Phased Return to Work Strategy

How to Help Employees Transition back to Work



118.6 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury. Nearly 560,000 workers suffered a new case of ill health which they believed to be caused or made worse by their work, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) from Great Britain. Additionally, new cases of ill health alone are estimated to cost Britain £10.6 billion, the equivalent of £19,000 per case.

But prolonged leaves of absence due to workplace injuries, illnesses, and accidents are costly not only to employers, but also to employees: the longer you are absent from the workplace following injury/illness, the higher the likelihood that you’ll never return to work and thus the greater the individual and social impacts of the absence. This is the conclusion of a public health research published in BMJ Journals. 

Thus, returning to work soon after experiencing a work-related injury or disease can be an important step of an employee’s recovery. An employee onboarding software, such as introdus, can provide an effective way of managing return-to-work plans and reboarding employees.

This article will illustrate the benefits and guidelines for a phased return to work strategy. It will exhibit a phased return to work example, which also includes a phased return to work schedule. 

Circumstances Requiring a Phased Return to Work


A phased return to work plan can be convenient for employees who have been ill and might be still experiencing residual symptoms, or employees who are returning from a parental leave. A return to work interview will provide an optimum framework for drafting an individual phased return to work plan.

The 2021 Health and Wellbeing at Work Report published by CIPD, singles out the most prevalent conditions responsible for long-term absences:

  • Mental health (clinical depression and anxiety) and stress
  • Musculoskeletal conditions (neck strain and repetitive strain injury, including back pain)
  • Acute medical conditions.

Having good absence management practices in place will give the returning employee the best chance of getting back to work safely, confidently and in a timely way.

According to CIPD, in Great Britain alone 16,400 workers permanently withdraw from the labour market yearly due to workplace injury or work-related ill health; many of them may have stayed in work with better support. This is a significant loss of talent, skills, knowledge and training investment to organisations. By having a phased-back-to-work strategy, some of this loss could have been prevented. 

Phased Return to Work Strategy

Having good absence management practices in place will give the returning employee the best chance of getting back to work safely, confidently and in a timely way.

A Phased Return to Work Plan Example


Although complex, a well managed- and whenever possible early – return to work will benefit both the employer and the employee, reducing both the costs and the risk for the absence becoming long-term (defined as an absence period of longer than one month). 

We are including a phased return to work example that depicts how a phased return to work schedule can be enacted. You can download it below:


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Safeguarding Mental Health: Phased Return to Work after Stress


In recent years it  has  become  increasingly  clear  that  stress  is  a  major  contributor  to  employee  absence. As such, mental health has become one of the issues that employers cannot ignore in order to ensure a healthy work-environment and high-performance business. 

At any one time, one in five working people will have a mental health difficulty, as highlighted by the chief executive for the British Centre for Mental Health, Sarah Hughes: “Many will never get any help. Some end up losing their jobs while for others being at work is an important part of recovering from a mental health problem.”  

A phased return to work after stress could prevent your relapse and help deal with stress triggers. A wellness action plan could be drafted as part of your phased return to work after stress and would ensure that the administrative burden does not become a cause of stress in itself.


Checklist for what to consider when dealing with a case of phased return to work after stress:

  • Finding the stress triggers and ways to avoid them
  • Easing deadlines so as to release the pressure
  • Team-building activities, for a seamless team reintegration

We have drafted an example for a phased return to work after stress to inspire you: 

Phase 1

Return to work interview to investigate the stressors and modalities to deal with/ avoid them. 

Preboarding. Online contact with team and new peers. Have lunch with the team. 

Phase 2

Having the first day back at the office and evaluating the set-up and supplementary needs. Sharing the work plan for the first two weeks with specific tasks and schedules. 

Phase 3

Become re-accustomed to the workflow. Start taking on lighter duties. Participate in team building social activities. 

Phase 4

Start taking on heavier responsibilities and review the ongoing process. Is additional support required?

Phase 5

Reboarding interview evaluation and consider being back to one of the phases above. 

During the entire phased return to work, keep doing evaluation of the process, finding out how you are doing and adjusting from any lessons learned.

Phased Return to Work Strategy

Return-to-work must be a timely, well-supported and well-managed process, based on a structured plan and strategy.

Phased Return to Work Guidelines


Phased-Return-to-Work guidelines refer not only to legal frameworks for compensating and insuring employees when organizing a phased return to work, but also industry-wide best practices. 

Here are some phased return to work guidelines: 

  • Stay updated with current and upcoming legal frameworks (such as Health and Safety Act or an Employment Rights Act)
  • Ensure that the phased return to work strategy and planning is to be designed by taking into account each employee’s individual case and circumstances, the work environment and enterprise needs, legal responsibilities and any additional stakeholders (state institutions, medical practitioners, return to work coordinator and specialist etc).
  • Enforce transparency by setting up written agreements that: can provide ease of comprehension and avoid any misunderstandings that could negatively impact the state of the employee and the overall success of the gradual return to work plan.
  • Include explicit information concerning phased return to work pay rights, i.e. any alterations to the employees original pay. 
Phased Return to Work Strategy

Flexibility at the Forefront: Phased Return to Work


According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, a ‘phased return to work’ occurs when an employee who’s been temporarily absent from work, returns to work on either:

  •   Reduced hours
  •   Light duty work
  •   Different duties

A phased return to work can be an appropriate strategy if you have been ill and might still be experiencing residual symptoms, or if you are returning from a parental leave and need time to adjust to your new life as a parent. 

Phased returns to work are desirable if you require a higher degree of flexibility. This strategy gives you the option to begin working part-time, either on select days of the week or through shortened workdays, thus allowing you to return to work at your own pace. 

Once arrangements are made with regards to the working schedule, a phased return to work strategy could also cover which type of tasks you should perform until you are fully recovered and capable of fully resuming your original duties. 

Below is a phased return to work plan example. In this arrangement, for the period, your payment would be 75 work hours + 65 hours at half pay; meaning a total payment of 107.5 hours paid out of 140 hours. This means a total of 32.5 hours will not be paid. 

If you return with a part-time workload, but resume completely the tasks performed prior to the injury/illness etc, you should receive your original pay-rate for the hours you work together with a sick leave supplement if you are entitled to one. If you no longer perform the same kind of duties as originally, and are downgraded to lighter duty work, then it is up to the employer to determine which pay rate is more appropriate for your new circumstances.

Return-to-work must be a timely, well-supported and well-managed process, based on a structured plan and strategy. This will make the difference between someone staying in and thriving at work, and someone permanently exiting work.

No matter the reason for your absence, you need to have a corresponding return-to-work process that facilitates an efficient and seamless re-integration into your job role and team – in accordance with all applicable laws and safety measures.

Step into a successful returning to work with the proper online platform.


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