When a staff member returns from sick leave, the temptation for managers can often be to get them back up to speed with work as soon as possible. However, past research has shown that conducting return to work interviews can have a positive impact on sickness absence rates.
So why could a return to work interview help cut sickness absence rates, and what should it actually involve?
Firstly, by carrying out return to work interviews for all staff after time off sick (even when the absence was for one day), and making it clear in your sickness policy that you will do so, you can discourage occasional or frequent sickness absence.
For those employees who require support returning to work after illness, a return to work interview offers a good way to welcome them back into the workplace and check they are well enough to work. You can also use the return to work interview as a way to give the employee space to discuss any issues they may be concerned about when returning to the workplace, and identify any ongoing workplace adjustments that may be needed.
Treating a return to work interview as a safe space for employees to open up will help support them through the often difficult transition of coming back to work after a long time off. The return to work interview doesn’t need to be overly formal – it should ideally be face-to-face, but it may be a good idea to conduct the interview somewhere away from the office, to ensure the employee doesn’t feel under pressure.
To make the interview as productive and successful as possible, you should:
- ensure that you are really listening to what your employee has to say;
- show an interest in what they are saying and make sure they know that you will take their concerns on board;
- discuss options of support that you can organise to help the transition back into work;
- be objective – don’t allow yourself to be influenced by personal emotions or feelings;
- consider any other options that may help such as a referral to Fit for Work or occupational health;
- ensure you document the discussion and keep on the employee’s personal file;
- ask open-ended questions to encourage your employee to open up (though also remember that an employee does not have to disclose confidential medical details to you).
For more tips on conducting a return to work interview, you can call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 to speak to a dedicated occupational health professional. Employers who have staff members on long term sickness absence can refer them to Fit for Work by visiting the employer section of the Fit for Work website and clicking ‘refer an employee’.