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June 29, 2010  |   Comments (6)   |   Post a comment

Why Won’t They Come to Work?

In these tough economic times, most school bus drivers consistently show up for work — but some still don’t. After monetary incentives failed to tackle absenteeism, one district learned that some employees need another kind of support.

by Randy Mazie

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OK, money didn’t work …

No one has money nowadays anyway. And who in their right minds would pay employees extra to come to work? But the study of what motivates employees to come to work, what impacts productivity and morale, is a great field of study in and of itself. It is nothing to scoff at.

If money didn’t or doesn’t motivate employees, one has to ask: What else might be going on?

Our particular school system is a large, multicultural district whose workforce has to contend with a complex lifestyle that some of our employees are not necessarily prepared to cope with adequately. Oddly, money does not always help.

Some employees are in need of other kinds of support to help them deal with various personal situations that occur in their lives — situations that in turn affect their abilities to come to work. Family pressures, such as sick children, lack of family support (single parenthood or no help outside the family), money management problems, aging parents, lack of adequate housing and other socio-emotional factors often come into play.

Even getting to work in order to make the money needed to solve financial problems may be far out of reach for some of these employees at times. When you discuss their plights with them, you can hear such responses as: How do I get to work when I have no one to watch my children? Or, no one to take them to a doctor? Or, I am constantly having difficulties with my child at school — and being called by school officials to meet with them. Or, I do not have the money to repair my car or replace it. And so on.

Author Randy Mazie says that setting up weekly meetings with employees with attendance problems can be an effective approach.

So what does work?

What can be helpful is to meet regularly with employees who are having attendance problems. Track their attendance, and show them what their attendance looks like.

Ask them to examine, along with you, what may be preventing them from coming to work. Solicit the employees’ tacit agreement that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, and that disciplinary action, especially losing a job, is not a solution. Assure the employees that you understand that they do not need “one more thing on their plate.”

Where appropriate, refer them to your employee assistance program. Explain to them what the program does, how it can help them with their personal problems, and that it is confidential. Encourage them to make full use of the program.

As an administrator, you must set limits and take appropriate action. But acting in a supportive manner with employees, and letting them know that you understand some of the problems that they are dealing with, can go a long way in easing some of the pressures that employees face in their personal lives.

In addition to the district’s employee assistance program, just sitting and talking with the employee helps. Working out alternate arrangements, when these can be made, will go a long way in supporting a troubled employee.

Try setting up a time for an employee to come to see you every week. This can help develop a strong emotional incentive for employees, feeling that they have to show up to face you directly each week.

Ask each week if they’ve been coming to work or not. It will help the employees feel how important it is for them to be in attendance, knowing that you expect to see them personally.

Employees can feel invisible, and consequently unsupported, which in turn further reinforces for them that they can stay away from work without suffering consequences. And then when they suffer the consequences, it is often too late.

Weekly meetings provide some measure of positive attention for these employees — some of whom do not get much positive attention in their lives because of all the problems they face. Some don’t come to work because they are nursing their own wounds; they’re tired and needy themselves.

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I work for Sant Fe ISD in Santa Fe Texas as a bus driver. This is my 4th year. When you start you get the oldest bus in the fleet. I call them dinosaurs because they have no air conditioning. Then you get bumped up to a higher bus every year. I started in 119 and now im in 142. Now thats almost a cadillac! Air, radio, pa system! The reds and yellow buttons are on the steering wheeel. One of the others drivers was parked next to me last year and he said, Youre going to get one of the big banana busses! He was talking about the beginning of the new year. I told him, Well you know what? I was hired to take peoples kids to school. This is my job. People depend on me to come get their kids. I told him when i filled out the application i told them i was dependable and i showed it . Then he says, well thats a good attitude. There were 2 drivers and one mechanic with perfect attendance last year and im proud to say i was one of them. Knock on wood but so far i havent missed this year.And im in my 60s! I tell my kids that they will never have a sub unless something drastic happens.Last year with perfect attendance you got $150 dollars. But theyve stopped it this year but still hasnt stopped me from striving to get perfect attendance again.

shirley richards    |    Nov 03, 2011 06:19 PM

It seems that your experiment actually proved one thing: money motivates those who understand that their employment is the key to their successes; money does not motivate those who do not make that connection.

John Coxen    |    Dec 15, 2010 04:00 AM

A Better Workplace --- Meridian Group's Newsletter, Number 27, 1-15-04 This newsletter presents real-life management issues and how people addressed them to improve their company's culture. It is sent monthly to subscribers. Respect Makes the Difference: "Employees will leave if they imagine that the grass is greener on the other side. Your grass is greener if it meets people's needs. Perks can't do this, they only touch surface issues. What people really long for is a workplace where they are respected, where they are treated as adults, where they feel appreciated—the kind of place we all would like." ~ The Coming Exodus, by Dave Murphy, 12-20-03, Meridian Group's Newsletter, Number 27, 1-15-04 ... Keep It Simple—Say "Thank You": Fortune magazine, in their annual article, "The 100 Best Companies to Work For" (January 12th, 2004), rated J. M. Smucker No. 1. "What's really impressive is a secret recipe: a culture and management style as straightforward and likable as strawberry jam. . . . "Employees don't get any razzle-dazzle perks . . ." says CEO Paul Smucker: "Listen with your full attention, look for the good in others, have a sense of humor, and say thank you for a job well done. . . "Plant supervisors have been known to serve celebratory barbecues after hitting new records; managers routinely thank teams with lunches and gift certificates." Voluntary turnover is 3%. ... Everyone a Master and Commander: As adults we like to be in charge of our world, whether at home or at work. Everyone likes to be involved in decisions that affect them. Involvement of the people closest to the issues makes for better decisions and shows people you appreciate them and their experience. Most people feel undervalued and unappreciated at work. Create a workplace where people experience mastery and command of their task and you stand out clearly in the crowd. The Bottom Line: If your people like working for you—if they can meet their personal needs

James Kraemer    |    Jul 18, 2010 12:04 AM

Great insight into a building problem. I have found that those employees that always miss really don't want to work. They have made one excuse after the other as to why they are absent. I feel they don't even get it as to how important it is to have them there and there is no concern for others that they put the burden on. They also feel that unemployment pays just as well should they be fired.

s.thompson    |    Jul 01, 2010 06:24 AM

Money was not the reason I worked as a school bus driver. I enjoyed working with the children and my peers. Yes money can be a big help, but when it is not safe to drive I DID NOT. My leadership did not see it that way. They Only wanted some to drive the bus. The pay was ok, but I could have made more money Flipping burgers. Just keep this in mind.

R Davis    |    Jun 30, 2010 09:48 AM

Randy- Great article. Since many private contractors and school districts provide such incentives, I just assumed they were effective. I wonder how many have done the analysis that you described. Here's a thought: Maybe, especially in an area like yours with such a high cost of living, the $75 incentive was simply not enough to change behavior. I'm not sure how long your drivers' pay period was, but other incentive programs I have seen are often quarterly, with correspondingly higher dollar amounts. Patterns of attendance, or non-attendance, and one's general work ethic are fairly well ingrained and hard to change. Thanks again for your innovation and work on this and other areas of student transportation.

Charlie Hood    |    Jun 30, 2010 09:47 AM

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