24 Aug 2023

What is a return to work interview, and should you do them?

There are many reasons, especially in today’s working landscape, that your employees may take extended breaks from work. How do you facilitate their return, once they are ready to rejoin your organisation? One method that has been gaining prominence, especially in people operations spheres, is the “return to work” interview. But what is it? And is it beneficial for your organisation?

Return to work interview

What is a return to work interview?

A return to work interview is a formal or informal discussion between an employee and their manager following a period of absence. This absence could be due to illness, injury, maternity or paternity leave, a sabbatical, or any extended time off for personal reasons.

The main aim of this interview is not to pry or reprimand but to ensure the smooth reintegration of the employee into their role. It’s an opportunity for both parties to catch up on any changes that have taken place during the employee’s absence and address any concerns or requirements they might have upon returning.

What is the best time to conduct a return to work interview?

Timing is pivotal. Ideally, the interview should be conducted on the employee’s first day back or within the first week of their return. This ensures that any issues or adjustments are addressed promptly, making the transition smoother for both the employee and the organisation.

It’s essential to note that the length and reason for absence might dictate the nature of the interview. For instance, if an employee has been away on a short sick leave, a brief, informal chat might suffice. In contrast, longer absences such as a sabbatical might require a more structured approach.

Why should you conduct a return to work interview?

Improved communication

The interview acts as a bridge, filling any communication gaps that might have developed during the employee’s absence. It’s an avenue to update the returning employee on any team or organisational changes.

Enhanced wellbeing

For employees returning from illnesses or medical procedures, the interview provides a platform to discuss any workplace adjustments or continued medical needs.

Boosts morale

Demonstrating genuine concern for an employee’s welfare can bolster their morale and increase their sense of belonging. They are not just “another employee” but a valued member of the team.

Reduces absenteeism

Regular return to work interviews can identify recurring or underlying issues causing frequent absenteeism. By addressing these concerns proactively, companies can potentially reduce overall absenteeism rates.

Sets expectations

The interview can be used to reset and clarify performance expectations, ensuring the returning employee knows what is expected of them in the coming weeks and months.

How do you conduct a return to work interview?

  1. Choose the right Setting. The environment should be private and free from interruptions. This will help the employee feel at ease, facilitating an open and honest discussion.
  2. Prepare in advance. Review the employee’s attendance records, the reason for their absence, and any other pertinent information that might inform the discussion.
  3. Begin on a positive note. Start the interview on a positive note. Welcome the employee back and express that they were missed. This sets a reassuring tone for the rest of the conversation.
  4. Attempt to understand your employee. Approach the conversation with empathy. Ask open-ended questions to understand the employee’s perspective. Avoid jumping to conclusions or making the employee feel as though they’re under scrutiny.
  5. Discuss any adjustments. If the employee requires temporary or permanent changes to their work schedule, tasks, or environment, discuss these openly. It’s crucial to ascertain what can be done to facilitate their full return to work.
  6. Document the interview. It is good practice to record the key points discussed during the interview. This provides a reference point for any future discussions or actions.
  7. Follow up. Depending on the nature of the absence, consider setting up a follow-up meeting to review how the employee is adjusting since their return. This reinforces the notion that the organisation is genuinely invested in their well-being.

In conclusion, return to work interviews, when executed correctly, can be instrumental in fostering a positive work environment and ensuring the seamless reintegration of employees after an absence. They signal to employees that their well-being and contributions are valued. Whether or not to conduct them depends on your organisation’s size, culture, and needs. However, in an era where employee well-being is a prime focus, such practices can only enhance the rapport between employers and their teams.