Return to work response for leaders

How to plan a successful return to work for your employee. Avoid potential issues by maintaining contact during their leave and planning before their return.

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 if 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:

  • Ensure all employees understand that it’s policy to stay in touch during a leave, should they need to take one.
  • Be patient. Contact may be difficult for the employee on leave at first but valued as they begin to recover and think about returning to work.
  • Be compassionate. 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 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 (if they are comfortable).
  • 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’s 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 needs accommodation. It provides guidance for thinking about approaches to support employee success, such as:

  • Consider recommendations from treating professionals.
  • Allow the employee to begin with tasks that they agree they’ll be able to accomplish.
  • Gradually increase the employee's working hours.
  • Allow flexible scheduling to attend medical appointments.
  • Consider 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.
  • Remove 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.
  • Discuss with the employee how they’d 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.
  • Provide re-orientation or re-training that may support the employee's success.

Additional resources

Accommodation strategies. Provides specific approaches to help employees with mental health concerns remain productive members of their work teams.

A tool to support employee success. A process that engages employee and employer to develop solutions that support productivity and well-being. Supporting employee success is for any employee, including those needing accommodation.

Identifying employee issues for leaders and Developing employee plans for leaders. Provides a guideline to assist you in preparing for return-to-work discussions with the employee and collaborating on the employee plan.

Managing co-worker reactions to accommodation. Provides strategies to consider when co-workers are reacting strongly or negatively to the employee’s return.

If the employee is well enough, you may wish to suggest they review Requesting accommodation and/or Getting support when you return to work to be more informed about the process.