Corporate Strategy

Return to work interview questions & benefits

return to work interview

Updated 2/6/2023

Return to work interviews are commonplace in many businesses but their benefits aren’t always clear to all involved. Some people think of them as unnecessary processes, but when they’re done well they can transform the experience of an employee coming back to work after a lengthy absence.

The benefits of return to work interviews lie in approaching them in the right way and asking the right questions. In this article, we’ll explore why you might want to conduct them and how to make them as helpful as possible for your employees.

Conducting a return to work interview is not a legal requirement

A return to work interview is not a legal requirement, though it is a common HR process. Its goal is to help returning employees get back into their work and to understand any assistance that they may need to do so.

According to employment law specialists Peninsula, performing a back to work interview is not a legal requirement given that there is, no legislation that currently deals with this process. This means that it is down to the individual company’s discretion, as to whether or not they conduct one for returning employees.

However, if a return-to-work interview is a standard part of your business operations, then you should make this intention known to each employee, right from induction. Employees should understand what to expect from the interview if one is ever required. A good place to include this policy is your official employee handbook.

But, if return to work interviews aren’t legally required, why conduct them?

Why conduct return-to-work interviews?

Research shows that carrying out a return to work interview is one of the most effective ways to manage attendance and reduce absence, according to ACAS, a Government-funded initiative offering free expert advice about work-related health.

There are many benefits to conducting return to work interviews. These can include:

  • Making sure employees really are well enough to go back to work
  • Updating employees on news that has occurred in their absence
  • Identifying whether any workplace adjustments might be required
  • Ensuring that records in your absence management software line up with the actual period of absence

They also give employees an opportunity to talk to you about any issues they may be having at home, or any support they may need now that they’re back at work.

Return to work interview questions

Your return to work interview should help the employee feel comfortable and supported as they get back into the workplace. Before you ask your interview questions, make sure it’s clear that your intention is to support them and make the transition as smooth as possible. Then, you can ask questions like:

  • How are you feeling at the moment?
  • Do you feel well enough to return to your previous working hours?
  • Was anything at work a contributing factor to your absence?
  • Is there anything that you are unsure about for your return?
  • Is there anything we can do to make your return to work more comfortable?
  • Are you receiving any ongoing medical treatment that we should be aware of?
  • Is there anything else we can help you with?

Remember, a return to work interview should not simply involve the employee answering your questions. It is also helpful for you to update them on company changes that happened during their absence period, to remind them what ongoing support the company can offer, and to answer any questions they might have for you.

Using a return to work interview to develop a plan of action

According to Acas, you should be using a return-to-work interview to get a better understanding of the employee’s problem. For example, if they have a Fit Note, it might say something like “fit for some work” – meaning they may need to avoid certain tasks such as heavy lifting. The return to work interview is a good place to discuss this.

But also, Acas says that it may give you a better understanding from the perspective of tackling the root cause of the absence.

For example, if they are claiming sickness, but are actually avoiding work due to a problem like bullying – or because of sensitive care needs for a loved one at home – then the return to work interview may be your chance to understand this. And if you take the approach of helping them overcome their problems, instead of blaming them for taking a sick day when they weren’t sick, then you’re going to get better results.

If you give them more home working opportunities, for example, to care for a sick loved one, then you may find you manage to save a valuable employee who may otherwise have quit, because of the pressure.

The six steps to a healthy return to work process

A return to work interview can be a really helpful part of your absence management process. It can add a lot of value to your business, both by helping you reduce absence, and also helping your employees feel more cared for. However, it’s important that you get it right.

Fit For Work advises that your return to work interview should be made up of six key steps:

  1. Welcome back. Make their return to work a positive occasion, and use this as an opportunity to make sure they really are well enough to come back.
  2. Crucial updates. If anything has happened in the employee’s absence, make sure you bring them up to speed.
  3. Identify adjustments. Find out if you need to make any changes to support their return to work.
  4. Create a plan. Agree on a plan that will phase the employee back into work gradually, so that they can work towards getting back to full speed.
  5. Confirm absence record. Make sure their days off have been recorded properly, and ask them to confirm this in case of a dispute on dates.
  6. Open to questions. Let the employee ask you any questions that might be on their mind.

A return-to-work interview might be carried out by the employee’s line manager, or even a representative from HR. Choose the option that strikes a balance between the employee’s comfort and your ability to make sure they get the right support to settle back in.

And remember, a return to work interview should never be a tool of fear, which makes employees frightened to take time off sick. It should always be an opportunity to get employees settled back into work in a way that makes them feel comfortable and works well for the business around them.

Rich Newsome
By Rich Newsome Digital Content Writer

Rich is a content writer at Access PeopleHR and has a wealth of experience within the tech space, including HR software. Passionate about providing website visitors with informative and easy-to-understand content, Rich is committed to helping SMBs find the best solutions for their needs. With a flair for writing, Rich's content engages and educates readers, guiding them towards informed decisions.