Royal Mail delivers insight into back-to-work interview stress

Researchers from Cardiff University have developed an online, interactive “desk aid” to help line managers conduct return-to-work interviews with employees.

The tool was unveiled at the Society of Occupational Medicine’s annual scientific meeting in June by senior medical research fellow Dr Deborah Cohen, and came out of work conducted with Royal Mail.

The team assessed the conversations managers had with employees on their return to work after sickness absence and then worked with Royal Mail managers and employees to investigate the nature of that communication and its potential difficulties and misunderstandings.

Employees often saw the interview very differently to managers, with employees feeling anxious about returning to work and looking to their managers for support.

A questionnaire of more than 1,000 Royal Mail employees also found the two most important factors in improving return-to-work interviews were the line manager showing understanding and acting fairly and consistently with absence procedures.

“What this study suggests is that even with good procedures and processes in place to manage attendance, a key factor that influences outcome is the conversation bet-ween the line manager and employee,” said Dr Cohen.

The tool asks the manager for views on the outcome of discussions and includes an accompanying desk aid for managers, providing information on common illnesses and handy tips on interviews. Managers are also given a leaflet on work, health and well-being.

The tool is now being piloted more widely by Royal Mail, with other pilots taking place at a local authority and NHS Trust to see whether it can be developed into a more generic programme.

● Royal Mail Group last month won the Business in the Community Example of Excellence in the category Healthy Workplace Award. The company’s health and wellbeing programme supported by Atos Healthcare has reduced sickness absence by 7%, and saved more than £15m in absence costs.

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