Small businesses do not hire extra staff that sit around doing nothing all day hoping and waiting for another member of the team to be absent so they can step in, so what do you do when an employee doesn’t show up for work? Is it really the flu? Or a cold? Or is it a mental health day?

1. How long has this person worked for you? Over six months and you probably have a good idea of their work ethic. Is this the kind of person who powers through when they are sick or do they run home at the first sign of a sniffle?

Let’s try to remember that most employees are good employees and only take sick days when they need to. If someone has worked for you for a few months or years, then you likely know if they are ill or trying to pull a fast one. Mark it down and follow up with them when they return to the office.

2. Is there a pattern to their absences? Always sick the day after payday or the Tuesday after a long weekend? When scheduled for a job or duty, they don’t like, are they mysteriously sick? 

Time for a conversation. Pull out your notes that prove the pattern and have an honest discussion. Is there an addiction or abuse issue that needs to be discussed and taken care of or another reason for the absences? A good policy on illness and absences can help all employees.

3. Is the employee challenged enough in their job?  When a position isn’t challenging enough for an employee, they may feel bored and restless. A day off can be a relief from the boredom they feel in their daily routine. Job shopping (interviewing) on sick days is a common occurrence for employees who don’t feel needed or useful in their position.

Maybe it is time to review the job description. Is there enough work to keep the employee busy, can they take on other duties and responsibilities? Perhaps this is time to give them some additional responsibilities—a stretch assignment.

4. Flip that coin. Is the employee overwhelmed? A day off for undocumented reasons may be due to the feeling of sinking deep into a pit of anxiety because the employee doesn’t think they are capable of doing their job.

Regularly Managers should reassure and confirm that work is being done to the standards of the company. Let employees know that you appreciate them and the work they are doing. It never hurts to give an ‘atta boy or a proverbial pat on the back. It could save you a sick day.

5. Sick doesn’t always mean the flu. Do you grill your employee’s when they call in sick wanting to know what’s wrong with them? Or do you tell them to feel better and you will see them when they are well enough to return.

Employees may not feel comfortable telling you they need a mental health day. It could be work, home, money or anything in their life. Some days it is nice to take a day just to be. Maybe the kids are at school, the hubby is at work and the house will be empty and quiet—perfect for a day of Netflix and chill. If it is a mental health day for a non-mental health issue, they will probably return with more enthusiasm the next day and get twice as much done. Please don’t make an employee feel guilty for needing to give their mind a rest.

Not all illness is short-term. If an employee has a more serious illness and may be off work for a long period of time, know their rights and yours.

Does it put most companies into a bind when someone calls in sick? Yes. Is there any way to eliminate all sick days from your company? Not completely. A few honest conversations will help your employees to feel comfortable talking to you about their workloads and their mental health. For those employees who take days off because they feel entitled to them and are not part of the team will decide to move on to other opportunities.