Mental health problems at work are very common, and although you can minimise the effect of these on your business by being proactive about preventing stress issues and by taking steps to reduce the taboos around mental health, if a member of your team does develop a serious mental health problem this is likely to come with long absence or absences. Dealing with this effectively and sensitively can make all the difference in getting the employee back to work, performing well and contributing to the team. Here are some tips to dealing effectively with mental health absence in your business.
If you do have a member of staff go off sick with a mental health problem, ensure you establish good communication with them, ideally taking into account their preferences with regards to frequency and type of communication. Depending upon the nature of the condition, the symptoms and the causes, these preferences may vary considerably.
Whilst you as an employer of course have the right to contact absent employees, sensitivity around these preferences is crucial in terms of maximising the chances of an employee returning to work effectively, and also in terms of demonstrating yourself to be a reasonable employer.
Staff on long-term sick can suffer from isolation and feel disconnected from the team. This can represent a significant hurdle in coming back to work, so if you can ensure the team member is kept up to date with developments at work and do what you can to ensure they feel part of the team, that can make it easier for them to slot back in.
Educate yourself about the condition in question. Most people have a lower level of general knowledge about mental health conditions than they do about physical illness which can result in misconceptions or poor handling of a situation, and there are lots of resources available to assist greater awareness.
Sources of information about the condition can be the employee themselves, their GP or specialist, mental health specialist organisations and charities, and a good occupational health specialist. Don’t make assumptions about the condition, its symptoms and its impact on work, as these may vary considerably.
Mental health conditions aren’t automatically disabilities, but they can be. If they do qualify as a disability under the Equality Act, you are under an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to enable the worker to return to work.
However, even if the condition doesn’t technically count as a disability, it’s still sensible to be open to considering adjustments to workload, working environment, working hours or location in order to support your employee and enable a rapid and sustainable return to work.
Take medical advice from the employee’s own doctor and/or an occupational health provider to ensure you are fully informed about what workplace factors might exacerbate the condition and are in a position to take effective steps to address them.
Ask your employee both before and after they return to work how you can best support them on an ongoing basis. Again, this can vary depending on the individual and the nature of their condition, but ensuring their preferences with regards to ongoing support are met can reduce the likelihood of further absence.
If you have a team member with a long term mental health condition and would like further advice do get in touch.