Did you know that more than one third of all sick days are taken on Mondays? A report done by the consulting firm Mercer also showed that more absences occur in January than any other month. A BBC study shows that musculo-skeletal problems are the most common reason for days away, followed by viral infections and stress-related illness. Although absences are often due to legitimate reasons, they can get out of control if they’re not managed carefully.

Persistent unexcused absenteeism, particularly when it involves just a few individuals, not only lowers productivity and increases everyone else’s workload, but it can precipitate a sour atmosphere in the workplace.  It’s something that needs to nipped in the bud.

Statistics vary on the monetary impact of absenteeism, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says it tends to be highest among service occupations, such as healthcare, food service, cleaning, and so forth, and administrative staff.

Absences occur for many reasons – burnout, stress, low morale, job hunting, etc. – and all need to be addressed quickly. The following tips may help:

1.       Find Out What is Causing the Absence

If you’re wondering whether or not that call from an employee saying he/she can’t come in today, is real or not, you may have good reason to be suspicious. If there’s an excessive pattern of absences it’s probably time to take some action.

The first thing you can do is give the employee an opportunity to explain themselves. Have a one-on-one discussion about their absence and express your concern. This should not be a disciplinary discussion, but more of a fact-finding mission. Your goal is to understand what’s happening and try to solve the issue.

If the employee is being evasive or you feel the answers don’t add up – it’s time to start keeping a paper trail of the absences.

2.       Implement a Performance Improvement Plan  

If discussing the cause for the absences and trying to resolve the situation doesn’t work, then you need to put a performance review plan in place that sets specific goals for improvement, with attendance being one of them. Put the plan in writing and clearly explain the timeframe of the plan and the consequences of not fulfilling its requirements.

3.       Implement and Communicate a Clear Leave / Sick Leave Policy

While a written policy won’t stop absenteeism, it may help you deal with it more effectively. By clearly communicating what is deemed permissible and what the expectations in terms of attendance are, it will demonstrate to all employees that you don’t tolerate absenteeism. Use the document to clearly explain paid and unpaid leave policies and the consequences of unexcused absences.

4.       Consider Introducing Incentive Plans

While their are no guarantees that you can control absenteeism, initiatives such as incentive plans and programs such as flex-time, wellness programs, and project completion perks, are proven to increase morale and productivity. They also send a clear message to your employees that they have a recognized and valuable role to play in your business as a whole. This video on employee retention discusses how collaborative employee scheduling – which allows the employee to work based on their preferred availability can reduce absenteeism and turnover.

5.      Terminate Repeat Offenders

If you’ve exhausted all these intervention measures and aren’t seeing improvement, then termination may be your only option. Follow your HR policy to the letter on this one and refer to the law as it pertains to terminating employees, final paychecks, and more.