Could you reduce long-term sickness absence with return to work interviews?

Long-term sickness absence represents more than just misery for an employee. Unexpected absences can disrupt projects, create backlogs of work and compound the pressure on other staff.

It’s hardly surprising that a recent report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) estimates the cost of long-term sickness absence (6 months or more) at £4.17 billion.

The report also estimates that early intervention – and the offer of support – can reduce the length of long-term absences by 17 per cent.

So how can your business support employees and reduce the impact of sickness absence?

In some cases, managers may be able to help employees manage health issues so that they can stay in work. A cooperative attitude – rather than an adversarial atmosphere – can encourage employees to seek solutions that benefit all parties.

Return to work interviews

Managers should be trained to conduct effective return to work interviews following any period of sickness absence. These conversations are not intended to penalise or intimidate employees, but should provide an opportunity to discuss the employee’s health issues.

Managers should assume that the employee was legitimately ill, but use the interview as an opportunity to learn more about the reasons for the absence.

Prevent presenteeism

By being politely and reasonably inquisitive about an employee’s health, managers can discover the causes of the absence, and ascertain whether the employee is truly well again.

During a return to work interview it may become apparent that an employee is still unwell. In such cases it may be prudent to encourage the employee to remain off work until they have fully recovered.

Train your managers to deal with sickness absences

Give your managers the skills to handle both long- and short-term sickness absences so that small issues do not escalate into big problems. As well as a full suite of performance management eLearning, we offer a guide to sickness absence.

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