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Q&A: How to get an employee back in the saddle

Q: How often should I be in contact with an employee who has been on long-term stress? I am eager to try and get him back to work but I am wondering how to approach the situation and understand sensitivity will be an issue.

A: You are right to try and intervene and yes you will need to be tread carefully. Long-term absence has a huge impact on businesses affecting productivity, increasing costs, and impacting on morale. However, it does also significantly affect the individual’s wellbeing the longer they remain absent from work.

Managing an employee successfully who is absent from the workplace can aid treatment and recovery, a supportive employer and early return to work can improve both mental and physical wellbeing and significantly increase the chances of the individual returning to work. Discussing simple adjustments from an early stage can help workers return before they are 100 per cent fit on amended duties, this approach in turn can improve recovery and increase the chances of them recovering to full capacity in a shorter period.

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In order to encourage and support an individual in a return to work, communication and regular contact is imperative. Contact can be a sensitive issue and caution must be exercised to ensure we are not applying pressure for the individual to come back before they are ready. But little or no contact with an absent employee can make them feel increasingly isolated, undervalued and out of touch with the organisation which can contribute to a delayed recovery.

Try to make contact within a week of the employee going off sick, use discretion and take each case individually as to when you feel the contact is appropriate. Use the contact to create trust and establish an agreement of the frequency and reasons you will be keeping in regular contact. Train your managers regarding taking this sensitive approach and getting the most out of the contact made. Flexibility is important as each case will be different and we need to ensure we are being both fair but also consistent.

It is important not to wait and delay contacting an individual who is absent unless there are sound reasons for doing so; once the communication is broken down it is far more difficult to build the communication back up again. Communicating well from the beginning will prevent a breakdown and a lengthy period without the relevant information on the employee’s condition.

Be aware that although early intervention can help encourage an individual to return, recovery times vary from person to person even when considering the same condition; guidance from medical professionals should be sought for advice on fitness to work and appropriate adjustments in the working environment.

Overall, however, early intervention, effective communication and supportive measures significantly improve the management of long-term absenteeism and encourage a return to work.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured