Conducting a Return to Work Interview 


For support with setting up a Return to Work Interview please contact John Adams on 07881 623119 or 01227 656 888.


Business leaders and managers will be familiar with the circumstances of supporting employees with their return to work, typically following longer term absences such as from maternity, sick leave or agreed sabbaticals.  Whilst there are no specific legal requirements, the government Fit for Work occupational health scheme, scrapped in 2018, provided sensible suggestions for the conduct of return to work interviews.  However, the uniquely challenging circumstances of the return to work for employees who have either been working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, or were amongst the furloughed workers, are likely for many to go far beyond the challenges they might face following a more “normal” absence. Although both businesses and employees are likely on the whole to have a shared aim of getting back to normal, this is likely to be far from smooth in many cases, making a structured and planned return to work process even more worthwhile. 


Part of the challenge for many businesses in supporting individuals returning to work during the Covid-19 pandemic is the pure scale of employees returning. With over 9.4 million employees and 1.14 million employers supported by the Government Job Retention Scheme in the height of the crisis, it follows that many organisations will potentially have far more individuals returning to work within a relatively short period of time than would otherwise likely be the case from normal circumstances. This statistic does not include the many more millions of workers who have been working from home during the pandemic, and for whom a return to their work environment will also present challenges. Inevitably, paying due diligence to a set process designed to ensure large numbers of individuals are able to successfully return to work, feel comfortable in their environment. and able to achieve previous levels of operational effectiveness will take time and effort for managers who face many competing priorities. 


The key steps of the recommended Fit for Work interview process are applied below with suggested considerations to allow for the return of furloughed workers. 


Welcome back to work: 


It is important to consider that one size is unlikely to fit all when applying an approach to welcoming furloughed employees or those who have worked from home back to a work environment. Whilst a group and team welcome from a business leader or manager will go some way toward reassuring employees regarding the future aims and intentions of the organisation, and their jobs, it can’t be assumed that this will address all of the specific concerns individuals may have. Where feasible, the following steps are recommended:





Crucial updates:


Within the first interview, the manager should brief the employee of events that have taken place during the whole period of the crisis. It is recommended to include a wider briefing relating to the overall performance of the business, as well as more specific detail relating to their individual department, role and operational set up. 





Identify adjustments:


Effort should be made to identify any specific adjustments which may support the individual in making the transition back to work, or adapting to the return to work of their colleagues. Due to Covid-19 social distance requirements, many businesses may find they have no option but to apply a rotational approach for employees at work. Careful consideration should be given to the following areas in particular:





Create a plan: Establishing a plan together with the employee, however structured or informal this may be, conveys a positive message of support and reassurance, in particular where the employee has demonstrated a degree of anxiety. Even when the employee does not display concerns at the outset, creating the opportunity for periodic and regular reviews of their personal circumstance and work requirements demonstrates that every effort is being made to identify whether or not any reasonable adjustments are needed. All plans should be subject to review and changes made where necessary, in agreement with the employee. 


Confirm absence record: If regular absenteeism was an issue with a particular employee prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it may prove prudent to remind them of their situation and reiterate the business stance and potential actions relating to further instances. However, for some this may prove an opportunity to positively address some of the reasons that may have driven previous absenteeism, and start afresh with a new collaborative spirit. Clarity should be given as to what would or would not be counted as absenteeism in future, in particular relating to Covid-19 circumstances. 


Open for questions: Whilst the employer should make good use of open-ended questions throughout the process, concluding the interview by inviting the employee to discuss any specific areas of concern they wish to raise will ensure the opportunity is not missed to identify any unforeseen issues. It is important to allow time for this point within the interview and not appear rushed or unwilling to explore them further. 


We are keen to support you throughout the talent management process so feel free to contact us for further information on conducting interviews or are interested in any of our FREE Interview Strategies resources. 

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