As a busy HR or line manager, you will encounter both short and long-term sickness absence in your team and organisation. By following a few simple steps, you can encourage and support your employees’ return to work more effectively. This delivers increased morale, reduced absenteeism, increased commitment to returning to and attending work, and eliminates a potential management headache for you.

Maintain contact

Studies show that when an employee has been off work for more than 3 weeks, psychologically, it is much harder to return no matter what the health issue is. Keeping in regular contact, asking how they are, showing they are missed and providing updates on the workplace, really improves the individual’s connection to their team and the workplace.  If the person feels their Manager or colleagues don’t care whether they are in work or not, they won’t make the effort to come back earlier. So sickness absence time is extended.

Offer Support

When an employee has extended time off and their health is improving, or if they have planned medical treatment, it’s helpful for the employee to start to visualise how they could be supported back to work.  Why not say “When you are feeling well enough to come back we can look at …” and suggest ways the business will look after them as they return.  This helps overcome the nervousness of returning and helps keep them engaged with their job and team. Reducing sickness absence time.

Conduct Return to Work Interviews

These are highly effective interventions in managing sickness absence.  Return to Work interviews help to discourage non-essential sickness absence, welcome the person back into the workplace, helps to cover your essential duty of care and health and safety issues, and updates employees on changes.  Use a standardised form to record your conversations and be clear about outcomes.

Be consistent & genuine

Be genuine and interested when you interact with employees which will help ensure full co-operation as insincerity is very easily spotted and creates animosity.  If you have committed to certain support or actions, then deliver on them. Don’t promise the earth, just do what you say you will do.  Whilst each case is different, as much as possible support the members of your team in a similar manner. This consistent and genuine support reduces sickness absence time.

Be prepared

Don’t be afraid to research the person’s condition and what to expect.  Think about what questions to ask and record the answers.  It’s often beneficial to ask for support from your Occupational Health (OH) service, HR department or experienced colleagues.  OH is highly effective in complex cases, assessing and advising on conditions and suggesting ways to help bring employees back to work earlier.


Health In Action is an expert Occupational Health service provider who works in close partnership with our customers to build healthy and resilient organisations. This sets our customers free to deliver robust and consistent services, whilst ensuring they are meeting essential legal requirements.

Our EasyACCESS™ service is an affordable, on-line, tele-health assessment service.  It enables your staff to connect with a highly qualified OH professional quickly and easily without the need for time-consuming travel. Ideal for busy, returning and remote staff. Save time and money & increase efficiency with convenient, affordable health tele-assessments via phone or Skype. Contact us for your introductory offer.