Absence as Protest

Absence management in the office

Management – the balance of powers and responsibilities – can be a tricky thing, and tipping that balance, even ever so slightly, can lead to chaos and confusion, hurt egos and bruised self respect, misunderstandings, arguments and full-fledged business meltdowns.

What Does a Football Star and the Management World have in Common?

Interestingly, it’s not a business corporation but a mega football team that is on the brink of meltdown, brought on by a clash of egos and perhaps a bout of mismanagement.

When FC Barcelona coach, Luis Enrique, allowed Messi an extended Christmas holiday but failed to warn that it may cost him an important, international football match, it was either a genuine case of mismanagement or a clever bullying tactic.

Messi responded with the oldest excuse in the book – gastroenteritis. He would be unable to attend the team’s only public training session of the year as well as their annual charity visit to children’s hospitals.

Silence, or in this case, absence, speaks louder than words. In a classic case of using absence as protest, an international football star challenged his coach, and the whole world waits to see what impact this might have on the team.

lionel messi

A popular football team is just a convenient example, but the ‘absence as protest’ tactic was perhaps founded in the 9 am to 5 pm world of bosses, offices, and the very often criticized, human resources.

Perhaps the most creative and original of them all was the “call in gay” Wednesday in California a few years ago. In an ingenious move to support same sex marriages, employees took a day off from work by ‘calling in gay’, essentially attempting to prove that offices around the state would not fuction without its gay employees.


In 2013, thousands of Amazon employees in Germany reached the decision to skip work every Monday, for as long as it took their employers to raise wages.

2013 was also the year when low-salaried, frustrated employees of fast food joints, IT companies and shopping chains across the US began to skip work and walk out on their employers as a form of protest.


The absence as protest tactic has been the employee’s weapon and the employer’s bane for years. While in some cases it has forced employer’s to raise salaries and provide better benefits (Google had to shell out $334 million to its workers after a protest), in other cases it has cost jobs and livelihoods.

In some cases, corporations realize they are not infallible, while in others employee’s become conscious of the fact that they are not irreplaceable.

What Do You Do When Your Employee’s Start Ditching Work?

Once a protest is set into movement, managing becomes a challenge. The focus of a management should not be on how to curb a protest once started, but rather on how to avoid one altogether. In a workplace where employee well being and interests are looked after, managing is a surprisingly easy job. It is no rocket science to equate a well-structured workplace and satisfied employees to efficient and good quality work.

Nevertheless, having some stringent and non-negotiable policies in place is always advisable. While it is advisable for managers to trust their workforce, it is also important to understand that having strict policies about issues such as absenteeism and employee behavior, can protect an organization from falling into traps that often result from mismanagement.

Strong absence management policies are a necessity, but most often, their value isn’t realized until employees start skipping work as a form of protest. A survey held in 2014 found that only 35% of 1200 employers surveyed consider the absence of an employee as a serious liability to their corporation.

Another survey in the UK found that employers shell out an average of £594 per employee, per year in the form of paid leaves. While paid leaves are an employee’s right and an employer’s responsibility, establishing a strong absence management system and good workplace ethics can drastically cut down on the number of days a worker chooses to ditch work.

Steps to Effective Absence Management in a Workplace Setting

It should start with ensuring that the employee contract clearly refers to ‘regular, punctual attendance’ and the exact number of sick leaves an employee is entitled to without giving the management cause for dismissal.

A careful absence policy will also mention the latest time by which the employee can notify the office of their sickness (usually an hour before the beginning of the workday), the terms and conditions of sick pay and the requirement of return to work interviews.

Sick leaves should be accompanied with a doctor’s note and management should ensure an interview is scheduled each time an employee returns from such a leave.

The interview allows managers to inquire about an employee’s health, establish that they are ready to get back to work and encourage such employees to gradually ease themselves into work instead of burdening themselves with responsibilities.

In case of a long-term sickness, regular communication by phone or e-mail sends out encouraging signals. Absence due to pregnancy or disability should be recorded if the management is informed of the same.

While flexibility is important, management should also have a strong disciplinary procedure and employee’s should be made aware of the consequences of not following workplace policies.

Employees begin to protest when they have reason to believe that they are not being treated fairly. This does not imply that managers should be lenient, but it does require management to be understanding and reasonably flexible.

A workplace that is truly concerned about its employee’s wellbeing and health is automatically less prone to facing the brunt of such rebellion. Communication is key to healthy office relationships. Hearing out employees and trying to reason with them is always the first and wisest approach in case of a protest.

In cases where employee demands are unreasonable and difficult to meet, management consultants advice employers against deviating away from their established absence policies and disciplinary procedure.

The workers unwilling to lose their jobs return to work, but the business will also inevitably lose several efficient, treasured employees. A protest, though manageable, is ultimately a loss to both sides, employers and employees.


Written By


Pursuing an MSc in Geology, apart from science, writing on HR has always been one of my greatest passions.