October 22, 2016


To Improve Attendance: Work it Every Day

Cathy Osnaya

With the start of a new year—and the frontloading of annual sick days for staff—managers across Kaiser Permanente are looking for ways to avoid a spike in absenteeism. But the best way to manage attendance is, well, to manage it, say those who know.

"Managing attendance is one of my core responsibilities," says Scott Langstaff, a frontline manager at California's 400-employee Membership Administration department, based in San Diego. "You have to work it constantly and communicate with each employee that their individual attendance is key."

He and other line managers and their union partners conduct monthly staff meetings to review attendance results, stress the importance of banking sick days for when you really need them, and explain the financial incentives for meeting their PSP attendance goals. Each employee gets data regarding their sick leave and where they rank in their use of last-minute call-offs in the department. In 2007, Membership Administration was among a small group of departments in Southern California that met its Performance Sharing Program target for last-minute call-offs—and because they had a local as well as regional PSP goal, employees each stand to collect several hundred dollars as a result.

Using "diligence, tools, and communication"

Such disciplined approaches have gotten results elsewhere, too. "It takes constant diligence, tools and communication with staff," says Cathy Osnaya, service unit manager of Pediatrics and Injections/Allergy in Modesto. For her, that approach means:


  • Developing metrics to track team and individual performance
  • Sharing data with everyone on the team
  • Providing as much flexibility—and transparency—as possible
  • Asking the team members to problem-solve and holding them accountable for results


Osnaya begins by sharing a day-by-day schedule for the whole department, including physicians, three months out. She sends it to everyone and updates it monthly, asking her staff to let her know if there are days, or parts of days, they know they'll need off. Her goal is to grant all such advance requests. When there's a scheduling gap or conflict, team members resolve it themselves in their monthly LMP meetings.

Creating understanding, getting results

Osnaya uses an Excel spreadsheet to track each of her 30 employees' attendance for the month, by type of absence—personal illness, family illness, personal day, or protected leave. She also gives staff her pager number and asks them to call her whenever a problem comes up—a sick child, car trouble, or other delay. A heads' up even a few hours before a shift begins can make a big difference, she notes.

It's like an arranged marriage. We did not get to pick each other. But we must be committed to making this work.

In addition, Osnaya meets privately with every staff member once a quarter. "We look at their days and talk about any patterns or problems that we see." Ruth Browner, the department's senior medical assistant and shop steward, shares Osnaya's data-based approach and attends any meetings with employees having attendance problems.

The results: The department's average sick time usage per quarter (excluding protected time) fell to 7.75 hours per full-time employee in 2007—less than a day per employee—from 8.87 hours per employee per quarter in 2006.

Showing you care

For such tools and metrics to work, "you first need to develop relationships with your staff, build trust, and show you care about them," she says. "It's like an arranged marriage. We did not get to pick each other. But we must be committed to making this work because we spend eight hours a day together... You have to set expectations and let people know you want them to succeed. The fact is, you have to give something to get something in return—whether you're a manager or staff."