Return to work interviews are not at the top of any managers list of favourite tasks. They can feel intrusive and an exercise in stating the obvious.

When we have a list of questions set out in front of us, we feel duty bound to follow them and that’s where managers can come unstuck.

So, give this structure a whirl. It is proven to turn awkwardness into a comfortable and constructive conversations by:

  • Putting the questions asked into context and as a result making them feel less intrusive.
  • Putting the emphasis on the constructive nature of the meeting by focusing on the ‘welcome back’.
  • Helping to set a clear plan for the next steps.

Don’t worry, it will still cover all the important information the list of questions is designed to capture too. For a deeper dive into how to use this technique to welcome your employees back to work, watch this video.

Talk About the ‘Here and Now’

Kick off by telling the employee how good it is to have them back, and ask them if they feel fit enough to be back.

If they have any reservations or medication that might affect their return to work, be sure to acknowledge that it’s important to talk about it, and that you’ll need some more context.

Then, Look Backwards

This stage of the conversation is designed to gather the reasons and causes for the absence. Try a question such as ‘tell me what caused you to be off work’ to start with.

If the cause of the absence was injury or stress related, we need to understand whether work caused or contributed. To do this, open questions are your friends. Try something like ‘what was the cause of you feeling stressed?’ or  ‘how did you injure your knee?’.

If you get a direct response such as ‘I fell off a ladder’ – try a question funnel to get to the detail needed.

Remember that the aim of this stage of return to work interviews is to untangle whether any other steps are needed, for example, getting Health and Safety involved or logging something in the accident book.

Time to Look Forwards

The final stage in the structure is to ask the employee to confirm whether they feel able to return to their full range of duties and hours. If coming straight back to work isn’t the right solution, adjourn and speak to HR.

If short term adjustments are needed – be specific as to what they are and for how long they are required. Look to pre-arrange regular reviews running up to your agreed timescale. Of course one or two days off with a cold and this may not be necessary – but if the absence is more involved it might be required.

It’s a good idea to bring the conversation to a close by running over the employees absence record. Has it reached a policy trigger point? If so, take the next steps as identified. If you need to go more formal – we have another guide to what an invite to an attendance management meeting has to say (and why!) here.

And finally, you can dust off the list of questions that we put aside at the beginning as a quick checklist to see that everything has been covered.  

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