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Welcoming a staff member back after long term sickness

What’s the most important part of a back-to-work plan?

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From escalating sick pay and overtime costs, to the squeeze on resources as the team pulls together to complete an absent employee’s duties – a recent article in Personnel Today highlights the strain a long term sickness can put on a business. So of course it’s great to welcome a staff member back to work after a long time away.

But most of us will also be aware that a returning employee could be facing ongoing health concerns and feeling stressed about the work they have missed. This is why a good sickness absence strategy should be in place to enable them to make an effective contribution to the business, while at the same time being sensitive to their current health needs. Here are some of the ways this can be done:

Communicate: Regular communication and support throughout the absence may help re-integrate an employee into the workplace more quickly – as you can quickly adjust their workload to suit their recovery upon return.  Checking in regularly can also help reassure employees who are worried about finances or job safety during absence, and let them know that they continue to be a valued member of the company.

Make adjustments: Following the arrival of the fit note in April 2010, doctors can now suggest that employers implement things such as a phased return, flexible hours, altered duties and changes to the working environment to get returning employees back to work quicker. It’s been proven that a return to work can help recovery in some situations – so you may find such adjustments could help a staff member get back to their usual role quicker if they’re unable to resume normal duties straight away.

Plan and review: Every case of long-term absence is different, so while some employees might resume their normal activities sooner than expected, others may never be able to continue with their job as it was. Creating a tailored plan, which has clear goals, timeframes and review points can help you prepare for any effects the absence could have on the business – and ensure the staff member is happy with the company’s efforts to get them back to work.

It’s now been over a year since the fit note has come into effect, do you think it has helped the back to work process after a long-term sickness? Or did your workplace have an effective plan already in place? Feel free to share your thoughts on long term absence management in the comments.

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