Your role as a manager is pivotal when it comes to the mental health and wellbeing of your staff and their successful return to work. It is not uncommon for staff to need time away from work because of poor mental health, and it is the way in which this is managed that shapes how effectively and quickly your staff are able to return to work, and to peak performance.
Two weeks is often the most important time period for managing and supporting a staff member who is off sick with poor mental health. This initial period is where you as their manager, and the individual off sick, can agree on how often you communicate - whether that be direct messages, phone calls, or a home visit.
Some things to think about when coming to an agreement about communication;
- Remind the individual that it is company policy to stay in touch during their sick leave, and it will benefit both parties
- Patience is key – this is likely to be a difficult time for your member of staff, so be careful to overstep boundaries whilst also being supportive and firm.
- Ask if there is anything you can do to help support your staff member through their difficult time.
- Share information about your organisation, to ensure they continue to feel integrated and a valued member of the team.
- As an employee becomes well, ease the transition back to work by including them in workplace events and celebrations.
Return to work interviews
Return to work interviews are one of the most effective interventions for managing absence, especially when that absence is linked to poor mental health - if carried out effectively they can build trust and ensure your member of staff has a smooth re-integration with your organisation.
Ensuring your staff know any long-term absence (usually more than 3 days) will involve a return to work interview, will mean they understand that it is a supportive process that will proactively help their return to work, whilst helping to manage any existing mental health issues. If the individual is still not open about their mental health – whether they are worried about the stigma behind it or feel like they can’t talk about it – a return to work interview is an opportunity to explore what factors resulted in their absence and identify if they have any underlying mental health problems.
Return to work interviews are a successful method of ensuring mental health issues are identified at an early stage, before work related problems such as absenteeism and presenteeism become an issue.
Some tips for running successful return to work interviews include;
- Ask your member of staff how they are feeling, and whether their time away has helped them recover
- Tell them they are a valued member of the organisation and that they were missed
- Explain that they are not expected to return to full-time hours or manage a full-time workload
- Ask if there are any problems at work that may be impacting on their mental health and whether anything can be improved
- Help the individual think about how they want to manage their return to work, and what they want to say to their colleagues
- Create a strategy for addressing future concerns about their mental health.
Using occupational health services, including IAPT, and building links with and encouraging your staff to access support through third-party organisations such as Mind, may also benefit your employees long-term mental health.
Returning to work
Returning to work after time off with poor mental health is a big deal for many individuals – many are likely to be anxious about it - so you need to ensure the first day back is as trouble-free as possible. It is not uncommon for staff to feel as if they have let down their team or colleagues, and they may be more self-conscious about their mental health.
As a manager, you should be proactive in ensuring your staff have the right support in place during their first few weeks back. It is important to remember that they are unlikely to return to full capacity straight away, so patience is a virtue.
Managing a successful return to work following poor mental health is a difficult task for managers, but if you are proactive, look out for the signs of poor mental health in the first place and ensure the mental health of your staff is tracked in your organisation, your staff will feel comfortable.
To learn about our mental health analytics platform, that can help your organisation track and manage mental health, click here.