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Nigel Walpole Do’s and Don’ts of keeping in touch during absence

In my last blog I wrote about the 10 key steps to effective absence management. As I explained in it, it’s really important to have good fundamentals of absence management in place as a foundation for successful well-being initiatives.

Keeping in contact is a key factor in helping an absent member of staff return after long-term absence.

This can be a complex topic as some employees may feel that they are being encouraged to return to work before they are ready, but employees who have been absent for some weeks run the risk of feeling increasingly out of touch and unappreciated.

Every situation is different, so there can be no hard and fast rules of what to do. Therefore, I have provided a list of Do’s and Don’ts as a guide to getting the general approach right.

DoThe Do’s and Don’ts of keeping in touch during absence

  1. Be flexible, treat each case individually
  2. Remember that you need to be fair and consistent
  3. Take time to get to know employees and the things that affect their health
  4. Consider the timing and form of contact
  5. Consider who should make contact – but remember confidentiality
  6. Take advice from HR
  7. Talk to the absent employee's colleagues
  8. Think about what might be barriers to a return (and obviously what you, and others, might do to minimise or remove the barriers
  9. Consider inviting them to see colleagues at lunchtime or breaks (if they are able to travel)
  10. Anticipate questions they are likely to ask
  11. Keep a note of contacts made
  12. Make sure there are opportunities to discuss their health or other concerns
  13. Remember that illness and medication can effect stamina and safety

There may seem to be some contradictory points here. I guess that just emphasises the importance of really thinking things through, as every situation will be different.


  1. Put pressure on employees to discuss their return before they are ready
  2. Put off making contact or pass responsibility to someone else unless there are genuine reasons for doing so
  3. Make assumptions about the employee’s situation, their medical circumstances or their willingness to be in contact
  4. Discuss the employee’s circumstances without their knowledge and consent
  5. Hint that colleagues are under pressure or that work is piling up
  6. Assume that recovery times for the same condition will be the same for every person

Generally, (but again I stress the dangers of ‘general’ approaches) it is advisable to contact sick employees as early as possible and certainly before two weeks have elapsed, usually by phone. 

To keep the tone right, I think it is best for the conversation to be focused on their well-being and their return to work rather than the work and the workplace. However, it may be appropriate to offer to keep them up to date – meeting notes and presentations etc.

If contact is refused (or likely to be refused), remember that company rules will set down employee responsibilities to keep managers informed. Perhaps offer contact with HR, occupational health, a Union representative, another colleague or even an independent person to overcome this struggle. In this case I would suggest making first contact in writing - offering help.

I guess those last two words sum up the situation. The purpose of keeping in touch is… to help them.

Get in touch with us today to find out how to improve your managers to deal with these difficult situations effectively.

Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

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