The media is full of stories about how many business days’ sick leave costs.  The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conduct an annual survey of absence management in partnership with Simplyhealth.  The annual survey report from CIPD for 2016 reported that, from their survey of 1,000 HR Professionals overall sickness absence levels were 6.3 days per annum, per employee.  The same survey reported that the average cost per employee, per annum of sickness absence for all sectors was £522 and for the public sector £835.  In an organisation employing 50 staff, this cost is equivalent to employing another full time member of staff at the average wage.

Managing sickness absence policies and procedures to reduce absence levels and improve productivity generally have a number of phases including:

  • Measuring the levels of and reasons for absence
  • Implementing “wellbeing” and preventative measures
  • Managing the employee while they are absent
  • Managing the employees return to work

The CIPD survey identified that the methods organisations rank as most effective for managing absence are occupational health involvement and return-to-work interviews for long-term absence and return-to work interviews and trigger mechanisms to review attendance for short-term absence.  Clearly, how an employee returns to an organisation after a period of sickness absence is crucial to their future absence record and arguably their motivation.  Here at Stephens Scown we regularly deal with enquiries about how to manage sickness absence.  Sometimes, though, it can be easy to forget that managing someone’s return to the workplace can be just as important and as difficult as managing their absence.

There is no silver bullet to make the return successful and a range of behaviours will be important, with adjustments to take into account the reasons for and length of the underlying absence.

At all times use good people management skills including effective communication, sensitivity and understanding.

Make sure you know the latest medical advice on hours, duties etc. but be careful about how widely known this information is, and at this point, it’s more about the person than their illness or condition.

Talk to the employee’s line manager, who is the employees first contact point and responsible for their day to day management, to identify any possible underlying reasons for the absence e.g. performance issues, conflicts with other employees including the line manager etc. It is possible that the line manager is part of the reason for poor sickness records of the employee so this would need to be dealt with carefully.

Get in contact with your employee before they return and make sure they know what’s going to happen.

Have a return to work meeting on your employee’s first day back and;

  • check how they are feeling and identify any underlying reasons for the absence,
  • update on relevant things that have been happening while they have been away, and,
  • offer support and reassurance.

For employees who have been seriously ill and absent from work for longer periods, a return to work interview before their proposed return date will assist with establishing their fitness to return and reintroducing them to work. This could include discussion of a phased return to work and any adjustments to their work and/or workplace.

Manage the early days after the employees return carefully and keep everything under review and maintain regular contact to ensure they are recovered and coping.

Keep going! It’s easy to return to business as usual once an employee is back at work but they may need support for some months to come and there need to be routes to make that happen.

Please also see our video on “how do I handle someone returning from sick leave” by clicking on the following link: 

Philip Waite is a paralegal in our employment team. To discuss managing sickness absence or any other employment issue call 01392 210700 or email