Skip to main content

Returning to Work Following Surgery

Effective management of the return to work process can be good for health and good for business:

  • Supporting someone with a health condition to come back to work can save you money and minimise disruption.
  • Work is good for physical and mental health. People can often come back to work before they are 100% fit - in fact work can even help their recovery.
  • Returning to work sooner can reduce time on decreased incomes, and reduce periods of absence (the average length of an absence is 17 days).
  • Reduces the time valuable knowledge and skills are unavailable.
  • Improves productivity by reducing the time teams are under capacity, placing increased pressure on remaining staff.
  • Reducing your absence rates can save you money – increased absence can lead to increased staff turnover and it is estimated that total costs associated with staff turnover is approximately £8,000 per employee.


Key Steps to Consider when Managing Absence

  1. Record absence to help identify absence patterns and contingency planning.
  2. Have a clear policy that applies to all levels of staff and ensure that your policy is fair.
  3. Keep in contact with staff during absence to avoid employees feeling isolated and undervalued. Follow the do’s and don’ts for keeping in touch to avoid making it feel like pressure to return to work.
  4. Plan and make workplace adjustments to return staff to existing jobs, or alternative duties, and proactively remove any obstacles to a return to work.
  5. Make use of professional advice to help support the return to work process. See the supporting services section below for further information.
  6. Agree and review a return to work plan that is timely for the employee, and states clear objectives, review points, and information on any alternative working arrangements.
  7. Appoint a single point of contact to coordinate the return to work process to establish clear communications.

Find further information on the key steps to manage absence from the HSE website.


Using a Fit Note to Help Manage a Return to Work Process

  • The fit note tells you whether your employee’s doctor thinks they are not fit for any work in general or whether they may be fit for some form of work (not necessarily their current job).
  • The information gives you maximum flexibility to discuss possible changes to help employees return to work (which may include changing their duties for a while), if assessed as ‘’may be fit for work’’.
  • The fit note tells you whether your employee is expected to be fit for work at the end of their fit note.
  • The fit note won’t tell you what changes to make, but will give you advice about how your employee’s health affects what they can do at work.
  • Often, a few simple and / or low-cost changes can help someone with a health condition come back to work earlier.
  • The Fit Note will be complimented by the Fit for Work Service which is gradually being rolled out across Wales. See our Fit for Work pages for further information.

Ref: Office for National Statistics (2014) sickness absence in labour market, Health and Safety Executive (2005) Preventing absence, Black (2008) Working for a healthier tomorrow, Vaughan-Jones and Barham (2009). Healthy Work: Challenges and Opportunities to 2030.


Support Services and Resources Available


Help and Support Services

  • Healthy Working Wales can support employers to develop attendance management processes to improve return to work systems. Call 02921 674966 or find out more on the Workplace Awards pages of the Healthy Working Wales website.
  • Visit the Fit for Work service website for free occupational health advice, or call on 0800 107 0900.
  • Access to Work can help employees with a disability or health condition. This can include paying towards equipment or support. Call on 0345 268 8489 for further information
  • Wellbeing through Work provides free occupational health support to employers. If you live or work in Conwy, Denbighshire, Gwynedd or Anglesey, please contact 01745 336442. If you live or work in Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot or Swansea, please contact 0845 601 7556.



Updates and Further Information