Helping people return to work after long term sickness absence

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

Returning to workWe often hear about the issues long-term sickness absence can cause for both employees and employers. For employees, the psychological effect of not being in work, worrying about a loss of earnings, and struggling with no daily routine or structure, can hinder recovery – and for employers, having a valuable member of staff off sick for four weeks or more can seriously dent productivity, and in turn, profits.

However, once an employee has recovered and their sickness absence is over, another set of problems is presented. A return to work after a long period off sick can be a difficult adjustment for employees – so what can managers do to ensure this transition goes as smoothly as possible, and their staff member feels as comfortable as possible coming back to work?

Three key steps to helping with a staff member’s return to work

Firstly, it’s important to keep in regular contact with your employee when they are off sick for a prolonged period of time. The focus of these conversations is not to discuss a return to work date, as this will create increased stress for your employee who may already be worried about that. Instead, you should focus on their wellbeing, and ask them how they are doing and feeling generally. This way, when they do eventually return to work, it won’t be as much of a shock to the system, as they will have been in regular contact with you all along.

Secondly, once your employee has communicated that they will be coming back to work soon, it is important to discuss reasonable adjustments or different ways of working. Depending on their condition, a full-time return to work may not be possible straight away. You could discuss the possibility of a phased return with them; or if they feel that isn’t necessary, make sure to ask them about any adjustments which could be made to the workplace to help make them more comfortable – whether that is a new desk set-up, a risk assessment, or providing supervision or other support. More information on making workplace adjustments can be found on the Fit for Work advice hub.

Most of all, it is vital that you approach an employee’s return to work in an open and sensitive manner. Operating an open-door policy so that the employee can always approach you with any concerns, communicating openly and listening well during any meetings is extremely important in making staff feel supported. Encouraging colleagues to help in the employee’s return to work process is also good practice – it can promote a positive team spirit and shows the employee that they are valued by the company, which will make them feel welcomed back and happy to get back to work.

Employees are now able to visit their GP to ask for a referral to the Fit for Work service, and employers will be able to refer staff members very soon. For any further queries on helping a staff member who is off work sick, visit the Fit for Work advice hub or call the advice line on 0800 032 6235.

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