We have all been there, one of our key team members fell ill with burn out, stress, spine injury, cancer. We rotate, reassign their duties, adjust deadlines if that's even possible and get into a mood of "I must ensure the project gets out the door on time" and " everybody can be replaced"
5 Ways to Ensure Long Term Absent Employees Return to Work
But – what about the team member? How does he/she feel? What can you do to help getting fit and healthy again? How can you support him/her?
Recent reports issued by Macmillan Cancer Care and by Chartered Institute of Development and Personnel (CIPD) show, that managers fail to engage with their long-term sick (LTS) members of staff, which subsequently leads to qualified and capable people not returning back to work.
Many line managers think this is a Human Resources matter. Think again! If you want your employee back, want to retain the knowledge, avoid recruitment cost, training cost and potential non-fit for your team, you need to engage with your employee very early on!
Here are 5 tested and proven strategies how to do this:
- Engage with your team every day! It’s vital that you know more about your key members of staff than just their name and shift pattern! Make a point of speaking to them at least once a day, or introduce a ritual, such as “return to the floor” day, where you spend time with your team. This is the only way to see first hand what’s going on operationally, but also how your individual team members are dealing with situations. Invaluable if you care about your team. It also opens the door for you if anyone goes off with a long-term illness.
- Care call at least every 6 weeks! It’s not about worrying what to say or maybe feeling like an intruder in somebody’s very personal health issue! Care call with a serving attitude, with the intention to truly find out how your member of staff is doing. Ask them, whether they are interested in business up-dates. Most will say “yes please” some might say “no thank you” – just accept what they say! Also re-assure them that you understand if they can’t answer the phone, as long as they let you know in their own time how they are doing.
- Answer their call or email! You will find that some of your employees struggle to give you a call. There are many reasons for this but I’ll not cover them in this post. But if your LTS makes contact, either by e-mail or leaves you a voicemail, make sure you respond within 24 hours. There is nothing worse for your employee having plucked up the energy, or sometimes the courage, to contact you to get radio silence in return.
- Offer support! Worry is overwhelming for many LTS employees. The most common reason for this is of financial nature, especially if they are the main bread-winner. Once somebody’s 28 weeks of sick pay comes to an end (based on UK law), employers send their employees the “Statutory Sick Pay and Employee’s Claim for Benefit” form. To get this form triggers a huge amount of anxiety and unsettlement in the sick person. Not only does it feel like not being part of a team any longer, it is also the start of a longwinded and painful journey. Especially if somebody applies for benefits the first time! Be there for them! Offer help. Look at the form – so you know what it says! And look at the paperwork your employee will be getting from the department of work and pensions. It’s scary at best of times. Your support is invaluable!
- And when your employee is ready to talk about coming back, ensure you are listening! If you offer a phased return, listen what they can do with an open mind, not with the view of how quickly you can get them back full time! Get practical! Most people’s access codes get revoked, for security reasons. Ensure, that on the day your employee is back, their access to the building, the IT network and other work tools are functioning! When your LTS is back, they want to work – so ensure their work place is ready! If they require special equipment, make sure it’s there. Only starting the process for a footrest or a special chair on the day when they return is too late. It will make your employee feel being needy, or worse, being a nuisance. That’s not what you want. Ensure you have got training lined up for your employee! Procedures and processes will have changed; new topics will have been introduced. Finally, Prepare your team – otherwise it may get awkward. Your existing team put up with a lot of additional work, they were also worried about their colleague and do hope things get back to normal very quickly. Again, there is a whole range of things you can do – this for another post.
The essence of this post? As managers we have got responsibilities for our LTS! Lets make sure we are taking them seriously!