Mythbusting.  Don't neglect absent employees.

Myth: Contacting absent employees is harrassment

It is commonplace to think that if your employees are off sick, you should not ‘bug’ them with what could feel like ‘intrusive’ phone calls or e-mails. Some even think that it could be classed as harassment to keep in regular contact with a sick employee. This is a myth.

Reach out to support employees’ recovery

Unfortunately this misconception is widespread and it is rare to find managers who stay in touch with their absent employees on a regular basis. In fact, staying in touch is a way maintain a healthy relationship. What should be the norm within any company is a feeling that contacting your employee shows that you, the manager or employer, care about the employee. You are looking to support your employee to health and back to work.

Checking in, not checking up

Keeping in regular contact will also stand you in good stead if the case for one reason or another ends up in a tribunal. In any case, your employee should feel that you are ‘checking in on them’ as opposed to ‘checking up on them’. Your tone of voice and manner is crucial in this. If the employee feels worried or threatened by the impending call, it is all too easy to ignore their phone and leave their managers guessing the details. This wastes time and energy. It can delay interventions that the company could be arranging e.g. Occupational Health referrals or even adjustments to help them come back.

Regular contact improves chances of a return

Especially in cases where there is a chance the absence will become longer term or if it is stress-related, it’s important to keep the employee up-to-date on changes in the workplace. Having regular contact with the employer reduces the chances of absentees developing ‘fear of the unknown’ and that way building barriers to a return to work. The prospect of returning is a lot less scary if you know what to expect.

Remind employees of policy and benefits

Welfare calls should also be utilised to promote relevant employee benefits. For example, reminding employees of your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or Private Medical Insurance (PMI) can reduce the recovery time and speed up the treatment. Other benefits, such as discounted gym memberships could really benefit employees with musculoskeletal or general long term health issues, a bicycle scheme could be of use to those who have problems with transport or your company may even have a scheme for child care which could help employees struggling to juggle work and caring for their children.

Another important factor to discuss whilst chatting to your employee is the general company policy on absence. If your employee needs to produce a sick note, remind them to do so. If they have to check in with certain line or department managers when sick as part of their contract, tell them. It should never be the case that employees return to work in confusion or in trouble for something they did not know was wrong.

Make time for welfare calls and plan them in advance

As a general rule, contact should be made from the employer to the employee shortly after the start of the absence and then at regular intervals, e.g. weekly or fortnightly. Even though the employee is responsible for keeping their employer up-to-date on their situation and recovery, it is useful for the manager to make an outbound call to discuss this in more detail as then they can choose a time when they can pay sufficient attention to what the absentee has to say. It is also good practice to agree when the next call will take place so that the absent employee knows to expect it.