Line Managers role vital in the return-to-work process

A recent poll conducted by XpertHR of 339 employers found that the most effective means of reducing long- and short-term absences is to have line managers take a more active role in engaging with the return-to-work process.

Here we look at some of the ways in which line managers can be effective in doing so.

Research funded by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation concluded that line managers attitude and behaviour towards employees returning to work is a key component to ensuring that their return is successful.

During an employee’s absence, especially if it’s long-term (4 or more weeks of continued absence) it’s important to communicate regularly with them either via telephone or email, allowing for the general focus of the conversation to be centred around their wellbeing, but also offering work updates so as to make sure they still feel a part of things.

It’s important to reiterate that the company will support an employee during their absence, and offer reassurance that their job is there for them when they return, and that they shouldn’t feel pressured to return before they are ready and well enough to do so.

Before an employee returns to work talk them through the return-to-work process, which may initially include assigning lighter duties and/or a phased return.

When an employee returns to work, make sure to meet with them on their first day back, to check in with them and make sure they are comfortable with any procedures and/or adaptations that have been made to their role in facilitating their return; and also to assure them that as their line manager you are there for them if they need to talk – it’s important to encourage an open line of communication.  Be proactive, and arrange further meetings, which while remaining objective, don’t have to be in the format of a formal sit-down.

As a line manager you should feel comfortable in seeking further information and/or advice, either from HR or occupational health about an illness affecting an employee, and what practical adjustments can be made to help facilitate their return to work.  Although it’s good to keep in mind that the most important role you can have as a line manager in an employee’s return to work is not to be all knowing regarding their condition, but to be approachable, sensitive and accessible.

Further reading and resources:

Manager support for return to work following long-term sickness absence: Guidance

Managing rehabilitation: A competency framework for managers to support return to work