Employee absenteeism costs companies millions of dollars every year in lost productivity and/or increased overtime costs, but ask a manager to quantify the problem -- how many days are missed, who misses them, when the absences occur most frequently -- and it is likely you won't get any definite answers. The vast majority of small and medium-size companies don't keep tabs on employee attendance, and that in itself is part of the problem, says Joel Levy, a partner in the New York City office of Coopers & Lybrand. "You can't solve your Friday problem," he notes, "unless you know you have a Friday problem."

* Education Computer Corp. knew it had a problem, and chose to address it by making attendance a formal part of its employee-appraisal system. The manufacturer of training simulators, headquartered in Strafford, Pa., tracks workers by the week, then provides supervisors with detailed attendance reports every six months. Employees who don't regularly come to work risk losing their pay hikes, or, if unexcused absences aren't eliminated, their jobs.

* The Liebert Corp., a manufacturer of environmental control systems for data-processing installations in Columbus, Ohio, takes a different approach, using rewards as the motivation. The company gives hourly employees three shares of company stock for each year of perfect attendance and two free movie tickets for each unblemished quarter.

* Ugly Duckling Rent-A-Car System Inc., headquartered in Tucson, checks applicants' past attendance records as part of the reference-checking process -- a simple procedure and one that is often overlooked. As president Thomas S. Duck Sr. says, "The best way to solve an absenteeism problem is not to have any absenteeism to begin with."