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What’s a return to work interview and why do they matter?

This article will let you know exactly what a return to work interview is, why they’re important, and what you might want to include in them.

You will learn

  • What a return to work interview is
  • Why they're important
  • What you should include in the interview

If your a member of your staff has been off sick for longer than a couple of days, you might need to invite them to a return to work interview once they are back at work. Not only does it show your employee that you’re interested in their personal wellbeing, it also helps you to understand whether they’ll need altered work duties to ensure their continued safety in your workplace. 

What is a return to work interview?

A return to work interview is a conversation between you and your employee that takes place after they’ve been absent for health reasons. You won’t need to conduct them for every odd day off here and there, but if your employee has taken extended time off, anything from three or four days, to weeks or even months, it’s important to chat to them once they return.

Why is a return to work interview important?

First and foremost, checking in with your employee to see how they’re feeling after they’ve been away is incredibly important to show them that you care about them as people, not just employees.

In these conversations, you’ll be able to find out if your employee is fully recovered from their illness, or whether they perhaps need lighter duties until they are fully healthy. Having that element of flexibility with your staff not only shows them that they’re valued, but also makes you a desirable, and health and safety conscious, employer.

Your return to work conversation can also help you make sure that you’re employee isn’t guilty of what’s called presenteeism. Presenteeism is when your staff member comes into work when they really should be off sick, or when they return too early from their illness because they think they’ve taken too much time off already. If you can sit down with your employee, you’ll be able to see whether or not they’re 100% ready to be back in your workspace.

On the other hand, making it your policy to conduct a return to work interview after an absence can also deter people from taking time off unless they’re actually ill. If your staff know they’ll have to sit down with you or one of your managers once they return, it’ll make them think twice about feigning illness to attend a more personal, social engagement.

What can you include in your return to work interview?

There’s no official guide for what you have to include in a return to work interview, but it’s important to make a standardised process in your business to make sure all your staff receive the same treatment. Create your own document of questions to bring to each interview to make sure you’re consistent with all your staff. You might want to ask general questions like:

  • How are you feeling now?
  • Are you on any medication?
  • Will you need lighter duties while you fully recover?

However, as each illness is different, you will need to bring an element of flexibility to the interview. For example, getting the flu is very different to being off with stress, mental health illnesses, or repetitive strain injuries. If the illness originated or was exacerbated by your workplace, you’ll need to find out what parts of the job are causing the problem and make reasonable adjustments.

When managing a longer illness than a cold or food poisoning, it can be useful for you to consider how you can help your employee get “back on the HORSE” by acknowledging the following:

  • Hurdles – what’s stopping them fully returning to work
  • Optimism – focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t
  • Rewards – help them to focus on the rewards of being back in work; the financial, social and psychological rewards of work
  • Schedule – work with them to schedule their full return to work and all their ordinary duties
  • Expectations – manage your own expectations for their workload as well as theirs, as after an illness and during full recovery, expecting too much could lead to a setback in their recovery progress

Coming back to work after time off can be stressful for your employee and you’ll need to make sure they are fully ready and able to re-join your team. Having a standardised process for conducting a return to work interview with your team whenever they’ve been off can be a great way to show you’re interested in their wellbeing and want them to be happy and healthy in your workplace.


Your free guide to Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace

Written by:

Beth Ellin

How's Business content writer

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