Return to Work Interview - What It Is and How to Conduct One

Physical Health

A woman speaking with another woman across a table in a casual workplace setting with coffee and paperwork in front of them.

When it’s time to return to work after an absence, it’s common to conduct an interview with the returning staff member.

The interviews can be a casual chat between colleagues over coffee, a more formal interview with a HR manager or outsourced to an organisation. The format will often depend on the size of the organisation, the reason and length of the employee’s absence.

Main Benefits of Return to Work Interviews

A staff member may be away from work for an extended period due to a serious injury or illness, maternity or paternity leave, extended long service or unpaid leave. There are multiple reasons for conducting a return to work interview that can benefit both the organisation and the returning staff member.

Ensuring the Staff Member is Fit to Return

An interview allows an organisation to decide if an employee is fit for work. Some workers go back to work too early in their recovery and then need more time off.

When a staff member is returning to work, they may be fit to do some work but not necessarily all of their old role. The work they did may aggravate their injury or be too strenuous for them to do in the first few weeks back.
Use the interview to find out if there are limitations to what they’re capable of doing. Some people may need to return to work on shortened hours, reduced days or different duties compared to their previous role. Ask them what hours they can start on and develop a plan for increasing the hours with time.

A returning staff member may need their role changed to tasks that are safer or easier to do in the short term until they have fully recovered. Be sure to communicate that you’re happy to review once they’ve started work. It’s often difficult for workers to know what they can and can’t do until they return to work.

Assistance to Do Their Job

A returning worker may need an aid to help them do their job. The aid may be a wrist support, stool, leg rest, or even just a colleague’s assistance getting in and out of the building. By holding the interview in advance of their return, it gives the organisation time to purchase any aids required or implement changes to make their first days back at work a little easier.

Managers of returned workers may not know if their workstation or role needs amending, or if aids are needed. Some organisations prefer to use a professional to complete an assessment of the workplace and advise them of any changes or aids needed. Organisations can engage external companies such as Altius Group who have qualified occupational therapists to conduct health and safety audits and workstation/duties assessments.

Address any Concerns the Staff Member Has

When some employees are away from their jobs for a while, even for a few weeks of annual leave, they can feel apprehensive about returning. They may worry that the organisation or role has changed, that they won’t remember how to do part of their job or that their colleague’s workload increased.

Managers can use the meeting to update the returning worker on staff movements changes, as well as procedure and product changes so the employee feels more at ease on their first day back. During the interview, remember to ask if they have any concerns around their return. If you aren’t the person they report to, offer to speak to their manager on their behalf if they prefer.

Find Out About Any Other Health Conditions

You might be aware of the injury or illness that was the reason for their leave but there may be other health concerns you aren’t aware of. Sometimes one injury can lead to a secondary injury elsewhere. Also, being off work or dealing with a serious injury or illness can lead to depression or anxiety.

During the interview, ask how they are doing besides the original reason for leave. The employee isn’t required to disclose any information but shows you care about their wellbeing. It may also remind the worker to inform you if they’ll need time off work to attend medical appointments.

Ask the Employee About any Concerns

An interview gives the employee the chance to ask questions. If they seem worried about how they will perform at work, explain that management isn’t expecting too much of them in the early days of their return. Let them know they can come to you before and after their return to work with any questions or concerns.

What to Include in the Interview

Below is a checklist of questions and information you may include in the interview:

  • Provide an update on news and changes within the organisation
  • Find out if they are fit to return to work
  • Ask what stage of their recovery they’re at and if they need any aids
  • Do they need to come back on reduced hours?
  • Will they need a colleague to help with moving around the workplace?
  • Do they have known upcoming medical appointments to attend?
  • Would a professional assessment of their workstation and workplace help?
  • Remind the employee to come back to you with any questions or concerns

Professional Assistance with Return to Work

Alongside the physical difficulties that come with returning to work, there can often be associated Anxiety Disorders and Reactive Depression that come second to the physical injury. Our psychologists at PeopleSense by Altius work alongside health professionals from Altius Group to help individuals overcome biopsychosocial barriers impacting their return to work.

If your company is looking for assistance coordinating return to work, Altius Group provides Return to Work services including interviews, assessments of the workplace and workstation as well as assessments of returning workers to ensure they are both physically and mentally fit for work.

For more information about Altius Group’s Return to Work services call 1800 258 487 or get in contact online

Category: Physical Health