Human resources managers can’t expect staff to be at work all the time, day in and day out. Whether it’s to recuperate from an illness, or to recharge the mental batteries with a vacation, a few days away from the office are good for staff health and morale. Much-needed time off can help them get better (and avoid getting other staff sick), prevent burnout, and help productivity bounce back.

The problem is, when employees take too many sick or “mental health” days, or too often, or when they seem to be on vacation practically every other week. Chronic absenteeism hurts a company, because they drain productivity, and sometimes work doesn’t get done at all. It’s a problem that needs to be dealt with, so your operation isn’t brought to a standstill. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent your employees from ghosting on you.

Establish a clear attendance policy

It can be tempting to take a “cool dad” approach to employee attendance. Sure, kids, take a day off whenever you need to! Here, have some unlimited vacation time! You can make a missed day off, sometime, if you feel like it! Not surprisingly, your staff is highly likely to take advantage of that “whatever” attitude. That’s why it’s important to set ground rules that clearly state personnel management’s expectations for attendance, how much personal/sick time is allowed, how to request time off in advance (and how to report unexpected days away). Finally, clearly establish possible consequences for anyone who violates your policies. Getting this all out in the open makes it easier for human resources manager to hold workers accountable.

Stick to applicable leave laws

If you’re subject to the Family and Medical Leave act, your company likely is required to allow job-protected leave to any staff needing a leave of absence, whether it’s to attend to a newborn kid, to recover after surgery, or take care of an ailing spouse or family member. The second step is to make sure you’re following all applicable leave laws. If your company is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example, you may be required to provide job-protected leave to an employee who needs a leave of absence to seek care for themselves or a family member. Many states and cities have leave laws that require employees a set number of sick days per year. Know what applies to you, and make sure your people have the option (and are aware of this option) to take all this legally entitled time off. If bad juju strikes and an employee needs leave outside what’s legally required, you can permit that extra time at your discretion and mercy—just make sure you’re doling leave out in a non-discriminatory manner (granting to one and not the other) in a way that’s consistent with your policies.

Don’t be afraid to bring the hammer down

The effectiveness and impact of attendance policy are weakened if, should an employee step outside the bounds you’ve established, your human resources managers don’t bring about consequences for such violations. When they get out of line, depending on the type and severity of violation, you might choose to issue an oral or written warning, and then progress from there (if you haven’t read our blog on progressive discipline, take a minute and do that now—it’s good stuff). If things continue, and especially if they worsen, don’t hesitate to consider termination.

Make your office a great place to work

It’s a no-brainer—if you make your office an enjoyable place to be, employees are more likely to be there. If you’ve notice an increase in absenteeism, the mitigating factor could be a decline in quality of culture. Make an effort to assess management styles, observe employee interactions, and check in with individual workers to see if they’re in fact happy with the way things are rolling. If you notice problems with specific managers or departments, look deeper and pinpoint opportunities to improve problem areas. As human resources managers, we can help stop attendance problems before they get out of hand by creating an office where people are encouraged to collaborate, inspired to work hard, and felt like their successes are appreciated day to day.

Absenteeism is a tough problem to tackle, but it’s important to deal with if you want your company to grow and thrive. Contact us if you’re having trouble or could use some solid advice.