Long-term sickness absence is typically defined as four weeks or more continuous absence from the workplace. The most common health conditions responsible for long-term absences are stress, anxiety and depression, back pain, coronary heart disease and cancer.

Communication is key

Build trust by agreeing in advance of the leave how you will keep in touch, how frequently and the reasons why. Each employee will have their own preferences; some may prefer email or text; others may wish join monthly team meetings via Zoom. Or some may wish to have no contact at all. Let the employee lead.

Frequent communication and support throughout the period of absence may help with a smoother return to work. From ongoing conversations, you’ll understand better how to adjust their workload to suit their recovery upon return.

Being in regular touch can also help reassure employees who are worried about finances or job safety during long term sick leave and let them know that they are an important team member. Employees who have been dealing with long term sickness may have lost their confidence and acknowledging this can help lessen their worries.

Make reasonable adjustments

Doctors may advise that employers implement adjustment such as a phased return to work, flexible work hours, different duties and changes to the working environment to support workers.

It’s been proven that a return to work can support recovery in some scenarios –  reasonable adjustments may help a staff member get back to their usual role quicker if they’re unable to resume normal duties straight away.

Plan and review

Each case of long term sickness absence is different and should be treated as such, however a robust framework or policy will ensure it’s equitable for all employees. Recovery times can differ from person to person – there’s no hard and fast rule how long recuperation should take.

A tailored care plan will keep the lines of communication open and ensures that the employee understands and agrees with the organisation’s actions to get them back to work.

Regular review meetings give the employee a platform to discuss their situation and voice their concerns. Make sure you give them a good listening to and don’t make assumptions about their circumstances.

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