Return to Work Top Tips

Returning to work after a long absence can take some adjustment, and for some, it’s like starting a new job. David Jackson offers top tips on ways to best support employees, ensuring an easy transition back into the world of work.

Being out of the workplace can have a big impact on people. Whether they have been away for a period of sickness, on parental leave or for some other reason, returning to work is a process rather than an event. By following some simple tips, you can help make an employee’s return a success and identify any issues or challenges that you may need to overcome together.

  1. Returning to work can be difficult - encourage your employee to talk about how they feel

    For a busy employer or manager, the return of an employee after some time away can be just one more event in a busy operational calendar. It is easy to slip into assuming that a returner will just pick up where they left off – but returning to work is usually not as easy as that. By making clear to a returner that you understand this can be a difficult time, and giving them space to explore that with you, you can identify any potential issues before they become problems.

  2. Understand what has changed for the individual and the business

    Time away will have been necessitated by something happening, so it’s important you understand what has changed now, that means the individual has returned to work. Asking about home circumstances is always a good thing to do - but be conscious of the fact that some people might not want to talk about their private lives or arrangements. It is also likely to be the case that things have changed at work in the business. Don’t simply rely on an individual ‘catching up’ themselves. If you are too busy, see if you can find somebody else to spend some time re-inducting the person who has been away back into the business.

  3. Recognise the value that being away from work can bring

    Being away can bring some real perspective on how an individual feels and their views of work and their careers. Make the point to your employee that, in a sense, they are coming back with fresher eyes than your own. Having had some distance, how do they see their role and the business? Have they had any thoughts or reflections that they could share with you? How did they feel about coming back and what might that tell you about your organisation?

  4. Set clear expectations and renew your ‘contract’ with the employee

    In one sense, returning is a continuation following a pause. In another sense though, it is a fresh start and a good time to set out what your priorities are and any areas you want the employee to focus on particularly. This can be helpful where there have been previous concerns or issues. A return to work can be viewed as a blank sheet of paper and an opportunity to re-energise both parties.

  5. Encourage your employee to help you understand what would help them.

    Whether the absence from work was due to a problem, or whether as a result of a period of reflection, this is the time to explore what you might be able to do to support your employee in their role. This could be exploring different ways of helping them manage responsibilities outside work, managing a new health condition, or just approaching a relationship with colleagues differently. Don’t overpromise – you probably won’t be able to deliver on everything your employee would like – but do try and be creative in exploring possible solutions or improvements. 

Returning to work will be a different experience for different people, so there is no single way to get it right. But by listening, being creative, and recognising that it is normal to find this challenging, you can help your employee to make the transition back into your organisation an effective and successful one.

Author: David Jackson is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Twin Kingdom Consulting

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