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New guidance available on supporting the long-term sick so they can return to work

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New guidance aimed at helping managers support people returning to work after long-term sickness can play a key role in preventing workers with health problems fall out of employment, according to the CIPD.

The guidance, produced by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF), the CIPD, Healthy Working Lives and the Health and Safety Executive, highlights the key behaviours needed by managers to support timely and lasting returns to work.

These include

  • staying in touch regularly with the individual while they are off sick
  • Reassuring them that their job is safe 
  • Preventing them from rushing back to work before they are ready 
  • Providing a phased return to work 
  • Helping them adjust to the workplace at a gradual pace 
  • Asking the individual’s permission to keep the team informed on their condition 
  • Encouraging colleagues to support the individual’s rehabilitation 
  • Holding regular meetings to discuss the individual’s condition and the possible impact on their work

The guidance is based on research involving employees, line managers, HR, health and safety and occupational health practitioners. The research was conducted by a team of psychologists from Goldsmiths, University of London, Loughborough University and Affinity Health at Work. It has led to the development of a competency framework to help employers equip their managers with the necessary skills and a questionnaire designed to measure the relevant behaviours for managers.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser, CIPD, said: "Line managers play a crucial role in deciding whether returning to work is part of an individual’s recovery and rehabilitation or the catalyst to further breakdown and deterioration.

"Evidence shows that the longer people are off sick the less likely they are to make a successful return to work; with employees only having a 50% chance of going back to work after six months of absence."

Steve Bell, strategic director, Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives, added: "This guidance can help equip line managers with the right skills so they have the confidence to encourage people to come back to work sooner rather than later and then support their rehabilitation effectively.

"In many cases where this does not happen people will be left to deteriorate at home, sometimes for months at a time, feeling increasingly alienated from the workplace. This can lead to long-term incapacity and unemployment."