accept the shift. (In many cities, being “on call” and required to work when asked requires compensation, even if the employee isn't needed.)

Pros: Can quickly scramble exactly the number of janitors you need.

Cons: Without a system like SYRG, your admin staff or supervisors will have to make call after call every day. This wastes precious time. Plus, without a system like SYRG, keeping track of who’s already been called, especially if tens of supervisors are making the calls, is a nightmare. Some contractors hire full-time staff to manually make these phone calls - obviously a large cost your customers aren’t reimbursing you for.

That’s why some of the biggest names in the facility services world are using SYRG (even at their unionized sites). Absenteeism is a predictable problem in the facility services industry. But solving it doesn’t have to be an operational nightmare!

Bonus! We're continually adding to this list as we talk with facility services contractors. More below...

Solution 4: Have your supervisors figure it out

"This is something our supervisors handle. It's not a HQ issue."

      We've heard this quite a few times from facility services executives. While it's an understandable perspective - after all, great supervisors reduce absenteeism and increase morale, plus have access to networks of "fill-in" workers. But this misses the point of centralization - quality control, risk reduction, and cost savings.

Pros: No additional HQ staff or attention required - if supervisors don't find a way to handle this themselves, that's their problem!

Cons: May lead to avoidable overtime. Supervisors occasionally call unqualified workers (or people who aren't even vetted employees). There's the risk of supervisors breaking site rules, or even employment laws. And there's low HQ visibility into who's working, where.

Solution 5: Reassign workers who are scheduled elsewhere

      One owner lamented that he currently reassigns higher-skilled employees to low-margin janitorial jobs. This causes a big hit on his margins - not only is he paying higher wages for a low-margin cleaning job, he's also forfeiting higher margins on the skilled work his employee could otherwise be doing. But, when you're short-staffed and have no system to quickly access employees, the alternative is to disappoint your customers. In an extremely competitive industry, disappointing your customers is the fastest way out of business.

*To take the flip side, if absenteeism wasn't such a big issue, there wouldn't be a massive opportunity for facility services companies who found innovative approaches to solving absenteeism!

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