How To Run A Return To Work Interview

Return to work interviews can be nerve wracking for both employee and manager. Plan your meeting out with our guide to return to work interviews.

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Health Assured team

07 November 2018

A return to work interview can be a daunting thing for an employee. After weeks or months away from the work environment, they can feel vulnerable, out of practice, and alienated. That’s why this interview is so important to get right, to ensure that the employee has a smooth transition back into the workplace and can settle back into work effectively. It’s all part of a holistic programme to try and uphold employee wellbeing.

These meetings can be difficult for employers too, with confusion over when a return to work interview should take place, what it should involve, and more. We’re here to answer all of those questions and demystify the return to work interview.

What is a return to work interview?

Return to work meetings are carried out with employees who are returning from a long bout of sickness or absence from work. They are usually carried out with a couple of main aims, including to assess whether the employee has any special requirements to make their return to work smooth or if they can just start again as normal.

When should you hold a return to work interview?

There are no strict guidelines about how long the employee must have been off to validate a return to work interview, so using your judgement to decide what constitutes a long absence or following existing company policy is the best option.

Generally, though, you should hold one if you think the employee has been away from work long enough to affect their fundamental understanding of the business or if their reason for being away from work was something that needs to be evaluated, like an injury sustained in the workplace.

If you decide that a return to work interview is a good idea, it should be held as early as possible on the employee’s return.

How to run a return to work interview

Again, there’s no formal structure to a return to work interview so you can do whatever is appropriate, but there are some tips that should be considered in how you run the meeting:

  1. Keep it fairly informal. The last thing you want to do is scare them away from the workplace by making the return to work interview too formal.


  1. Go in with an action plan. Going into a return to work meeting without a plan of what you want to get out of it and what you want the employee to get out of it is a recipe for disaster. Having a plan of how things should go means that you’ll stay on track.


  1. Be sympathetic. The employee will likely be out of the loop in a lot of ways if they’ve been absent for a long time, so catching them up with developments in the workplace and being sympathetic to their knowledge gaps is important to make them comfortable.


  1. Be clear. Make sure that your expectations of the return to work process are clear and try to encourage honest communication from the employee about their feelings and capabilities.

Example return to work questions

Part of being prepared to run a return to work interview is having questions ready for your employee that will get them prepared for their responsibilities and give you an idea of what their return will look like.

Examples of some return to work interview questions include:

  • What are your current feelings about returning to work?
  • Do you foresee any specific issues that might prevent you from settling back in?
  • Do you feel as though you need any direct support from colleagues in your reintroduction to work?
  • Do you have any goals you want to achieve in the first few weeks of being back?
  • How can management help to make sure your return is smooth?

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