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In an ideal world, everyone would show up for work every day, and never be absent.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world.

From time to time, employees will miss work because of illness, bereavement, accidents, emergencies, tending to personal needs and other reasons. Some days, they might just be playing hooky.

As a small business owner, you obviously value maximum attendance from your workers; if you didn't need and value them, you wouldn't care if they showed up.

But you also have to be cognizant that sometimes employees just need to miss work.

The delicate balancing act, therefore, is how best to manage the need, and requirement, for employees to show up for work and the times they reasonably don't.

First, it's wise to create a work environment and attendance policy with some flexibility built in. You, no doubt, appreciate flexibility from your employees when your business needs an extra contribution from them, and the best way to expect to receive is to give.

You also have to communicate that it's a two-way street. You have the best chance to create the best possible attendance records in an environment where staff are comfortable telling you the truth.

If an employee wants some time off to attend a concert out of town, I'd rather know the real reason and work with that person to plan around it.

The alternative is an environment where people are made to feel awful for missing any work at all, and are afraid or indifferent about telling you the truth. In that case, they're probably going to skip work and go to the concert anyway, only without giving you warning.

I've spent a lot of time in small- to medium-sized manufacturing environments, where unexpected absences made it difficult to keep production flowing smoothly.

Employees who needed flexibility to attend to personal matters were not considered absent if they worked with their team to accommodate the production line (say, by working on a weekend to catch up or producing extra before time off so the process wouldn't run short of parts in their absence).

This was an excellent way for teams to demonstrate to each other their understanding of the effect their absence had on the business. They consistently returned these "favours" to each other and it kept absenteeism and any negative effect of flex hours to a minimum.

If it can't be measured, it can't be managed, so track staff's absences, and your own, on a simple spreadsheet. Make sure your worksheet includes space for reasons and comments.

Having a written track record is important. If chronic absenteeism needs to be addressed, you'll need a record to provide objectivity for all parties.

If you feel that a staffer's attendance is making it hard for you to manage your business, start a conversation immediately. Ask how you might help and what they might be able to do to keep things in check.

Ongoing absenteeism needs to be addressed with escalating forms of communication so that everyone understands the seriousness. If you are thinking someone's attendance is getting sloppy, that's a pretty good sign you need to be discussing it.

The smaller the business, the bigger the effect that unmanaged absenteeism has on it.

The alternative to being pro-active and communicative is to fly by the seat of your pants. That will just lead to confusion, inconsistent attendance and unpredictable productivity and profitability.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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