SUMMARY: An employee’s return to work after a mental health leave is a critical time to support success. Proper planning can address potential issues, including working relationships and performance. This should begin before the employee’s first day back at work.
Maintaining contact during leave
Maintaining contact during leave can be essential to helping the employee feel connected to the workplace as long as it’s done in a way that the employee feels is supportive.
Organizations should identify the most appropriate person to maintain contact with the employee who is off work. It should be someone who has a good relationship with the employee, and could be a supervisor, manager, co-worker, union representative, or someone from Human Resources.
The following can help ensure employees feels supported:
- Clarify with all employees that it is policy to stay in touch during leave.
- Be patient as this contact may be difficult for the employee during the acute phase of illness, but valued as the employee begins to recover and think about returning to work.
- Ask if there is anything you can do to help.
- Avoid questions that may be interpreted as an investigation of the employee's absence.
- Share information about organizational events and news that are not specifically related to the employee's job or tasks. This is to avoid increasing stress related to feelings of worry or anxiousness about the work.
- Communicate in the way the employee prefers – phone calls, voicemail messages or e-mails.
- As the employee becomes well, ease the transition back to work by including the employee in workplace events and celebrations.
- Ensure that an employee off work due to mental illness receives the same acknowledgement (cards, flowers or greetings) as an employee off work for a physical illness.
Return to work planning
It is recommended that in addition to reviewing the content below, you consider using Supporting Employee Success. This free resource provides a process that can be used when an employee may be in need of accommodation. It provides guidance for thinking about various approaches to support employee success, such as:
- Considering recommendations from treating professionals.
- Allowing the employee to begin with tasks that they agree they will be able to accomplish.
- Gradually increasing the employee's working hours over a period of time.
- Allowing flexible scheduling to attend medical appointments.
- Considering employee energy levels at various times of the day and schedule work accordingly.
- Minimizing stressors that might impact the employee's well-being – lighting, noise, distractions, level of supervision, attention to detail, etc. See also Accommodation Strategies
- Removing any non-essential tasks to allow the employee to stay focused on performing their primary duties. An example might be removing responsibility for organizing staff events if someone else can easily do it.
- Discussing with the employee how they would like information to be shared with co-workers. This can include how the employee will respond to questions about their health, their absence and any changes in work responsibilities.
- Providing re-orientation or re-training that may support the employee's success.
- The free video training module, Managing Return to Work, helps answer questions like "What can I do to help the employee be successful?" and "How can I manage co-worker reactions?"
- Accommodation provides specific approaches to help employees with mental health concerns remain productive and contributing members of their work teams.
- Identifying Issues and Developing a Workplace Plan provide a guideline to assist you in preparing for return-to-work discussions with the employee and collaborating on the Workplace Plan.
- Addressing Co-worker Reactions – Provides strategies to consider when co-workers are reacting strongly or negatively to the employee’s return.