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Dealing with long term sickness – the importance of communication

Long term sickness absences are unavoidable yet they can cause just as much pain to the employer as the employee. Both parties feel frustrated and can find the situation difficult to manage. Our top tip for employers handling long term sickness absence can really help you to manage the challenges that these situations can bring.

Set the communication scene

It’s essential to communicate with your absent employee regularly, especially once it’s known that the absence will be for a longer period of time. Agree regular times to catch up over the phone if possible. It doesn’t have to be every day or even every week but it is good to have an agreed timetable for communications.

We often see people who’ve been absent from work for a long time and they feel “left out in the cold” because their employer hasn’t contacted them. When we then talk to the employer, we find that they were worried about bothering the person who’s off sick and that they didn’t think it was appropriate to make contact. From a good intention on the employer’s part of not hassling the employee, the employee has received entirely the wrong message and feels forgotten about.

Welfare visits

If you are communicating regularly with your employee, it becomes much easier to arrange meetings like welfare visits. These are meetings whereby you go to the employee’s home, with their agreement, to discuss how they are getting on. Sometimes you might want to arrange to meet in a neutral location. Just like the regular phone or email contact, a welfare meeting can really help to keep you and your employee on the same page and can encourage conversations around an early return to work, for example.

At the end of the day, an employee who feels cared for and engaged in the business will do everything they possibly can to get back to work as quickly as possible. That can and usually does involve some compromise from both parties. We often say that if you can get someone back to work sooner with some adjustments, why wouldn’t you want to do that?

Other ways of communicating

You might find that, depending on the nature of the reason for absence, you may even be in touch with a significant other or sibling or other close member of the employee’s family. Some employers feel that they shouldn’t be communicating with their employee’s wife, for example, and that they can only speak directly to the employee.

However, we do find that if an employee is seriously or perhaps terminally ill, they may want to keep in touch but are unable to do so themselves. Our advice is to judge each situation on its merits and to support your employee in whatever format that support may take.

The Simple Take is: long term absence is challenging for employer and employee. You can make it easier by staying in touch and ensuring that your employee still feels part of your team.

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