As managers, we have a certain responsibility for those in our charge. We want them to have a successful career within the company, to contribute to its progress, and to be able to have a pleasant time in and out of work. However, some things are beyond our control; no matter how good we are to our staff, we can't guarantee everything will go swimmingly for them. And unfortunately, one of the most significant and common obstacles that we can't prevent is illness.

Sometimes, people do get sick. Hopefully, it'll just be a small thing, 'flu perhaps or a stomach bug or a minor injury, something that will only keep them out of work for a few days - and when they're better, they'll be back to normal in no time. And more often than not, yes, that will indeed be the case. However, what should we do - as managers - to help those who need to be off for a longer time, in order to overcome a more serious and long-term injury or illness?

First things first: we need to be considerate and understanding. Of course, it can be frustrating when a member of our team is away for a length of time, perhaps leaving work undone or increasing the burden on others. But this mustn't be allowed to influence our relationship with the unfortunate team member - blaming them, or allowing them to feel that they're being blamed, can inhibit both their recovery (creating anxiety or depression) and their productivity when they return. Instead, make sure they know that they should take the time they need to get better, that they're being supported through a difficult time - and do keep in touch regularly; this will allow you to stay abreast of their progress, and also help them to feel that they're still part of the team.

When the time comes that they're able to come into work, you'll need to be aware of any new requirements they may have. It's essential that they're still able to access their work without any hindrance: essential for productivity and morale, and also essential as a legal requirement. Whether it's a substantial difference, such as a team member having to start using a wheelchair or needing a seat that offers more support, or something as small as needing time to take medication or attend treatment sessions, the organisation needs to remove any obstacles to work that may arise as a result.

It's also important to consider whether a temporary change of duties could be appropriate. Of course, this won't be suitable for all businesses, but in many cases a shortened, simplified or eased working day can help someone returning from sick leave to settle back into the routine. After all, most people who have to take a length of time off due to illness or injury want to come back, want to contribute again, to have something to do with their time; however, they may not be able to go directly from no work to full duties.

Consider what options are available for your business situation: would it be best for them to do a smaller amount of work? Have you tasks that are less strenuous or stressful that they could do? Perhaps they could work from home? Every company's circumstances are different, but it's certainly worth assessing in advance the flexibility that you have available to make a team member's return to work easier and more likely to succeed.

Throughout the whole process, it's important that they know they have support available. Make yourself available to discuss any concerns that they may notice, and to provide feedback on their progress - and be sure to let them know that you're always available. Confidence in their manager, in their colleagues, in the organisation and in their own ability to cope, all these play key roles in a successful return to work - and, in time, a productive, happy and healthy return to carrying out their duties every bit as successfully as before.

A manager has a decisive influence over this process, in supporting the team member while they're ill and continuing that support to smooth the road back - and a short training course in managerial skills will help to ensure that that influence is a positive one. Illness is an unavoidable part of life, but with the right approach, there's no reason why your company should be anything but healthy.