Psychological Health at Work

by Dr Christopher C Ridgeway

Returning to work

How can you, as a manager, ensure that short- to medium-term psychologically ill absentees return to work in the most effective manner? Below are some of the steps you may be able to take.

Within the company

Assuming the person is able to come back to work within the company, you should consider taking some of the steps suggested below, as appropriate.

  1. Ensure that all professional evidence is available to you.
  2. Seek to ensure that consensus is reached between professionals about the kind of job role that would most suit the returning employee.
  3. If consensus is not reached or if there are significant issues about the individual’s capacity to perform at an acceptable level in a new role or their old one, seek further advice. Job suitability/assessment advice can be provided either by the job centre advice service or, privately, by a career consultant or occupational psychologist.
  4. Consider using the government-sponsored training facilities.
  5. If appropriate, consider a phased entry. They might, for example, start by working 25 per cent of ‘normal’ work hours, then go on to 50 per cent, then 75 per cent and, when ‘ready’, come back full time.
  6. Re-entering work can be very stress-provoking, so, if possible, the individual re-entering the work force should be allocated a mentor, usually their direct manager and/or a counsellor, who could be a company nurse, a member of HR or a nominated member of a job centre or rehabilitation unit.

If someone has been on sick leave only for a short time, make sure that they do not return to find a backlog of unfinished business from before they left. Keep the more stressful tasks off their list until they have had time to settle back into the routine.

Alternative employment

Training and education for alternative employment and/or life-style should be considered. Where the absent employee is judged by professionals to be unable to return to their former job(s) and management judge that the employee is unable to successfully fulfil the requirements of alternative possible jobs within the company, then you can aid the change.

The state provides disability advisors. Employment Rehabilitation Centres can help employees adapt to the routine of work (for example, timekeeping). Schemes run by organisations such as Re-employ or Sheltered Work can help psychologically ill employees or ex-employees to reduce stress and make a job change.

You may, in your contact network, have colleagues who could provide work experience. If you have such contacts, you can draw on them to facilitate the move to an alternative job.

Where professionals consider that the ill ex-employee will not be able to return to work, you may also be in a position to help them, via your knowledge of local education and training opportunities, job clubs or voluntary work, to find suitable places where they can develop new skills and a ‘new’ life.

Company review

If a stress-related psychological illness maybe the result of in-company factors, managers should consider

  • Auditing the company’s psychological health – consider job satisfaction levels, well being, lateness, absence and labour turnover
  • Possible changes to job design, management style, organisational procedures, practices and processes (including wage, salary, benefits, communication, decision making, empowerment and so on)
  • Implementing ‘test’ changes.