How much is too much and too little?
This is an issue I come across frequently, how often should a manager phone a member of their team who is off sick? This is a particularly sensitive issue if the individual is off with stress. If the manager is perceived as phoning too much, they may be accused of harassment, however, if they are in contact infrequently, they could be seen as not caring. Where is the balance?
The best approach for this is to have an organisational policy which everyone is familiar with. This way the member of staff who is off, and their family, will know to expect a call on day two perhaps of their absence, and a call once a week thereafter.
If no policy is in place, the manager should call early in the absence and agree what will happen from then on, so again the member of staff will know what to expect. Early, regular and sensitive contact with employees during sickness absences is best practice.
Employees need to know that they too have a responsibility to keep in contact. Again, an agreement with the manager early on as to how often this should be is recommended. They should keep their employer up-to-date with how they are progressing in their recovery, what support they are getting and how they are feeling.
What do I say?
Having established how often they should call, managers are still reluctant to pick up the phone because they don’t know what to say. Again they are trying to strike a balance between caring for the individual’s wellbeing and appearing pushy for them to come back to work.
These are some points which would ideally be covered in the first call. Rather than running through these as a numbered checklist, having a normal conversation which includes these points would be ideal. Remember to keep a light and friendly tone:-
- What is the nature of the illness?
- Has the employee sought medical advice (doctor, dentist or hospital) and what advice has been offered?
- If it is appropriate to do so, can you agree anything to enable the employee to travel to work?
- If appropriate, can you agree any temporary workplace adaptations to enable the employee to undertake some work?
- When do they expect to return to work?
- If they improve today, will they be in the office later?
- Are there any work issues someone else can attend to? E.g. Appointments to be kept/rearranged, priority work items, other issues.
- If the absence is due to a mental health condition or musculoskeletal disorder – refer to Occupational Health on day one (consent is required)
- Date of next contact (if appropriate)
- Current emergency contact number? E.g. next of kin.
After the first call, on-going contact is crucial to keep the employee engaged in the workplace and to prepare the way for a successful return to work. The purpose of weekly calls is to find out how the employee is and what progress they are making in their recovery. Be careful to listen to what they are saying, and do not trivialise their feelings or emotions, remember that these are real to them.
These calls are also vital for keeping the employee in touch with what is happening at work such as important decisions, results, changes and events. The more successful these calls are, the more likely that an early return to work will be secured.
It is wise to establish the confidentiality of these calls early on. If you intend to share the content of the calls with others such as HR, senior managers, clients or customers, it is good practice to get consent at the start.
It is reasonable to ask the employee to keep you informed if they are going away for more than three days, and to provide contact details.
What if the employee requests no contact?
An employee may not want to talk to their manager while off sick for a variety of reasons. These could be anxiety or embarrassment about their behaviour or emotions, or they may see the manager as the cause of their illness. “Light touch” contact should still be maintained, as evidence shows that some contact helps the individual’s recovery, and improves the possibility of a successful return to work. If the manager is not the best person to keep in contact, find someone else.
This post was written by Charlie Damonsing of CLAssociates. CLAssociates specialises in helping businesses manage stress in the workplace, providing consultancy, training and 1-2-1 support. For further details please contact Charlie on 0771 559 6487.