5 Effective Steps To Deal With Job Abandonment 

Joe usually shows up fifteen minutes late, if at all, for his shift at the shop. But at least he’s there today.

That absenteeism is frustrating, and it’s a good reason to sit down and talk, but it’s not job abandonment. Yet.

That happens next month, when Joe finally stops showing up for work at all. No text. No call. Days later, and it’s clear he ghosted you.

Now it’s job abandonment.

Employee absenteeism and job abandonment are both unplanned time off from work, but the difference is whether or not they come back. When Joe hits the road to find himself, he’s abandoned his job.

In a tight labor market where sourcing and hiring employees is difficult, and where the competition is fierce, job abandonment is growing more common. It makes it tough to schedule shifts or make customer appointments because you have no idea if an employee currently on the payroll will be there.

How well you define job abandonment in your employee handbook (if you did at all), and what you say when communicating with the employee who stopped showing up makes a difference. It can determine if what had been job abandonment is now a reason to file for unemployment for being fired.

It’s tricky stuff.

So let’s take a look at why job abandonment is increasing, and what you can do about it. Because, if you have employees, you absolutely will be dealing with this issue.

What causes job abandonment

What causes someone to just walk away from their job and never look back?

  • Overworked. Your employee told you they were getting too many hours, had too much work, with not enough help, and they’re burned out. Frustrated. Done. It’s that simple.
  • Unhappy with their job. For whatever reason, they simply don’t like their job. Bad management, poor workplace culture, frustrations with coworkers, not enough pay, no incentive or job advancement opportunity, terrible shift schedules, or boredom. They simply don’t want to be there anymore.
  • Underperformance. Employees who aren’t motivated, underperform, or do the bare minimum may, at some point, lack the motivation to even show up for work.
  • COVID (and other illnesses). Between sickness and quarantine, or even fears over health and safety, an employee may stop coming to work. They may not understand how sick and medical leave policies work, and what their rights are or what they need to do to let employers know they are sick.
  • Found something better. A tight labor force means a fiercely competitive market. The employee may have found something better and didn’t want to deal with telling you or going through the exit confrontation or process. It was easier just to take the new job and walk away from the old.
  • Ignorance and communication differences. Not every worker has a lot of experience in the labor market, particularly if they are younger, and they don’t know about giving notice or calling in sick. Some inform you of their absence, instead of asking you. It might be after-the-fact. They might not be great at communicating with managers. Expectations of older generations are assumed, while younger generations might not realize they ought to call or inform employers of their intentions.

Whatever reason it is, your employee decided to move on and not let you know.

How to deal with (and prevent) job abandonment

When an employee doesn’t tell you they have no plans to return to work, that’s job abandonment. But hold on—don’t jump the gun. Be sure you have legitimate job abandonment on your hands. 

Are they gone several days in a row and you hear nothing but crickets? Do they fit your definition of job abandonment that’s in the employee handbook? Are you trying to communicate every way you can and you hear nothing from them? Have they cleaned out their desk or work area?

Yeah, that’s a pretty good sign they’ve abandoned their job. So, as an employer, how do you deal with the reality that job abandonment is going to happen to you at some point?

For starters, always be sourcing. 

You’re never done hiring employees. You are never fully staffed. You can never stop and take a breather from finding the next great worker. Always keep an eye out for people, or places to find people, who would be great employees. Don’t be afraid to contact and hire someone, even if you think you have enough staff to get by.

But that’s a general way to approach managing your workforce and being preemptive. How about some specific measures to deal with this issue?

Set up abandonment policies and procedures

How good are your attendance policies in your employee handbook? 

The first step to successfully dealing with absent employees is to create a policy. This includes defining what job abandonment looks like, and what employees can expect will happen if that occurs.

What to consider in your job abandonment policy?

  • Define what it is. Your employees need to know how you define job abandonment, so let them know how many days absent without communication is considered abandonment. How many times will you attempt to contact the employee before it’s considered abandonment? What is the employee’s responsibility when they need time off or wake up sick or have an emergency? 
  • Communication avenues. What communication forms are valid (email, text, phone call, friend, written note). Fallback options for employees who don’t have smartphones or might claim to have lost their phone should be part of the plan. Should they contact you until they’ve heard back that their message has been received?
  • Documenting communication. The documentation of communication attempts will be important in case there are dissenting opinions (employer or employee) if the claim of job abandonment meets any pushback. You might require things such as medical verification forms or a doctor’s note, or anything else that would legitimize the employee’s claim that they did not abandon their job but were unable to communicate.
  • Differentiate between abandonment and being fired. Make it clear to employees that if they abandoned their job, they were not fired. This matters in case they apply for unemployment. If, according to your policy, an employee has abandoned their job, you’ll want to inform them with an appropriate employee termination letter. Again, however, you have to make it clear you didn’t fire them, but they simply abandoned their job per the policy.

