Five ways to make sure return-to-work interviews happen

So you’ve got managers on board with the concept of the return to work interview (or if you haven’t, see last week’s blog!). But convincing people of the business need to be proactive about managing absence isn’t the same as getting them to actually do it.

pointing finger

They may accept that they have a duty of care to make sure employees really are fit to return to work and that the information gleaned during an interview will be useful to the wider business.

But much as they may want to get to the root of what’s happening with their employees and support them in making a successful return, they may still push it to the bottom of the ‘to-do list’, by which time it may be too late to nip problems in the bud or make any necessary adjustments.

So if you are still facing resistance, or can see managers are only paying lip service to following up with their people when they’ve been off sick, what can you do to nudge them in the right direction and make sure that confident, productive conversations actually take place?

1. Make it simple

People are much more likely to do something if you provide them with a process and make it simpler to gather the information that’s needed. If you don’t already have a back to work process in place, or want to update your existing approach, work with key line managers to put it together. That way you are more likely to get their buy in, and uncover potential issues early on. Make sure that whatever information you gather is recorded somewhere – ideally in an online HR system – and mangers can easily access appropriate guidance about what steps should be taken when and why (for example, to cover short or long-term absences, or absences resulting from a workplace incident). An online HR system will help you with this by providing a central place to store documents, and record information. More sophisticated HR systems, like Cezanne HR, can also trigger KPIs and send out reminders that help everyone stay on top of key activities. If you can make return-to-work interviews part of ‘the way we do things around here’, everyone will eventually get on board.

2. Acknowledge their concerns

Sometimes, managers have genuine concerns around talking to employees who have been off sick. They are often worried about straying onto personal territory, upsetting the employee or being seen to infer that the absence may not be genuine. Or perhaps it’s because there is no formal absence management policy in place, and managers are not really sure what they should be doing or and fear they could inadvertently put the business at risk of some kind of legal action from a disgruntled employee. If you suspect that managers are avoiding return-to-work interviews, try to start an open and honest dialogue about why it’s not happening, so that you can provide support and reassurance where necessary.

3. Provide training

Don’t assume that managers will automatically know how to conduct a professional (and legal) return-to-work interview. Make sure they are clear about how your absence management policy works, what the different stages are and when alerts or formal action will be triggered. Provide guidance on the format a typical conversation might take, the type of questions that are appropriate and those that are best avoided. Make sure they are aware of any support or signposting they can offer to employees and of when it’s best for them to refer an issue to HR. Make yourself available to sit in on interviews that look like they may be tricky or to follow up on any recommendations that come out of the conversation.

4. Make it part of their goals

Push the kind of behaviours you want to encourage by making return-to-work interviews something managers are measured on. This calls for support from the very top of the organisation. If leaders make it clear that pro-active absence management is something that is expected and valued, managers are more likely to make it a standard part of their practice. If you can make return-to-work interviews part of ‘the way we do things around here’, everyone will eventually get on board.

5. Introduce benchmarking

There’s nothing like a bit of benchmarking to nudge people in the right direction. Consider publishing sickness absence figures on a departmental or team basis so that managers can see how they are stacking up against others. If a manager can see that sickness in their team is way higher than in other parts of the business, it will encourage them to investigate further and get to the root of what’s really happening.

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