Does your board need an attendance policy?

By Barry S. Bader

Spotty attendance at board and committee meetings used to be little more than a chronic nuisance, but with governance standards rising, boards are getting more serious about attendance. When a third or more of board seats are vacant or a few members are habitually absent, how can the board be fully informed, raise tough questions and reach independent conclusions as a group?

Downsizing of boards is a factor. When boards numbered 25 to 35 members, frequent absenteeism still left a critical mass of members to get work done. On today’s typical 15-member board, with each director bringing specific skills, the loss of a few can leave the board short of critical backgrounds or the multiple perspectives that contribute to better decisions.

Consequently, many boards are including attendance requirements in a board member’s position description, and they are evaluating attendance at the time of eligibility for re-election. One New England hospital board adopted an attendance policy stating that absence from more than 60 percent of board meetings over three years, or absence from three consecutive board meetings, was “equivalent to resignation from the board,” unless the Governance Committee voted to make an exception for extenuating circumstances. A California board was tougher, capping absences at 25 percent.

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