Return to Work Interviews can significantly contribute to reducing the rates of work absenteeism.

Combating work absenteeism with Return to Work Interviews

Talking to your employees upon their return is a great way of setting up a strong absence management system.

Workplace absence rates have become some of the major issues that HR managers tackle on a regular basis. It is especially relevant in the modern working environments where the staff is driven towards the maximum levels of productivity and cost efficiency.

Interestingly, the average number of sickness absence days that UK workers take has almost halved since records began in 1993, as proved by the figures of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The stats show that some 131.2 million working days were lost due to sickness in the UK in 2017, this is an average of 4.1 days per employee, compared with 7.2 days in 1993.

However, even though diminished in terms of statistics, absenteeism remains an important issue in the working world. Naturally, it has profound effects on the enterprise’s bottom line and thus is always sought to be reduced. At the same time, businesses want to have satisfied, healthy and positive employees with high work engagement. That is why rightly identifying the reasons behind the employees’ days off from the office is a question of vital importance that all HRs need to deal with. Indeed, managing absence is a principal element of a 360’ comprehensive HR strategy.

What makes Return to Work Interviews beneficial

Records demonstrate that a continual completion of Return to Work Interviews (RTWIs) scales down the absence rates: they are praised for being effective in guaranteeing more reliable employee attendance. RTWIs prove that the company pays attention to employees’ days off (this is supposed to discourage non-obligatory absence), but at the same time provides an employer and an employee in question with a valuable chance to talk everything through and prevent any miscomprehension and mutual dissatisfaction.

Return to Work Interviews help with a number of things: they are designed to welcome an employee back to work, reveal full information on the employee’s current health issues, clear up if there is anything that the company can do to support the worker (and thus help the company meet its duty of care for the staff’s wellbeing), update the person on any matters that may have cropped up during his/her absence, get to the root of what has happened (and if there is a more serious underlying condition) and, of course, ensure that the employee’s absent record is correct, and there is a complete transparency between the employee and the employer. Collecting and analysing this information on a constant basis may result in noticing certain absence trends.

How to hold Return to Work Interviews

To keep best practice in return to work interviews, you should make sure that employees have a clear understanding that the business has a serious approach to all absence leaves.

It is crucial to be well-prepared: ensure you bring all relevant documents, write down the absence dates and the history of the employee’s previous sicknesses. However, do not be too formal or exaggeratedly stiff: remain sensitive, especially if the employee has been off for a long time.

You surely need to guarantee employees’ personal medical data confidentiality. Do not ask intrusive questions about heath conditions – however, seek to establish the real cause of the absence. It is advised to conduct interviews in a private space where no one can hear it. Keep RTWIs’ notes in a safe place and, if the notes are stored digitally, put passwords or other protection on the files.

The structure of an interview should be simple and not misleading. The questions you are going to ask should be open, leaving an employee a chance to freely express him-/herself. For instance, show that you are interested to know how the person actually feels, ask questions like “How is it being back in the office?” instead of a more straightforward “Are you happy to get back to work?”, which only suggests a yes/no answer, without any individual touch. It is best to have a template for all Return To Work Interviews you conduct – this will ensure a high level of consistency and equality in treating different staff members.

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