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The View from 30 Feet

Retooling Attendance, Communication and Morale at PRD

by Lara Copeland, contributing editor

Plastics Business

Business gurus often talk about the view from 30,000 feet – the big picture that provides a look at overall operations. Perhaps, however, the focus should be on the view from 30 feet – a close-up of specific processes and procedures that make an impact now.

A lack of specificity in company policies and procedures can negatively impact productivity and profitability. PRD, a plastic injection molding firm in Springville, Indiana, realized its attendance policy had not been revised for several years and, as business picked up and more employees had been added, absenteeism became a regular issue. PRD recently took action to clarify the attendance policy, better communicate with employees and remedy the situation.

Like many members of the Manufacturers Associations for Plastics Processors (MAPP), PRD’s attendance policy made use of a point system to track employee attendance. This system helps PRD to note attendance infractions and assign points accordingly. Infractions may include tardiness, early leave, excused absences, unexcused absences and no-call/no-shows. A review of attendance policies across the association shows many MAPP companies consider termination of an employee when the employee accumulates between six and eight points. Additionally, points can accumulate in a rolling or fixed format that is commonly set within either a six- or 12-month period. While the number of points allowed differs among companies based on the format they follow and months they allow, the warning stages are rather typical. For instance, a written warning follows a verbal warning and, in many cases, a disciplinary action is taken prior to terminating an employee. While its previous attendance policy worked for several years, PRD recently identified two significant problems that needed correction.

The first issue PRD tackled was tardiness. The former policy defined an absence or tardy of less than four hours as a half unit, while more than four hours totaled a full unit. This portion of the attendance policy created an issue in motivating employees to make it to work as soon as possible. Employees who knew they were going to be a few minutes late to work were tempted to take the entire half unit, thereby limiting the day's yield and also creating additional expense for the company in overtime hours for replacement workers. Sarah LaRue, human resource manager at PRD, identified the second and “single biggest issue” as the lack of clarity in the disciplinary action portion of the policy. She noted that “the ‘gray area’ made being clear and consistent difficult.”

Recently, while focusing on utilizing more of the tools in the company’s IQMS ERP system, the PRD human resource department decided to evaluate the attendance policy prior to setting up the attendance tracking features. The analysis raised several questions. For instance, what determined if someone was disciplined or terminated? What type of discipline would apply? What happened after the discipline if an employee got an additional unit? LaRue noted the difficulty in clearly defining the consequence of an additional unit to an employee during a meeting to issue a written warning when the policy is vaguely defined as “discipline, up to termination.” She reached out to industry peers using the MAPP discussion forum, looked at policies from surrounding employers and solicited input from supervisors and managers. “After evaluating and comparing other policies, we realized we didn't need to scrap everything and start over,” LaRue explained. “A lot of the policy worked, and most of our employees understood it. We just needed to make some clarifications.”

PRD decided to make two substantive changes. First, the company added a 1/4 unit measurement to allow employees to arrive up to an hour late or leave up to an hour early if necessary without being penalized a half unit. The intent was to decrease the likelihood that an employee – knowing he or she would be charged a half unit for even a short absence – would be absent for the full three hours and 59 minutes. Second, the new policy delineated more precisely what disciplinary action would be taken for subsequent units accumulated beyond the verbal and written warnings. Now, seven units in a rolling six-month period is cause for termination of employment.

Once PRD management agreed in principle to these changes, the information was shared with employees, communicated through gain-sharing meetings. These meetings produced a number of questions that allowed the company to revise and retool the policy’s language. For instance, some employees asked what would happen if they needed to pick up their children early from school. Other employees asked what would happen if they were out for three or more days for a reason other than an illness and did not have a doctor's statement (family emergency, unforeseen circumstances, etc.). PRD tries to be fair, consistent and realistic, LaRue said. While production demands need to be met, the company understands that their employees have lives and responsibilities outside of work and tries to offer balance in those areas as much as possible.

According to the company website, since 1979 PRD has “operated under a ‘people first’ policy, believing that when we focus on each customer as an individual and put their needs first, the rest will follow. By also applying this principle to our workforce, we’ve been able to maintain an honest, family-style atmosphere that eludes most large companies.”

Although the new policy has only been in place for three months, PRD is beginning to see positive changes in productivity and profitability, with fewer employees accumulating units. LaRue noted that the improved attendance policy has created an awareness in employees evaluating their time off, explaining, “I had an employee whose time off request was denied because the day was already scheduled by other employees. He came in to talk to me about how many units he had, when they would roll off and how a call-in would impact his current units. Ultimately, he decided the call-in wasn’t worth it and reported to work.”

The transition has been smooth, but the company plans to evaluate the new rules at six months and implement any immediately necessary changes. True to the company’s commitment to evolve and continuously improve its business practices, LaRue commented, “There always is something that you don’t think of until it happens.” Remaining flexible and willing to work with personnel offers stability to both the company and its employees and creates better a better production environment.