How can we support someone returning to work?

Keep in touch while your employee is off work

If your employee is off work due to difficulties with their mental health, it's important to have a conversation with them about how they want to be contacted by you while they're away. This includes how often you will contact them and how. Do they want to have a phone call, or meet in person, for example? It's also best practice to let them know that they can change these arrangements at any point while they're off work, and to ask what they would like their colleagues to be told about their absence.

Managers often fear contacting someone who is off sick, but not staying in touch can make it harder for someone to return to work. So even if you weren't able to speak to your employee before they went off on sick leave, you should still talk to them about what they need, how you can support them and set boundaries for communication for while they are off work.

This Mindful Employer resource gives guidance to help you to manage appropriate contact with your employee while they are off work.
Mindful Employer - Keeping in touch from the Mindful Employer Line Managers' Resource

Put support in place for their return to work

You should arrange to talk with your colleague (this could be on the telephone or in person) so that you can arrange appropriate support in advance of their return.

We've created a resource to help guide you through all the kinds of support you can put in place for a team member who is struggling with their mental health - from reasonable adjustments to workplace support services.

The first place to step is to check out what support your particular organisation offers to support staff wellbeing like an Employee Assistance Programme or counselling services, for example. Ask Human Resources or check your staff intranet or staff handbook for more information.

MindWell: How can we support someone struggling with their mental health at work? A guide for employers, people managers and HR managers in Leeds

The mental health charity Mind have produced this resource with information to help managers support someone experiencing problems with their mental health, which you may also find helpful:

Mind: How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem

Consider a phased return to work

Your employee could return to work gradually on reduced hours for a specified length of time. An employee who returns back to work on a 'phased return' is more likely to re-adjust and settle back into work more successfully, and not need to have time off again, than if they rushed back to work on full hours straight away. This approach can be particularly helpful if a member of staff has been off work for a long absence.

GPs and Occupational Health professionals recognise that this approach can be of benefit to both the worker and employee and often include it as a recommendation in the Fit Note or Occupational Health report. A phased return usually lasts anywhere between two to six weeks, but can go on longer if necessary.

Each employee's situation is different and it's important that the terms of a phased return are arranged collaboratively and agreed by both employee and employer. This includes having regular reviews of the arrangement and a date to return to regular hours which is agreed by both parties.

Share MindWell resources

You can print off or share our self-help sheets and other materials from our library of self-help resources. It's also a great idea to put our wellbeing at work sheet on your staff notice!

MindWell resource: How can I look after my wellbeing at work

MindWell resource: Ten strategies for coping with stress

MindWell resource: Ten strategies for coping with stress at work

MindWell resource: Find ways to improve your sleep

MindWell resource: Ten strategies for coping with depression

MindWell rsource: Create a plan for when panic attacks happen

MindWell resource: Taking care of yourself during a bereavement

MindWell resource: Coping with living loss

Complete a Wellness Action Plan (WAP)

Working together with your colleague to create a WAP can help you to agree:

  • What your employee will actively do to stay well at work and at home.
  • What you will do to support your employee to stay well at work including making reasonable adjustments and putting other support measures in place.

Completing a WAP can also create a better understanding of your employee's wellbeing needs and lead to more open and helpful conversations in the future.

Mind: Wellness Action Plan - Guide for line managers

Mind: Wellness Action Plan - Guide for employees

Our #MindWellMOT checklist and Self-care goal-setter resources can be used together with an WAP. They are a great way for individuals to look at their personal wellness needs and build in time each week for self-care and activities that help to support their wellbeing.

Moving more, eating a healthy diet, taking time to relax, nourishing your social networks and finding the coping strategies that work for you can all help to reduce the effects of stress and help build resilience. You can download the resources here.

Consider if your workplace culture is promoting staff wellbeing

Your colleague may have needed to take some time off work for a number of different reasons. If people in your organisation are experiencing work-related stress or burnout, however, it can be help to consider whether your workplace culture is supporting staff wellbeing.

  • Is employee wellbeing a priority in all areas across your business?
  • Can staff talk openly about their mental health and problems outside of work?
  • Is there good communication and an 'open door policy' - do people know what support is available to help them stay well at work and how to access it?
  • Do managers know how to listen to and talk to team members about their mental health? Does the organisation need to invest in good quality mental health awareness training?
  • Is flexible working offered where possible and is work life balance encouraged?
  • Do people understand their job objectives and areas of responsibility?
  • Are workloads reasonable?
  • Do people feel supported, trusted and valued?
  • Do senior leaders show their commitment to wellbeing and set a good example of work-life balance?
  • Are people engaged in the goals of the organisation and do they work together positively to achieve them?
  • Does the organisation have zero tolerance to bullying and harassment?

Improving wellbeing at work involves more than just a few one-off initiatives like free gym memberships, or, only engaging staff once a year on national dates. It's important to develop a strategy that's wide-reaching, comprehensive and sustainable. Wellbeing programmes need to be fully integrated into an organisation's culture and operations to be successful. But where to start?

We've developed a downloadable resource, together with Mindful Employer Leeds, which can guide you as a local employer, whether big or small, through all the different steps.

MindWell: What can we do to improve employee wellbeing? A guide for employers, people managers and HR managers

You can also access a free online resource called the 10 Steps Toolkit developed by Mindful Employer Leeds which is designed to help you:

  • Engage - increase awareness of mental health at work.
  • Educate - challenge stigma and build skills.
  • Embed - create a sustainable approach to supporting employee wellbeing.

National Mind has also produced this helpful leaflet to help you look at mental health in your workplace:

Mind: How to take stock of mental health in your workplace

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