How to: Improve the effectiveness of Return to work interviews

Return to Work (RTW) interviews have proven to be an effective absence management tool. Many companies have already incorporated the practce of conducting RTW Interviews into their absence management policies. However, many managers still struggle to undertake effective interviews – or even to find the time to carry them out at all.

It is important that the interviews are conducted in the right way so that they don’t become a meaningless paper exercise.  Here are 5 steps to improve RTW interviews in your organisation and to ensure they have the most positive impact on your company’s absence patterns:

1. Line manager training

Ensuring that all the responsible line managers fully understand the importance and use of RTW interviews will make sure that the interviews are undertaken thoroughly and on time. By guiding them in what questions to ask and the appropriate manner in which to ask them, RTW interviews can only be positive. Also ensure that they know the necessary procedures to take to enable an effective return to work (in the case of serious or long term illness).

2. Structured and electronic interview forms

Every company may require their RTW interview to contain slightly different questions and detail reflecting the company policy and specific health & safety protocols.

To ensure there is no confusion, you should have a RTW interview script to guide line managers during the interview and a set format for logging the interview notes. This should include all the relevant questions and signpost what types of answers are required.

Electronic questionnaire forms are recommended because they allow the form to be responsive and ask follow-up questions based on the previous answers. They are also much quicker for busy managers to complete. Furthermore, taking your interview forms online is strongly recommended because it makes storage easier and means that it’ll be easy to retrieve the documents if you need them in the future. You would be surprised to know how often hard copies of paperwork go walkabouts!

3. The power of Day-1

As often as possible, RTW interviews should be conducted on the employee’s first day back at work. Not only does this speed up the cycle of an employee returning to work in the right conditions, it also shows that from a managerial perspective, your absence has been noticed and is deemed important. The interview’s impact deflates the longer it takes for the manager to get around to having the discussion.

4. Show interest and listen

Instead of a purely disciplinary atmosphere, managers should use the time with the employee to show that they care.

Welcome the employee back, ask them if there are any underlying issues the company can help them with, update them on any changes or new information they have missed while away, and, importantly, discuss their workload. Setting revised targets or explaining how their workload has been covered during their absence can help ease any worries they have had about returning to work.

Making sure the discussion is a proper interview instead of a simple paper exercise ensures it is used to its fullest potential as the first opportunity to prevent an absence pattern from developing.

5. Appropriate further interventions

The RTW interview isn’t always the end of the story. In some cases further management action or medical interventions may be necessary. Managers should not hesitate to take follow-up action where appropriate. The first step is usually a formal or informal review meeting, of which more in the next chapter. In more complex cases, other options may need to be considered and the final section of this book explains the procedures to implement some of these further actions, which could include:

  • a phased return if the employee isn’t fully fit for their normal role
  • a capability procedure if the employee’s long term fitness for the role is under question
  • an OH referral, if more definitive medical advice is needed

If you need any more information on conducting RTW interviews, please contact us.