One of the great ways the scheduling app from When I Work can help is that you can communicate directly in the app. If the employee has received their schedule or used the app previously, it’s a valid format for them.


At a Federal level, there are no employment laws regarding job abandonment. Different states have case laws, however, that can help you create your own guidelines for the workplace; if in doubt, contact your state’s labor and employment agencies and get their input on record.

But this lack of overarching law is why your employee handbook is really important. Put your expectations in writing! 

It gets even trickier if there are employee contracts involved, because now you have a legal situation where breach of contract comes into play. 

Word of caution: some states have case law protecting employees when apparent job abandonment is due to medical reasons. Keep that in mind when creating your own policies, and not just because of potential state case law (and bumping up against medical leave laws), but because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s all well and good that you have a policy when job abandonment happens, and to know what your legal options are, but wouldn’t you rather keep employees from leaving in the first place? Here are some tips on prevention…

Communication with employees

You know what makes for an unpleasant workplace?

Poor communication, especially by management. Communication is a two-way street, so that means:

  • Use surveys to get employee feedback.
  • Create a culture free from fear of reprisal when employees have something to tell you.
  • Make anonymous options available.
  • Actually listen to employees with the aim of making changes where necessary. And then, when you make changes, let your team know the reason you did so was because you heard what they wanted and listened.
  • Let employees know they’re doing a good job, and that they are appreciated. Verbal accolades definitely make a difference.

Education and training

If employees are leaving because they feel like there’s no opportunity to advance, they’re bored, or they seem to be underperformers, consider that education and training are the answer to all of that.

No jobs to be promoted to? You can still advance in knowledge, certification, or skills. That can lead to increased pay as it makes for a more valuable employee.

Bored at work? For efficient and high-capacity workers, learning something new, or being presented with challenges to solve, is a requirement if you hope to keep them.

Underperforming or lazy employees? Sometimes those are the attributes of the poorly trained. If you don’t know how to do your job well, you won’t do your job well. You can’t. That might come off as a slow worker, inefficient, or even be hidden behind a bad attitude, all from embarrassment. More training and education means more confidence in a job well done.

Incentivize employment

Is your workplace all stick and no carrot?

Why not give incentives to stay on the job? Whether they’re based on performance, attendance, longevity, or some other metric (which, again, you’d define in your employee handbook), you give employees a reason to stay. 

What kinds of incentives will motivate your team?

  • Pay bump after X amount of days on the job to get new employees past that six-month-quit benchmark.
  • Flexible self scheduling so employees have better work-life balance and have a sense of control over their schedule.
  • Regular pay raises based on longevity, continued ed, or performance.
  • Communication that goes both ways, and management that’s open to making changes based on feedback.
  • Paid time off, bonus vacation time for good attendance, or even a travel or gas stipend.

You don’t have to break the bank to give employees great incentives. Simply showing that you appreciate them and are paying attention and doing something tangible to keep them around is a huge step.

Few things blow your schedule out of the water like a no-call, no-show employee. Multiply that by several days, and you get a sense of how difficult job abandonment is. Do you feel sympathy? Anger? Frustration? Concern?

While employees abandon their jobs for different reasons, something as simple as a scheduling tool, like When I Work, taps into a lot of the solutions. Easy communication among the team and management, better scheduling that empowers employees, flexible work schedules—all are great for your team. But let’s not forget the workforce management data that empowers you to keep an eye on trends like tardiness and absenteeism that are indicators that can lead to eventual abandonment.

If job abandonment is a problem for you right now (or you’re terrified it will be), take the first easy step and try an employee-first scheduling app like When I Work that makes communication better for everyone.

Article Image
/Human Resources

Employee Burnout: Causes, Signs, And Strategies

Article Image
/Business Growth

9 Strategies For Decreasing Labor Costs

Article Image
/Scheduling Strategy

Rotating Shifts: A Manager’s Guide to Rotating Schedules

Article Image
/Scheduling Strategy

How to Save Time And Money With Automatic Scheduling For Employees

Article Image
/Small Business Blog

40 Employee Appreciation Ideas Your Staff Will Love

Article Image
/Human Resources

How to Write Up an Employee in 8 Easy Steps