Although the vast majority of companies manage attendance in some way, a far smaller proportion actively manage absence as well. The main reason for this is that most businesses see attendance and absence management as being one and the same.

Surely, you can’t manage one without managing the other, right?

In reality, however, although it might appear to be a matter of phrasing, there’s actually a difference between them. More importantly, focusing solely on managing attendance, while neglecting to consider absence management, can have significant consequences for your company in the long term

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the differences between attendance and absence management.

What is attendance management?

Attendance management is the process of tracking when your employees come to work. It’s concerned with calculating the number of days or hours an employee works, how much holiday allowance they’re accrued and if they qualify for sick pay.

Now, by extension, if you’re tracking attendance, it makes sense to assume that you’re also tracking absence – as if you’re aware of who’s turned up for work, you’re also aware of who hasn’t.  And while is usually the case, all too often, the reasons absences aren’t fully explored.

Sure, most companies will take note of an employee being repeatedly absent, or late, and act accordingly. However, if they’re not properly tracking and analysing absences, the company may fail to see a trend among several employees. As a consequence, they lose out on invaluable information that could benefit their staff and the company as a whole. More importantly, they fail to seize any influence they have over dealing with the absence and improving attendance.

What is absence management?

Managing absence, as its name suggests, is concerned with employees not coming to work. The main difference between that and attendance management is that employees are supposed to come to work. So, while managing attendance is about maintaining the natural order of things, absence management is concerned with the exceptions. Namely, when an employee hasn’t come to work and why. Consequently, absence management allows companies to be more proactive about what they do when an employee can’t come to work for whatever reason.

The first stage of absence management is identifying different types of absence – all the reasons an employee is likely to not come into work. From there, you can develop a strategy for dealing with each one. You can then compile these strategies to create your company’s absence policy.

Now some absences are authorised – such as annual leave, training, and maternity/paternity leave – so they’re easier to deal with. However, what do you do when faced with a type of absence you didn’t plan for? As you’ve thought about them ahead of time, your company might have some semblance of a strategy. It might not be perfect – but it’s far better than having not thought about it and having no plan whatsoever.

Better still, focusing on absence management allows you to track absences as they occur and gain further insight into why they might be happening. This presents you with a huge opportunity to prevent more similar absences in the future.

Let’s say, for instance, that you discover that a number of your staff have called in sick due to burnout. This gives you the chance to look into reasons why your employees are feeling stressed out and quickly devise ways to help them manage their workload. Now, not only did you solve the problem of absence, you solved an underlying issue which could have had more significant consequences for your organisation – like the employee leaving.

This is the crux of the difference between attendance and absence management. While attendance management is mainly concerned with the present, absence management is concerned with the future too. Or, more accurately, it’s about using things learned in the past and present to help your company do things better in the future.