Are return to work interviews still relevant in business
Posted on 10th November 2021
This was a question I recently asked my connections on LinkedIn, and I have to say, the response surprised me.
There seems to be a significant divide between managers as to whether a return-to-work interview is beneficial or just causes trust issues.
I can understand why some may think a meeting of this type can feel intrusive for some staff members, however, I do believe that they are essential for several reasons and if done correctly, can actually enhance the trust between the employer and staff member.
Return-to-work interviews should not be in place to catch a staff member out. The purpose is not to find out if an employee ‘pulled a sickie’ because they just felt like a day off. It is to establish a pattern and an opportunity for you, the employer to help.
We all get ill, everyone deals with illness different and in most case staff sickness is genuine. Sometimes, if someone is carrying germs, it is better that they do stay at home and do not risk passing it on to other staff members which could have a huge impact on the business. .
However, if you do not carry out a return-to-work interview, there is no opportunity to open the dialogue.
So, what are the benefits of a return-to-work interview?
It is an opportunity to find out the reason for sickness and establish if the staff member is well enough to return to work.
It gives you a chance to establish a pattern. For example, if a staff member takes a sick day on a Monday or Friday repeatedly, there is obviously a cause for concern from a business perspective.
It gives the employee the opportunity to discuss any health issues with you. Whether physical or mental, this will help both parties to put a plan in place.
It could be that the employee is having personal issues that are not illness related. Perhaps they did not feel they could open up about it but having this meeting gives them that chance.
It can offer you the opportunity to discuss the possibility of reasonable adjustments in the workplace that could encourage the staff member to work during these challenges times if applicable.
It could establish a problem within the workplace, for example a relationship breakdown or workload issue.
It can deter employees from taking unnecessary leave.
It is an opportunity to document everything. If the sickness does become a problem and further steps need to be taken, you will have all the evidence you need from previous meetings.
What should you not do at a return-to-work interview?
As a manager or business owner, it can be difficult to keep an open mind and be objective but when it comes to your staff well-being, that is exactly what you need to do.
❌ You should not come to the meeting with a pre-conceived idea of the reasons behind the absence.
❌ You should not judge an employee for their reasons or take it personally. We are all different and we manage challenges in unique ways.
❌ Never berate a staff member for their reasons for sickness
❌ Do not take disciplinary action without real cause, justification and investigating the matter properly
❌ Avoid intimidation tactics to make a staff member confess any personal issues
A return-to-work interview can help build trust between an employer and their staff members. If managed correctly, it can give you an opportunity to establish the reasons, support them and decide on a plan together.
Use the interview to:
✅ Find out the reason for absence
✅ Establish if it is a one off or ongoing issue
✅ Ask what help they have had, for example, GP tests or medication
✅ Look at any adjustments you could make to help the staff member stay in work
✅ Consider putting a plan in place that you can work on together to improve sickness absence.
Although a return-to-work interview is not a legal requirement, from a HR perspective, it is a smart idea. It may create more paperwork, but that extra admin task could prove to be extremely useful in the future when managing sickness absence. It will also show that the business is treating all sickness absences, short or long, in the same way.
Please do not hesitate to contact email@example.com if you would like to discuss the plan you would like to put in place. Taking HR from 'TO DO' to 'DONE'.
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