Even before the Covid pandemic hit, the UK was home to a stressed-out workforce. The Mental Health at Work Report 2018 found that one in three employees had been “formally diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lives”.
Fast-forward to 2022, and our mental health crisis appears to have deepened. This year’s CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work survey observed that mental ill health is the “top cause of long-term absence”, while only one in 10 organisations had experienced no absence due to Covid-19.
The conclusion? Your organisation almost certainly has at least one employee on stress-related leave, right now.
You may be worrying how to manage their return to work, when that time arrives. Your employee will be looking to you to make the process feel safe, smooth, and manageable. Yet this can feel challenging, when the word “stress” covers such a wide variety of personal and professional circumstances, and there is no magic cure.
Added to this is the fact that stress-related leave can vary from a few days to many months. Creating something of a vicious circle, the longer the employee is away from work, the more stressful they may start to find the thought of returning.
Managing an employee’s return to work following stress-related leave: simple steps
1. Keep communicating
Never underestimate the power of regular, open communication.
No matter how long they’ve been away from work, it’s important to keep in contact with your employee. This will help them feel supported during the leave period, and more open to talking about how they are feeling.
Your conversations could also include work-related issues you may need to tackle and make adjustments for, any additional support needed (such as access to mental health resources or therapy), and when the time feels right for them to return.
2. Challenge mental health taboos at work
Many employees feel unable to speak up about their mental health challenges at work because it isn’t the ‘done thing’.
Sadly, research by the mental health charity Mind shows that 30% of employees would not feel comfortable talking with their line manager if they were feeling stressed or anxious.
Having a clear and easy-to-access wellbeing policy in place will help to show that your organisation takes mental health support seriously.
Meanwhile, ensuring line managers have the training and confidence to hold open conversations about stress will go a long way towards challenging the stigma that many people unfortunately still feel.
3. Make reasonable adjustments
You should always check that your employee feels ready to return to work, and that they have the all-clear from their doctor or health professional, before making official arrangements.
If they are, you should offer them as much flexibility as possible. You could think about reducing their hours or workload at first, with regular ‘check-ins’ to ensure things are running smoothly, or to make any changes needed.
We at Beyond EAP offer bespoke preventive coaching, which focuses on building employee resilience. The intended outcome is that issues such as anxiety, depression, and burnout do not become unmanageable, long-term problems.
You can also download our free, informative suite of expert resources on emotional resilience and wellbeing.
If you would prefer to start a confidential conversation about employee support and coaching in your organisation, please contact us.