A Comprehensive Guide on Employees’ Return to Work


Throughout your working life there could be multiple instances of absence from and returning to work. Some absences will be due to your own will or control, such as parental leaves, taking time off to complete additional training or education. Others will be beyond anyone’s control, particularly in cases of injury or sick leave (physical or mental diseases – burnout episodes), bereavement etc. 

After 45 days of leave, the chance of ever getting back to work is 50%; after 70 days, the chance of ever getting back to work drops to 35%. Most strikingly, after 2 years of leave of absence, one is more likely to die than return to work, according to attendance management software provider Honeydew.

An employee onboarding software, such as introdus, can provide a streamlined way of managing and planning return-to-work plans, and reboarding employees.

This article will address return to work both as a reality many employees face throughout their careers and as a formal framework supporting the employees after temporary absences. It will tackle some classic leave of absence scenarios and associated strategies for employee return-to-work. 

Why Employee’ Return-to-Work is Good for Everyone


A return-to-work program presents multiple benefits for the parties involved. 

There is substantial evidence that work is beneficial for a person’s physical and mental health, whereas unemployment and long-term sickness absence often have a harmful impact on their well-being. This is one of the reasons why returning to work helps you recover a sense of normality and restores their identity. This can lead to an increase in self-respect, mental well-being and social inclusion.

Also, continued and economically viable and sustained employment for injured, ill or disabled employees ensures that, potentially, they will not enter the social security system. Instead, they remain full economic and social contributors and participants in all aspects of society. 

When companies create a comprehensive framework based on a return to work template and checklist, they can reduce the potential financial impact of the absence on their business by:

  • Maintaining the skills and knowledge of an experienced worker 
  • Reducing the cost of training a replacement worker and avoiding the costs of hiring new staff
  • Supporting a company culture that sets value to employees and maintaining good employer-employee relationships
  • Reducing the length of time employees experience away from work and help them gain a sense of normality post-illness/-injury etc. 

A poorly managed employee return-to-work can contribute to relapse, further absence and in some cases an exit from work – a case where the employee refuses to return to work altogether. 

Return to Work Insights

A poorly managed employee return-to-work can contribute to relapse, further absence and in some cases an exit from work – a case where the employee refuses to return to work altogether. 

Finding a New Balance: Returning to Work after Maternity Leave (or Parental Leave)


It probably comes as no surprise that returning to work after a parental leave is a challenging process: it takes time to adapt, not just from a purely work and productivity perspective, but also emotionally. Although many employees end up feeling overwhelmed when returning to work after maternity (parental) leave, a comprehensive return-to-work program can alleviate some of the stress and make the transition feasible for each individual employee.

From an employer perspective, it is crucial that, when returning to work after maternity leave or parental leave, you’d operate efficiently without having dropped any of the skills needed for fulfilling your work duties.

As is the case with any returning to work employee, an individual plan should be drafted between yourself and the employer (line manager). This sets a realistic timeline and expectations in terms of workload and duties, working hours, ambitions and objectives.

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:

  •   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 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, as 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 touch on the types of tasks to be performed until you are fully recovered and capable of fully resuming your original duties. 

A Formalised Return-to-Work Program


Although undesirable, workplace injuries, illnesses, and accidents are a reality for many employees and their respective employers. 
Notwithstanding the fact that preventing injuries is the best way to protect employees and to control their compensation costs, employers 
and workers need a way to manage injuries or illnesses when they do occur. 

According to The International Social Security Association (ISSA), workplace-based return-to-work programmes are generally created to ensure workplace attachment for a person whose continued employment is jeopardized due to a disabling occupational or non-occupational injury or health condition.

A return-to-work program does not have as a sole goal facilitating your return to work, but also ensuring that you have access to prompt and proper medical care from the very beginning of the recovery process. Hence, a formal return to work program facilitates the development and implementation of an individualized 
plan immediately after the occurrence of injury/illness. It is customarily based on a return to work interview and meeting.

In an attempt to aid the employee ease their transition back to work, some companies include a return to work supplement as part of their return-to-work program. This is a form of financial aid for workers who suffered a disproportionate loss of income as a result of their on-the-job injury or illness. The return to work supplement is an exemplary component of a formal return-to-work program.

A well structured return to work program can be instrumental in preventing employees not returning to work after short term disability.

Return to Work Insights

A well structured return to work program can be instrumental in preventing employees not returning to work after short term disability.

Return to Work Plan and Process 


The return-to-work plan and process are based on the idea of partnership between all the parties involved and a shared commitment to the goal of returning injured or ill workers to employment. 

Having a concrete return-to-work plan and process ensures that all parties involved participate in a framework encouraging reflections on expectations and possible challenges.

Some companies choose to enforce return to work coordinator training, so as to have in-house specialists. Having someone exclusively handle this issue, assures an optimum process –  rather than deploying a standard HR professional (who will already have other tasks to fulfill with a higher degree of urgency).

A return to work plan will:

  • Inventory the case details (plus any alterations to the compensation scheme)
  • List the stakeholders involved
  • Set a concrete goal 
  • List the actions and activities required to meet the goal
  • Set a timeline for meeting the goal, as well as a daily schedule
  • List any job modifications (schedule, tasks, workplace set-up)
  • List healthcare considerations
  • Set-up evaluation dates for reviewing the process and the progress

Tools Facilitating Employees’ Return to Work: Interview and Meeting


Return to work plans and programmes can be supported by tools such as return to work checklists and return to work interview and meeting.

A return to work interview is a face-to-face or online meeting between an employee and the employer representative with a focus on reviewing the process and stepping stones of returning to work.

How Onboarding Solutions Can Facilitate Return to Work Strategies


An employee onboarding software, such as introdus, can also provide a more streamlined way of following along the return-to-work plan, and reboarding. Through an onboarding software, prior to reporting back to work, you can:

  • Stay up to date with the latest happenings within the company
  • Brush up on new guidelines enforced during your absence
  • Keep a high engagement and not lose your sense of belonging to the company
  • Store and easily access the timeline and objectives of the return to work strategy and specific plan as well as your return to work checklist
  • Gain access to return to work training materials
  • Ensure effective communication between all parties involved 
A Comprehensive Guide on Employees’ Return to Work

Conversely, return to work specialists or coordinators can have access to a return to work template and checklist to help them manage the process, as well as access to any data collected during the return to work interview and meeting.

An employee onboarding online platform can also be extremely useful in managing cases of employees returning to the office after working from home, as well as employees returning to work after furlough. 

It will ensure that employees can get (re)familiarized with the office culture, provide information regarding scheduling, offer an interface for conducting surveys (assessing how the return to work process is being handled and performed).


See how an onboarding platform works

There is a sense of urgency in properly managing an employee’s return to work: a poorly managed return-to-work can contribute to relapse, further absence and in some cases an exit from work. 

Data supports the idea that the longer the leave of absence, the less probable it becomes for an employee to return to work. Additionally, in many cases a long term absence spirals into a long term incapacity.

However, a timely, well-supported and well-managed return-to-work process can make the difference between someone staying in and thriving at work, and someone refusing to return to work, and forever exiting the job market. 

When employers have a sound return-to-work strategy in place, and adapt it to employee circumstances, it can make an enormous difference: save costs, aid the employee’s recovery, and create a positive working culture.

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


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