Maintaining contact during any absence

For many reasons being absent from work can be a difficult time so it is important to maintain regular contact with those off because of long term sickness throughout their absence and not just when a return to work is imminent. This will help with any feelings of isolation and will help the individual to keep up to date with what’s going on at work.

Guidance on maintaining contact with the employee is available as part of the long term sickness absence management procedure.

Planning for the return to work

It’s important to remember that managers are not expected to understand all medical conditions and what support might be needed or available. A referral to occupational health may be made at any time where there is a concern about the employee’s ability to continue in their current role or to support return to work planning. The occupational health guidance has more information about how a referral can help and the services the Occupational Health team offer.

Returning to work following a long period, such as sickness, can feel daunting even at the best of times. However, during these uncertain times any apprehension is likely to be heightened so discussing any concerns and planning for the return is more important than ever.

Following both short and long term sickness absences, it is the manager’s responsibility to ensure that employees feel supported, welcomed back to the team and their role, and are updated on any changes that may have occurred during their absence.

As a manager you will need to be mindful that we are not in a steady state at the moment. We are working through how Covid-19 is affecting us now and what precautions we need to take in the future to help support frontline services.  So it’s important to keep checking the FAQs which are being updated regularly to make sure that you provide the right information and level of support to your returning team member.

As early as possible, ideally ahead of the return, take the opportunity to discuss any concerns about the current situation and what support they might need to help with their return.

This will help you to jointly agree a return plan. If they have been absent for a while there will be lots to think about so make sure you have considered all the following:

  • Are there any adjustments (these might be temporary or permanent) that need to be considered to support the return to work (occupational health advice may be needed to inform these)?
  • Do they require a phased return to work? This can be helpful if someone has been absent for some time and/or if their illness has been serious.  A phased return gives the opportunity to build back up to normal contracted hours over a period of up to 4 weeks (whilst still receiving full pay).
  • It is important to take the time to discuss how they are feeling about returning to work? Are they any concerns regarding the current situation that might impact on their return to work? There might be some practical issues such as:
  • Are the current temporary schools/nursery closures going to cause them difficulty in undertaking their role or contracted hours?
  • Is their normal work location clear as some teams have relocated recently due to restructurings and other office moves?
  • Is there a need for a temporary alternative work location due to Covid 19 restrictions, including the need for Social Distancing (for some people this might be working from home for all or part of their working week or from an alternative location)?
  • If they are a key front-line worker make sure they aware of any specific social distancing arrangements or new working arrangements that have been put in place to enable them to undertake their role safely.
  • If they are going to be working remotely do they have all of the equipment they need e.g. laptop/surface pro, monitor, chair etc. If not contact ICT and/or the facilities team ahead of the return so they can help you with these arrangements
  • Do they know how to access wellbeing support should they need it?

Return to work interviews

Return to work interviews are an important part of how we check on our employees wellbeing and see what support they might need. Please take the time to do this on their first day back at work and make a note on DES Manager Self-Service. If someone has been absent for a while, and subject to a phased return or other adjustments it is important to continue to monitor their progress and wellbeing as they settle back and seek further advice from Occupational Health if needed.

Tips and advice to help them to settle back to work

Being away from the working place for a long time means that settling back will need to be supported and structured. So much may have changed, new structures, new ways of working, new intranet pages, new technology (e.g. Skype and Teams etc) as well as some new policies and procedures.

Everyone’s needs will be different, so the best starting point is always to ask. The following questions and prompts will help you with this:

  • What do they need to help them to settle back into work?
  • What areas do they feel they may need more support with?
  • Discuss flexible and remote working arrangements. You will need to liaise with IT as early as possible about any technology requirements.
  • Would it be helpful for them to have a designated ‘buddy’ within the team or elsewhere in the service so they have someone they can contact for any small queries (lots may have changed since they were last at work) or just for a chat if needed?
  • Make sure the employee has meaningful work to do. Consider a project to keep them busy for the first few weeks to help them get used to being back at work and/or working remotely if the team are mainly working remotely at this time.
  • If the team they are working in are now working remotely, consider setting up some orientation calls so that the employee can meet with you and their team virtually on a 1-2-1 basis (this may have changed since they were last at work). To help build rapport, video calls are recommended.
  • Use Skype and Microsoft Teams to increase collaboration across the team. Consider holding ‘team lunches’ or social time to check in with each other.
  • Consider a team WhatsApp to increase social interaction within the team during a period of remote working.
  • If the role they are returning to isn’t front line or business critical, do they have a skillset which could be helpful elsewhere in the organisation?  If so, consider whether it is appropriate to discuss with them registering for the skills agency (internal redeployment pool).
  • Please also ensure that once settled back to work they are up-to-date with any mandatory training; are familiar with the behaviours framework and are aware of the location of the council’s terms and conditions, policies and procedures.

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