Building service contractors depend greatly on reliable employees that, in addition to completing their cleaning duties, act as the face of the business when they are on location. In an industry affected by high turnover, workers who show up on time with a positive attitude and responsible disposition are indispensable members of a BSC’s team.

But what if employees are not reliable? What if building service contractors are forced to discipline — and, in the most egregious cases, terminate — employees who do not show up to work.

Building service contractors who deal with employees on a regular basis preach that any process or procedure intended to track and discipline absenteeism must be, first and foremost, firm and consistent because the business is so people-based.

“We are in a business that is labor driven and you need people, good people,” says William Held, president of Held’s Janitorial Services in Elma, N.Y. “I always tell my managers that they know who their weak link is, once you are doing well and once things are going smooth, then replace the weak link and that’s how you continue to grow. People don’t want to be the weak link.”

Be proactive and pre-emptive
Arely Castellon Cox, president of SparkleTeam in Boca Raton, Fla., says much of employee absenteeism issues that arise in the BSC sector can be addressed before hiring.

Understanding the type of employee that is needed and using referrals to find dependable employees can combat employee absenteeism issues.

“At the end of the day, for the property manager getting his or her building serviced, what they want to know is that it is being serviced and is being done well,” Castellon Cox says.

Dependable employees are difficult to find, which is one reason it can pay off to work with family members. Family-owned or -run BSCs do have that advantage.

“They are not bringing in people off the street making minimum wage that will quit that (first) night. That happens a lot in our business,” Castellon Cox adds.

Held says he hired a human resources manager about 10 years ago to deal with issues such as employee absenteeism, a decision that he regards as a sound business practice. If that is not possible because of the size of the company, Held recommends hiring an office manager or a sales person with a strong human resources background.

“That is one of the things I did in the beginning. I hired a guy that was a human resources person but we also got him involved in the training and a number of the other issues that helped us and helped absorb the cost. From there it took off,” Held says. “I would recommend entry level so you are not dishing out the big money, but he or she is getting experience and on-the-job training in the business.”

Robert MacCutcheon, president of RYMAC Services Inc. in Brecksville, Ohio, suggests another way of heading off absentee issues is to have new employees read and sign a safety manual and a set of rules and regulations that they must follow, including those that dictate absenteeism and work attendance.

MacCutcheon says his past experience in the employment agency business has taught him to have a process that is easy to implement and simple to understand for his employees.

“I am very firm. I am very fair, but I’m very firm,” MacCutcheon says. “You never are going to be able to 100-percent eliminate employee absenteeism. But you can reduce it significantly. I think what’s important in working with people is it’s not always what they tell you in the beginning, but it’s what they show you as time goes on.”

Watchful eye
Employeee tracking is an option popular with BSCs wanting to keep an eye on their workers. MacCutcheon is successful in reducing

absenteeism by using a tool that allows him to track when an employee arrives at a building to work each day.

“Everybody pages me with the number of the building that they go into, because every building is assigned a number,” MacCutcheon says. “Every time that they go in there, regardless of the time of day or night, they page me. If I don’t get the page, then I’m an unhappy person.”

Held also deals with absenteeism where it hurts the most: in the paycheck. The employee who does not arrive for a scheduled shift is docked money from his or her paycheck. This arrangement has been agreed to when the employee was hired.

“It’s called ‘no call, no show’ and its 25 bucks a hit,” MacCutcheon says. “If you start getting docked money then you are going to be a little ticked off, aren’t you? You will probably quit.”

His company docks employees’ vacation time that they have earned, which could have an impact in how much they are paid for the earned time off. He also suggests documenting the absenteeism in their file, creating a paper trail regarding the problem.

Vonachen Services Inc., Peoria, Ill., also has a call-in system in which the employee must call from their location when they arrive to work.

“They can’t call from a cell phone, they can’t call from another location. The system is set up to only accept calls from that number so we know the person is at least physically at that site,” says CFO John Austin.

In addition, supervisors, who have a number of accounts and sites to manage, oversee employees and their whereabouts on a regular basis. Supervisors also have utility support to cover those spots in which there is no one to fill because of absenteeism.

“If they call in that is part of the absences that they get and we expect that. We know that people are going to have illnesses, they are going to have things that are going on with their family and things that they have to take care of,” Austin says.

Held’s 500-employee company determines when an employee’s absenteeism becomes a problem on a case-by-case basis. The employee’s tenure along with their role within the company are determining factors in how the company deals with their absenteeism.

“If it’s somebody that is good then you sit down and talk with them and if it someone that is not, then you start writing them up and warning them. Give them enough rope and they will hang themselves,” Held said. “But remember, you need your employees. You’ve got to have a good relationship with them. The employees know who the other employees that are taking advantage of (you) and you’ve got to put your foot down so they understand it, too.”

Vonachen Services lets employees know at the beginning of each year how many absences they will be allowed — but any beyond that will result in termination.

The company has a system in place in which employees are given 12 unexcused absences per year to use.
“Within that we see a good number of our employees take full advantage of that throughout the year and use all of those,” says Austin. “Once they get to number 10 or number 11, we let them know that with one or two more absences, there will be termination. We are very clear about that. We know what the expectations are and they know what they are.”

The policy is built into the company’s business model and has been responsible for creating a more stable work environment both from a management and employee point of view. Supervisors are less apt to terminate employees, who miss a few shifts. Other benefits included less turnover and less cost associated with training new employees.

“It is certainly a better work environment for all of our workers and our management team if people are going to be there,” Austin says. “Part of what we do is train our supervisors so that they create that environment. The way we try to describe it is that they want to get to a relationship with your employees that when they wake up and they have a headache they still decide to come into work.”

Vonachen Services over-hires at each site to offset the number of employees who will not come to work. On the days when more employees arrive to work than expected, some additional cleaning, done on a periodical basis, is complete.

Whatever system a BSC decides is best for its business plan, the goal is the same: to recruit and retain loyal and dependable workers that will stay for the long-term.

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wis.