No Image Available

Mike Blake

PMI Health Group


Read more about Mike Blake

The strategic path to supporting staff on their return to work


Employees can often find returning work following long-term sickness absence a difficult and overwhelming experience, with relapses a regular occurrence. Carefully planned return-to-work programmes to support staff are crucial if these relapses are to be avoided.

1/ In order to appropriately support employees, line managers may require training and guidance from Human Resources and Occupational Health advisors.

They must be fully aware of their responsibilities, be capable of demonstrating good people management skills and act with sensitivity to employees’ health and wellbeing requirements.

2/ To help prevent employees exacerbating their symptoms and suffering excessive fatigue, a phased return to work should be implemented where necessary. By returning to their full workplace responsibilities gradually, over a period of time, members of staff should feel less pressure and be able to cope better with their job demands.

Suitable timescales to build back up to a normal routine, and wider working hours arrangements, must be agreed in consultation with employees and, where necessary, an Occupational Health professional.

3/ Offering flexible working arrangements involves balancing the needs of an employee with needs of a business – but such moves can give employees valuable support to adjust to the demands of returning to work after a lengthy absence.

4/ Transport to and from work can prove a significant hurdle for some employees who have to contend with a disability or a condition that prevents them from driving. Assistance with transport, which may involve organising lifts with co-workers for example, can be extremely beneficial.

Help for disabled employees may be available through the government’s Access to Work Scheme.

5/ Individuals requiring rehabilitation, counselling and medical assessments should be granted time off work to receive treatment.

Sensitivity to employees’ healthcare needs would include making them aware of any benefit schemes offered by the company that may support rehabilitation.

Face-to-face counselling sessions for stress-related illnesses may be available via EAPs, for example, while PMI policies can provide access to a variety of treatments to assist recovery, such as physiotherapy. If treatment can help prevent incidents of absence becoming insurance claims, cover may be also be available through Group Income Protection policies.

6/ Employment capabilities may change for employees returning to work after a period of sickness absence – and occupational duties should be revised, where necessary, to reflect this.

Where duties do have to be modified, managers may have to consider re-allocating work to colleagues and addressing any possible implications of this.

In some cases workers may be more vulnerable to health and safety risks, depending upon the nature of their illness, injury or disability, or the side effects of medication. Where this is the case, the Health and Safety Executive recommends that employers review and amend the risk assessments required under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

7/ Additional training may be required in some cases to enable workers to carry out their day-to-day tasks. This can be particularly important for employees that lack confidence in carrying out a job function that has been responsible for causing stress-related absence.

Typically, the longer the absence the greater the need for managers to arrange refresher courses.

8/ The disability discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010 require organisations to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled employees before they can return to their job.

Occupational Health practitioners should conduct assessments well in advance of a return to work, enabling any necessary changes to be made to buildings, furniture, workstations, equipment or tools. These might include providing a ramp for people who find steps difficult, improving lighting for visually-impaired workers or lowering shelving for those suffering, or recovering, from other physical disorders.

9/ Support for employees can also be offered by moving the tasks they have to undertake to more accessible areas or closer to washing and toilet facilities.

10/ In some cases, psychological support from an employer can be as important as physical assistance. Line managers should set out to foster a supportive culture, making themselves available to meet with individuals on their first day back at work and setting out to make their first few weeks back a stress-free experience.

Where employees consent to colleagues being made aware of their health conditions, they can play an important role in aiding the rehabilitation process and creating a positive team spirit. 

No Image Available
Mike Blake


Read more from Mike Blake

Get the latest from HRZone

Get the latest from HRZone.


Thank you.