Successful reintegration programme

July 14, 2021


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Is one of your employees coming back to work after long-term disability? That is good news either way, even though it is definitely not always easy.

Being ready physically is one thing, but returning to the job mentally is a big step. As a manager you can do a lot to help the reintegration programme go more smoothly. But what? We asked our guest expert Lode Godderis, professor in occupational medicine at the KU L.

Know that everyone has questions. You, the colleagues and the employee.

When someone comes back to work after long-term absence, this usually entails tensions and uncertainties for everyone involved. The employee tends to feel insecure and has many questions. ‘Will my job still be there? How will my coworkers respond to my return? And to my absence? Will I be able to handle the work? Will I be able to adapt to the rhythm of work again?’

But as the manager you will have questions about your employee’s return as well: how can you deploy someone returning part-time into the team again? After all, the tasks have been reassigned following your employee’s absence. And how do you help prevent your employee falling absent again?

Don’t underestimate your team’s expectations either. Your colleagues will have the same questions you and your returning employee have running through their heads.

Keeping in touch makes returning easier.

For the absent employee it can make a world of difference if they are able to keep in touch with people from work. As a manager it is thus best to stay in contact with your employee. It’s best to take initiative. Call him or her with the simple question: ‘how are you?’

Respect these tips while doing that:

  • Don’t ask too much about your employee’s the medical situation. Strictly speaking it’s not your business.
  • Let your employee lead the conversation, don’t try to control it too much.
  • Call out of a genuine interest in the health of your employee, you don’t really need to talk about work.
  • Don’t use a ‘how are you?’ conversation to inquire about your employee’s return. It’s better to do that during a different conversation.

The rule of thumb is that you take initiative to start a conversation and your employee has control over the course of the conversation. Compare it to a scoop of beach sand in your hand: the harder you squeeze, the faster it slips through your fingers. Allow your employee to take control.

How can you make a possible return a topic of conversation?

Do you recognise clear signs your employee is considering a possible return? Agree to call again at a later date to discuss the reintegration programme. Do this by means of three questions that once again allow your employee to take control.

  • When will he or she be able and will he or she want to return?
  • Will he or she return temporarily part-time or full-time?
  • Which tasks will he or she assume upon the return?

Finally, don’t forget your other coworkers. Be clear that the returning coworker won’t assume all tasks immediately. With a clear division of tasks you’ll avoid conflicts afterwards. Because 80% of a successful reintegration programme lies in the communication within the team.

4 dilemmas about work resumption

Aside from the above interview, we have given prof dr. Lode Godderis 4 dilemmas regarding work resumption after long-term disability. You can find his choices in the video below.

Prof dr. Lode Godderis

Disability and reintegration has, in addition to the mental, a financial impact as well. Do you want to know more? Our colleagues at are happy to help you.


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maartje vanewijk

Annelies Theunissen
People Sustainability Expert

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