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Tips for Managing Mental Health Related Sickness Absence – for staff members & for managers

10 October 2014

To contribute to our celebration of World Mental Health Day, I have put together some tips for dealing with sickness absence related to stress and mental health issues, both from the perspective of a staff member and for managers. Staff are often concerned about how they should behave whilst off with stress/mental health issues e.g. are you ‘allowed’ to get out and about? What if you are ‘seen’? And from the other perspective, managers often lack confidence about how to approach their staff if they are off with these issues

Please note, if you ever need some advice and guidance on such issues you can contact Staff Counselling and talk to a member of the team (phone 02920 879572) or, if you want to talk things through in person, you can book a face-to-face management consultation.

  Tips for Managing Mental Health related Sickness Absence-

for staff members & for managers

For staff members:

  1. Initiate open honest communication about the nature of your illness. The more honest you are, the more opportunity you give your management to support you both whilst you are off and in an early return to work.
  2. Stay in touch. Talk to colleagues and management about how you want to be communicated with whilst you are off. When feeling low it is easy to withdraw and become uncommunicative, however, this can make returning to work a much bigger task. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to stay in touch even if just via text, with a progression to talking and meeting up with colleagues or visiting work.
  3. Whilst off, maintain a routine, get up at a reasonable time and have a plan for your day. This will help your recovery and return to work and help provide you with a structure for your time.
  4. Make sure you get out and do things you might enjoy-meet friends, go sightseeing, anything which will help you feel better. It is a common misapprehension to think you have to be at home if you are off with depression or stress, because if someone from work sees you they will think you are not ill-however, the more you do things which you might enjoy the quicker your recovery will be. This includes going on holiday if there is one planned whilst you are off.
  5. Try to exercise even a little every day. There is unequivocal evidence linking good mental and physical health to a healthy level of exercise. It may be hard to motivate yourself to do this but even if you can just manage a 20 minute brisk walk every day this will help your recovery.
  6. There is also evidence to suggest that returning to work, even on a graduated return, sooner rather than later is helpful. It provides structure to your day, gives you company with people who care about you, and enables you to feel useful and engaged in meaningful activities.
  7. The University is committed to ending the stigma of Mental Health issues in work, as demonstrated through the signing of the Time to Change institutional pledge. Time to Change is a national campaign to end mental health stigma in the workplace. We have a clear commitment to supporting staff to talk about mental health issues with managers.

For managers:

  1. When a member of staff goes off sick with a mental health issue such as stress, depression or anxiety it can really affect managers, who often wonder should they have done something differently. Communication is the key to finding out whether work is a factor and what you can do to support your staff member. Managers are often afraid to stay in touch with staff when they are off, especially if the sick note says ‘work related stress’. Find out from your staff member how they would like to be communicated with whilst they are off, would they like a weekly phone call, or is text all they can manage to start with? Would they like to meet up? Even if it is in a coffee shop off-site, depending on the relationship you have with your colleague. Ask if there are work related issues, what they are, and how can you support the member of staff to sort these issues out. You can read more about holding conversations about mental health sickness absence, here.
  2. Encourage communication with colleagues and work visits if possible. A common complaint heard in the Staff Counselling Service is: ‘no-one communicated with me at all whilst I was off’. This can prolong sickness absence, making it hard for staff to return to the workplace.
  3. Make the staff member aware of all the support options available to them in the University, Staff Counselling, Occupational Health, Staff Disability Network, Sport and Exercise.
  4. Make sure the staff member knows they are missed and will be welcomed back – and not just because their work is piling up! Ensure they know you will work with them to resolve any work issues as far as you are able.