Returning to work after long-term illness

Returning to work gradually after a long period of illness or incapacity can be helpful as a means to avoid taking on too much too early. Since working life after a long-term physical or mental illness can be different from how it was before, there are various models and methods of company integration management (BEM) which need to be made available by the employer.

Back at work after a long illness

Returning to work after a long period of illness or incapacity can be a challenging experience for many people. It is often associated with many questions and uncertainties. In particular, settling back into the work routine and readjusting to work procedures and performance requirements should be approached step by step. There are ways to get employer support when returning to work. The employer is even obliged to discuss with the person concerned what their future work responsibilities might look like and what steps might be taken to avoid renewed instances of illness or incapacity in the future. This takes place within the framework provided by company integration management (BEM).

Individual solutions such as the organization of working hours, the restructuring of the workplace, retraining or a move within the company may play a role in this context. The employer is obliged to initiate occupational reintegration if an employee has been unfit for work continuously or repeatedly for more than six weeks over the course of a year. Company reintegration management must be treated confidentially and is voluntary on the part of the employee.

What are the benefits of company integration management (BEM)?

Company integration management is intended to help the person concerned gradually return to work. It is possible that they are not yet capable of resuming full responsibilities or that the effects of therapies and treatments are affecting their everyday working life. These scenarios can be discussed and examined as part of BEM. The goal is to restore a long-term capacity for work and to create suitable conditions to enable this. In this way, premature retirement from working life can be avoided. Company integration management has advantages for both employees and employers.

1. BEM as a strategic instrument of human resources
A well-executed BEM reduces the length of illness, reduces absences due to sick leave and contributes to employee satisfaction and retention. Last but not least, it offers a means of avoiding additional personnel costs.
2. Maintaining and increasing productivity
Long-term illnesses put a strain on a company’s capacity and resources. Reducing the duration of extended periods of illness and maintaining long-term performance creates more resources and manpower in the company.
3. Retaining employees’ knowledge and skills
If reintegration is successful, the knowledge, qualifications and skills of the employee are retained by the company. The person concerned also experiences a feeling of appreciation.
4. Seizing the opportunity for preventive action
If stresses and risks relating to working conditions are identified in the company, there is an opportunity to initiate preventive measures. This provides a means of avoiding further absences due to illness or chronic occupational diseases.
5. Focusing on health
Occupational health management provides assistance in designing workplaces that are conducive to health and contributes to a better atmosphere in the team and the workforce more generally.

Possible methods of providing integration and support in the context of BEM

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Adapting the workplace
Adjustments can be made to the design of the workplace (for example technical equipment, ergonomics or work materials), the organization of work (such as working hours, break arrangements and work processes), or occupational safety.
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Services which support the return to working life
This package of measures includes funding opportunities, professional reorientation and retraining opportunities, and the provision of specific offers and information.
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Additional advice and support services
To assist reintegration into the workplace, health coaching, EAP or psychosocial counselling, addiction counselling or other rehabilitation measures can be provided.

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