Return to work perspectives

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It is good practice for organisations to conduct a return to work interview following a period of long-term sickness absence. Keeping the interview objective, based on facts and not influenced by personal feelings or opinions is easily achievable with the right planning and preparation. 

Be organised, brainstorm from each perspective of the parties involved as detailed below, before you conduct the return to work interview. This will then provide you with a solid framework for discussion that is going to ensure you remain focused and fair. Using your judgement of the facts relevant to each of the 3 perspectives is going to eliminate emotion and keep you on track to staying objective. 

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Schedule a face to face informal return to work interview once you know when the employee will be back at work. Communication is vital for success, plan for reviews during the initial return period and these will vary depending upon whether a phased return is in place. Explain and discuss any changes to their work role or responsibilities. Where appropriate set and agree new objectives for the future, short-term and longer-term, use these as the basis in your agreed return to work review plan. This approach will enable you to support the individual and facilitate discussion should any further changes need to be made.

Prepare yourself for the interview thinking about each of the following different perspectives: your own, the employee and the 3rd person.

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  • Your perspective: be positive, supportive and welcoming. You don’t need to become a medic and fully understand the individual’s illness, it is more important to be a good manager. Be sensitive, understanding and aware of the situation. Support any recommended adjustments that you consider reasonable and ensure they are in place prior to the employee’s return to work where practicable (or at least ensure they are in hand). Make sure you comply with the Equality Act 2010  Duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for their staff. Eliminate any emotion and focus on facts to help inform your decision-making, remember happy staff are proven to be more productive!
  • The employee’s perspective: they will benefit from a sense of normality. It is important for their rehabilitation to regain financial independence, this will impact and improve their self-esteem and self-respect. The benefits to them of getting back in the workplace will have a positive impact on their health. Helping to keep their first few weeks back at work as low stress as possible is key. In your preparation think about how to avoid triggers for stress.
  • The 3rd perspective: think about how the individual’s return to work will affect the rest of your team, other employees in the business/organisation or possibly external clients/customers. If appropriate, how will you communicate any changes to make the return to work as seamless as possible for the individual and the 3rd parties involved? Thinking and planning around the bigger picture is going to help set the scene for how the individual can integrate back into their role successfully.

At the end of the day, everyone’s goal is to get back to business as usual or to create a new positive ‘usual’ – for all involved that you can move forward with. 

Have you used any other techniques to help stay objective in a return to work interview?