What is a phased return to work and why businesses are doing it

The Government eased Covid restrictions on 19th July and recommends a gradual return to work. The onus is now on individual businesses to make their own decisions. Some will opt for a full return to the workplace, others will fully embrace remote work, and many will find a happy medium with hybrid working.

Whatever decisions a business makes will need to take employee preferences and wellbeing into consideration. One option that ticks both boxes is a phased return to work.

What is a phased return to work?

A phased return to work is an arrangement for an employee who has been absent for a long period of time to gradually return. This can include reduced hours and / or duties, and usually lasts for one or two weeks.

Phased returns to work are typically associated with employees that have been absent due to illness. For workers that have recovered from Covid, this could be very important. Common symptoms of long Covid include problems with concentration and fatigue. A phased return to work will help employees with long Covid readjust to the workplace.

It could also be an essential tool for furloughed employees. Returning to work after a year or more or being furloughed might be very challenging. A phased return that includes a re-induction will be a big help to those staff as they familiarise themselves with their surroundings.

Why should a business consider a phased return to work?

Employees have got used to added flexibility during the pandemic, from remote working to flexible hours. There’s a heightened expectation about the level of support that employers should offer, and a phased return could fall under this.

It could also be a vital means of supporting employee wellbeing. Someone that has been furloughed for a year could understandably feel anxious about a return to work. Offering a phased return will demonstrate a commitment to their wellbeing and will pay dividends in the long run as employees feel happier and are able to get back to full speed quicker.

Considerations for a phased return to work

Every business and individual is different, but there are some key considerations to make when planning for a phased return to work.

  • Structure and review – agree a structure with the employee that includes their responsibilities during the phased return and a timeline that works up to resuming full time hours
  • Payment – will you ask your employees to use their sick leave or holiday leave to cover hours not worked? Make sure to include HR in these conversations and come to an arrangement with employees before starting the phased return
  • Communication – if you offer a phased return, share details with all staff and be clear in how it will work. Be open to questions and support line managers in how they work with staff on a phased return
  • Conflict – employees that already came back from furlough may feel aggrieved they weren’t given the option. Be prepared to explain your decisions and offer other means of support for those staff
  • Contingency plans – have a plan in place in case an employee does not feel ready for a full return following the end of the agreed timeline


Some businesses may be against a phased return as they want staff back as soon as possible. However, this could backfire as employees may feel unsupported, anxious and stressed. The benefits of a phased return to work almost always outweigh the drawbacks.

We have created a number of communication guides throughout the pandemic, including ‘Communicating the return to the office’.

Contact us today to discuss how we can support your business and employee communications.

Greg Bortkiewicz