New research is looking at how to support employees returning to work from long term absence due to mental health issues. So far, research calls for line managers to have a good understanding of how to manage mental health problems. This finding raises the importance of training line managers in mental health issues. A recent survey by CMI showed that less than a third of managers (30%) have been trained in managing mental health in the workplace in the last year and almost half of managers (49%) have never received any training. Only 20% had received training more than a year ago. Equipping managers with the skills to support returning employees post-return should be included in future training initiatives.
Common mental health illness such as stress, anxiety and depression are on the rise and can result in long-term sick leave. Helping employees return to work is only part of the challenge. Although employees may return, this does not mean they stay at work or regain their former levels of productivity. A high percentage of workers who suffer from mental illness have recurrent periods of sick leave.
Sheffield University are working with Affinity Health at Work to understand how managers can help employees who return after prolonged sick leave to stay and thrive at work. Their preliminary findings suggest that line managers play a significant role in supporting a sustainable return to work.
Some of the findings:
- The affected employees’ Line Manager may wish to agree the best process for a return to work and agree what needs to be communicated to colleagues and others within the organisation. An individual may be worried that they will be stigmatised and judged by their fellow workers and therefore may not wish colleagues to know that they have been off sick due to stress, anxiety or depression. Although barriers need to be broken and mental health issues be accepted and discussed openly, if the employee prefers discretion to help them return to work, then this decision should eb respected.
- During a return to work meeting the employee and manager should agree any work adjustments and follow up on whether these are adhered to. Possible adjustments could be a phased return to work where employees only work part-time for a period. In addition, you may want to ensure returning employees do not take work home with them or answer emails out of hours, if this is normal work practice. Or if a worker normally has client contact in their role, the manager may wish to consider less client contact until they settle back into their role.
- Greater flexibility can help on days when an employee is feeling their anxiety or stress is building up again, and by gaining their trust, they are more likely to tell their manager when this is happening. The Line Manager can then make an informed choice on how to help the employee, either by reducing their workload or allowing them to leave work early.
- Following up on a worker’s progress is advisable even after the first month of return or after any phased return has been completed. Fortnightly or monthly meetings are recommended. These could be regular meetings where you ensure a discussion of whether current work adjustments are appropriate and if any further adjustments are required.
The research concluded that a collaboration of a return to work policy between the employee and their line manager works more effectively than a dictatorial policy set out in a company’s policy and procedure.
Metis provides managerial training workshops. Would you like more information on how to support employees returning to work from long term absence due to mental health issues? Or further information on our training workshops designed for you, the employer? Then call us on 01706 565332 or drop us an email and we’ll get right back to you.
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