Success of return-to-work interviews relies on good line managers

Line managers need to be confident and competent for return-to-work interviews to have the greatest impact, according to a report published exclusively on XpertHR.

Nearly half (48%) of employers thought that their organisations did not use return-to-work interviews consistently and many blamed this failure on the shortcomings of line management.

Rachel Suff, author of the report, said: “Some of the problems relating to line managers’ competence in carrying out return-to-work interviews are surmountable if employers are able to offer effective training.”

Top reasons for failure to conduct return-to-work interviews:

  • line managers were uncomfortable having difficult conversations (72%);
  • line managers did not buy in to the need for managing absence (61%);
  • line managers were too busy (57%).

The majority (94%) of employers said they conducted return-to-work interviews with employees who had been off sick, and more than two-thirds (68%) reported that their organisations’ absence rates had fallen as a result.

The report also found that many companies did not use different approaches for different types of absences. Four in five employers used the same procedures for conducting return-to-work interviews whether the absence was long-term or short-term, and more than three-quarters did so when the employee had been absent due to a disability.

According to XpertHR guidance, employers should distinguish between sickness absence and disability-related leave in relation to return-to-work interviews and any disciplinary consequences.

Suff added: “It may be better for an employer to agree with each employee who has a disability what is relevant. This means an individual with a known condition, who is diligent at all other times, need not be subjected to repeat return-to-work interviews if they are not necessary.”

The 2010 XpertHR survey on return-to-work interviews looked at 166 organisations.

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