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Blog • 23.05.23

How do I support an employee returning to work after mental health leave?

Jane Mason
HR Consultant

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Returning to work after any time away can sometimes feel a little strange, but where a person is returning following time off for their mental health, this is likely to feel overwhelming.  Which is why it’s so important to take steps to try and alleviate this and put them at ease. You’ll be pleased to hear this is where we come in! Today we’ll look specifically at tips and guidance on how you can support an employee returning to work after mental health leave. We want to help to make the return-to-work transition as smooth, stress free and easy as possible.

During their absence

Yes, this is about supporting a return to work rather than what to do while they’re off, but it is important to remember if you have poor communication during a person’s absence, the return process will feel a lot harder. Support is key.

When your employee is absent:

  • Agree how you will keep in touch and how often you will communicate – try to maintain some level of contact and continued support throughout all periods of absence.
  • Sign post them to any support packages or external support e.g. Employee Assistance Packages (EAP) and charities etc.
  • Request their consent to refer to Occupational Health so that you can get a better understanding of their health and be able to better support them when they return.
  • Ask questions! Be empathetic and understanding but asking questions can help you understand how to provide support.
  • Keep them up to date with any key and relevant updates in the workplace.

Ahead of their return

It’s useful to make sure you have as much information about their health ahead of their return as possible.

Medically, it is important to be clear that your employee is well enough to return and that they are not trying to do this against medical advice. An example of how you might do this is by checking the wording on their GP notes

If previous Occupational Health referrals have been made, look at any reasonable adjustments that have been suggested and consider how these could be applied to support the return-to-work process.

Check in with the person ahead of their return:

  • Ask how they are feeling
  • Check it they have any concerns and/or anything they would like to discuss
  • Share the suggested returns process with them so that they can mentally prepare. For example, make them aware that they will have a return to work meeting on their first day back, but reassure them this is absolutely nothing to be concerned about.
  • If previous occupational health referrals haven’t been made, ask them about what they feel will be achievable for them on their return and what they feel would work best to aid and support them.
  • Give them an opportunity to ask questions and put forward their thoughts on what would help them. This could be things such as a phased return, meeting a colleague to walk in with, or having a ‘buddy’.

Returning to work

Reaching the point where a person can return to work is really positive and a great step forward.  Don’t forget though, just because someone has come back to work, it doesn’t mean they have fully recovered, and they will likely still be on the road to recovery or managing their mental health. It’s important to keep this in mind, as there may still be ups and downs on their journey.

As soon as they return, we recommend that you carry out a return to work meeting. These can be invaluable in providing essential support and guidance on a person’s first day back.  Our blog explains return to work meetings and how the process works.

Depending on the situation, you may also wish to consider discussing the following:

  • Wellness Action Plan
  • Workplace Stress Risk Assessment
  • Individual Stress Questionnaire

Don’t forget, we are here to help and can support you through each of these processes.

Business approach

We understand the challenges small businesses face with people being absent, and the subsequent desire to get people back to work as soon as possible.  There is lots of information to consider in this blog, however it will only really be beneficial if you are:

  • committed
  • genuine
  • focused
  • empathetic

Ignoring mental health and paying lip service to it, will not make it go away.  It is likely to have the opposite effect where someone feels there is no point in telling you how they feel. Over time their health will likely deteriorate, and the impact of not supporting in the first instance will be much greater to both the individual and the business.

The charity Mind are a great point of reference for people struggling with mental health and offer lots of resources and support. They state that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, which highlights the importance of getting your processes right.

How we can help…

At SafeHR we are experienced in advising our customers on mental health – we have policies and documents which can really help you through this process.  If you’re in need of help, get in touch and we’ll be able advise you on the best action to take when you have an employee returning to work after mental health leave.

Contact us today

Contact us today

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