Absence Management

Absence Management: Planning Your Return

Absence management if managed well can lead to the successful return of individuals to the workplace. We have to accept that life can throw all of us some curved balls from time to time: sickness, caring responsibilities, maternity leave, sabbaticals, study leave etc. Often we cannot change what has happened but we can choose how we respond to it.

This can often prove challenging not just for you as the individual, but also for your line manager and extended colleagues. Making the transition back to work requires careful planning and managing. Not least catching up on everything that you have missed during your absence. The trick is to set realistic goals and reflect carefully on your transition periodically.


Decide carefully the time you wish to return and discuss this with your line manager in the first instance. Choose a date that works for both of you; can you join your team for a coffee initially? attend a team meeting? rather than returning to work on a Monday morning when everyone is busy planning their work for the forthcoming week.

A phased return is also advisable. Being out of the workplace for a period of time and then returning full time as soon as you feel ready to return may prove taxing both physically and emotionally. A phased return helps you, your line manager and colleagues manage the phased return in such a way that everyone feels comfortable. This is particularly advisable after a period of sickness or maternity leave.

It is also equally important to involve your colleagues in your return to work. Some suggestions include: meeting your colleagues for coffee or lunch first. Ask them if they can suggest any reading e.g. team meeting minutes you should read to bring yourself back up to speed. Email your colleagues to say how much you have missed being away and you are looking forward to returning. Don’t just turn up and sit at your desk as though you have never been away.

Absence Management 2


Long absences from work are often attributable to a life changing event; consequently, what was once important before, may no longer be and you need to be mindful of this. Take stock and reflect: make a list of urgent tasks and priorities. What can be delegated or deferred?

You also need to think about your wider team. Just because some things are no longer important to you, don’t assume the same of those around you. Talk openly with your colleagues, invite their thoughts and ask them for their opinion. You may not always like what you hear however; you have to respect the views of others, just as they have to respect yours. Always thank your team for all the help they have given you during your absence, not matter how small. Offer to help them in return now you are back.

If you’re the line manager of the person returning to work, make sure you show your appreciation to the wider team too.


On your return to work, it can be all too easy to simply get stuck in and not take the time to catch up. You may feel under pressure to prove that you are fit to return however, be careful! People will understand that it will take a little while to get fully back up to speed. If your role has been covered by someone else while you have been away they will often be your best source of information. Take the time to thank them; talk to them; ask questions; and note down the important things you should remember too.


After a long absence, remember office etiquette: dress code, preparing a packed lunch, travelling to and from work. It’s very easy to forget the need to be prepared and making the time to be prepared. Keep personal engagement to a minimum initially and make time to do things you enjoy e.g. going swimming.


Here are a few top tips to make a successful transition back to work:

  • Too many emails? Use your “Out of Office” feature to send automatic replies. Advise people that you have returned but on a phased return and you will respond to their emails as soon as you can. People are understanding and as long as you keep them informed they will work with you.
  • To catch up on organisational news, read team meeting minutes, briefing documents, newsletters, talk to your colleagues, clients and your line manager.
  • If you’ve returned after a maternity leave, illness, or caring for a relative plan contingency arrangements to manage emergencies. They can and do happen and being prepared helps to manage the stress that may ensue. Involve your line manager and colleagues in these arrangements, so they are informed. People who understand a situation are more likely to be supportive.
  • Don’t be afraid to say I am struggling to cope and ask for help! Trying to do everything your self is likely to end in disaster. Talk to others honestly, and you will find that people will be only too pleased to help
  • Remain upbeat. Making the transition back to work can be stressful but be kind to yourself. You can do it! But be realistic about the time it will take to get up to speed fully.

For further advise, on returning to work including sickness benefits an phased returns, visit:
Statutory Rights – Sickness Absence


Returning to work after a long absence can be difficult however you can manage this stress effectively with careful planning. Talk to your line manager as soon as possible, agree a suitable date of return and consider a phased return to work. Engage with your colleagues as early as possible too. And ensure your goals are realistic and manageable.

However, just as your priorities may have changed, other people’s priorities may have changed too. Remember to thank everyone for their help. Recognise in particular the person who may have been covering your work while you have been away. They will be a valuable source of information. Talk to them and learn from them.

Finally, take time each day to do something you enjoy. Recharging your batteries is important and if you make the time to do this, your emotional and physical well-being will benefit in the longer term.

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