With more and more employees being signed off work with stress-related conditions, it is essential that managers and HR departments take the time to reintegrate them back into the workforce when they are ready to return and minimise the likelihood of them taking further time off.
The use of return to work interviews
The time at which an employee should attend a return to work interview is entirely up to the company. Some will have them even for short periods of absenteeism, whereas others reserve them for those who have taken an extended time off.
The structure of these interviews can also vary, with some departments conducting them fairly casually and others having a more formal approach. You may want your employees to complete and sign back to work forms, with examples available online. These can include a signature of self-certification, an ongoing log of their absence rates, and questions regarding any treatment they may be undergoing and the risk of the issue reoccurring.
Benefits of back to work interviews
It is important to handle return to work interviews carefully to ensure the employee does not see you as being intrusive, which is especially important if they have been off with stress. A well-structured and conducted interview can establish what caused the stress and whether this is purely work related or also down to outside factors. It will help you to see how serious the concerns are and whether the employee is fit enough to return.
Throughout the interview, you can talk about ongoing support or treatment and how you as an employer can support them. This could be through the benefits package you provide or simply allowing time off to attend appointments. When an employee is returning to work, you also need to be aware of any reasonable adjustments that are necessary and whether you require an occupational report before they can come back.
Setting up an interview
An employee needs to be aware of the interview in advance and have time to prepare for it. It should take place before they begin work and adequate time needs to be available for proper discussion about their concerns. It is important to make them aware of the confidentiality clauses and who will be informed of the outcomes, such as the HR department or managers, and hold the meeting in private.
During the interview, you should be supportive of the employee and take their emotional state into consideration; for example, they may not want to talk about the reasons for their absence or they could be embarrassed about having time off. Make sure they have time to talk, listen to what they have to say, and ask questions without appearing to be intrusive.
It is important to go into a return to work interview with an open mind about the reasons behind their absence; however, if you have any concerns that these reasons are not genuine, you need to bring this up and allow the employee to give an explanation before taking the matter any further.
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