An indispensable tick list for managers helping employees to have a successful returning to work following longterm absence.
Research shows that the biggest barrier to employees returning to work following longterm absence is overcoming their own anxieties around returning to work.
The second biggest barrier is a lack of understanding and support from managers and organisations.
Here’s how you can help overcome those barriers.
During the employee’s absence, the manager should.
- Regularly communicate with the individual via telephone or email.
- Regularly communicate work issues with the individual to keep them in the loop.
- Focus conversations more on the individual’s wellbeing
- Keep in touch with the individual’s close colleagues with regards to their health.
- Encourage work colleagues and other members of the organisation to keep in touch with the individual.
- Make it clear that the individual should not rush back to work.
- Make it clear that the company will support the individual during their absence.
- Reassure the individual that their job will be there for them when they return.
- Prevent the individual from pushing him/herself too much to return to work
- Explain the return to work process/procedures to the individual before they return work.
When they return
- Meet the individual on their first day back.
- Make the individual’s first weeks back at work as low stress as possible.
- Consider giving the individual lighter duties/ different jobs during their initial return to work.
- Incorporate a phased return to work for the individual.
- Remain objective when discussing return to work adaptations for the individual.
- Explain any changes to the individual’s role, responsibilities and work practices.
- Ask the individual’s permission to keep the team informed on their needs and return to work.
- Make the individual feel like they were missed by the organisation.
- Encourage colleagues to help in the individual’s rehabilitation process.
- Promote a positive team spirit.
- Regularly communicate with HR/OH and keep the individual informed.
- Be proactive in arranging regular meetings to discuss the individual’s condition and the possible impact on their work.
- Communicate openly.
- Listens to the individual’s concerns.
- Understands that, despite looking fine, the individual may still be ill.
- Appreciate the individual’s wishes.
- Have an open door policy so the individual can always approach you with any concerns.
- Adapt your approach to be more sensitive towards the individual.
- Allow the individual to maintain a certain level of normality.
- Be quick to respond to the individual via email or telephone when they have a concern.
- Take responsibility for the individual’s rehabilitation.
- Acknowledges the impact the individual’s illness has on them.
- Remain positive with the individual throughout their rehabilitation.
- Show awareness of your relevant legal responsibilities.
- Understand the need to make reasonable adjustments by law.
- Follow the correct organisational procedures.
A growing number of organisations are taking the mental health of their staff seriously and implementing programmes to improving mental wellbeing in the workplace. However, if you are feeling this has all gone too far, here is our antidote – a six point guide to messing-up your staff’s mental health and boosting your sickness absence figures:
1. Allow workloads to become unreasonable
Most people like to keep busy and will willingly put in some extra effort to address short-term peaks in their work load, like month end. So, to really stress them you need the feeling of having too much work to do and not enough time to do it to be pretty much constant. This isn’t that difficult to do as left unchecked the natural effects of mission-creep and Parkinson’s Law will tend to increase workloads. Add in the effects of some cost-cutting, a bit of down-sizing and some ill-thought through initiatives and you’ll be onto a winner. While you may regularly doll out new work, try and avoid ever sitting down and reviewing you staff’s workload with them.
2. Put them to work in an unhealthy environment
This one is quite easy, as mostly it just needs a bit of neglect, a lack of imagination and some penny-pinching. Make sure there is no natural light and, if it is a job that requires concentration, arrange for plenty of ambient noise. Keep the place untidy, don’t pay any attention to ergonomics and don’t provide any space where they can get away from the workplace.
3. Be inflexible over how and when they work
Reducing the level of autonomy over how and when the job is done generally increases stress levels. So, strict procedures that don’t leave any leeway for initiative – even for something sensible like helping a customer – are good. You should be equally strict about working hours. They may have young children to bring up or elderly parents to care for, but don’t entertain any requests for flexible working.
4. Encourage a long-hours culture
Being inflexible about their contract hours, doesn’t mean you can’t get people to work longer. It’s actually quite easy to do as most people start out motivated, committed and, particularly in the UK, inclined to put the hours in. And, if you have done No.1 well, they’ll have to stay on to get things finished anyway. The downside is you have to lead by example, so you’ll have to get used to being the first in the morning and the last to leave at night. But hey, work-life balance is for wimps, right?
5. Avoid the human touch
You may well be an altogether reasonable human being, but it is best not to let them know it. So, don’t spend time getting to know them, don’t praise them and, above all, don’t ask if they are OK.
6. Keep changing
These days change is the new normal. This is great news, as frequent, poorly-managed change is a sure way to stress your staff. So, if you can maintain a near constant state of change through a series of top-down “restructuring”, “transformation” or “re-engineering” projects you’ll be on to a winner. If you can inject some uncertainty into the process, e.g. over who’s going to be going, who’s staying, all the better. Whatever you do, don’t bother with any of that time-consuming consultation and communications malarkey, it will just undo your hard-work.
Of course we’re just kidding – no one sets out to screw-up their staff’s mental health, but it is easy to do through a lack of awareness. That’s one of the reasons why we developed our Mental Health Awareness for Managers course.