Managing Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace – Part Three: Return to Work

Having good mental health in the workplace is a vast subject, which is why I split it into three separate posts. In Part One, I wrote about the importance of providing good training and resources for line managers. Part Two covered managing absence.

This final blog in the series takes you through what you need to consider when an employee is returning to work.

Adjustments at Work

On drawing up the action plan, an honest dialogue between the parties involved must be had about what adjustments your organisation can and cannot make in terms of the employee’s job and tasks.

It is important that you are guided by the individual experiencing the mental health problem. Explore their specific needs and be as creative as possible in addressing them. Make it clear to them if certain adjustments are not permanent but being made to facilitate a return to work.

Adjustments for employees with mental health problems are often simple, practical and cost effective. Organisational adjustments can include:

  • flexible hours or different start/finish times (for a shift worker, not working nights or splitting up days off to break up the working week)
  • a change of workspace, for example a quieter working environment
  • working from home – you must have regular phone catch-ups to remain connected and prevent the employee from feeling isolated
  • changes to break times
  • provision of a quiet room
  • a light-box or a desk with more natural light for someone with seasonal depression;
  • a phased return
  • relaxing absence rules and limits around disability-related sickness absence
  • agreement to give the employee leave at short notice, and time off for mental health related appointments, such as therapy and counselling.

Changes to the role itself include:

  • the reallocation of some tasks
  • changes to the employee’s job description and duties
  • changes to targets or objectives
  • changes to aspects of work that may trigger a mental health problem, such as reducing the amount of time spent on public-facing activities.

If returning the employee to their original role is deemed too difficult, it is vital to involve them in any practical alternative discussions, such as transferring to a different role, or relocation within the organisation. Use the organisation’s agreed procedures to manage these more complex cases, and include HR and occupational health advice.

Practices to support employees returning to work include:

  • increased support from the manager, e.g. monitoring workload to prevent overworking
  • extra training, coaching or mentoring
  • extra help with managing and negotiating workload
  • more feedback
  • debriefing sessions after handling difficult calls, customers or tasks
  • a mentor or “buddy” system (formal or informal)
  • mediation, for example where there are difficulties between colleagues
  • access to a mental health support group or disability network group
  • information on internal support available for self-referral
  • identifying a “safe space” in the workplace where they can have some time out, contact their buddy or other sources of support, and access self-help
  • provide self-help information and share approaches and adjustments that were effective in supporting others
  • encourage building up resilience and following practices that support good mental health, such as taking exercise, meditating and eating healthily
  • encourage more awareness of their mental state and the factors in the workplace that affect it
  • provide regular opportunities to discuss, review and reflect on their positive achievements to help build self-esteem.

Returning to work after mental health absence can be very difficult; HR and managers should ensure that employees feel comfortable and, especially, do not face unrealistic demands or a huge backlog of work on their return. Make sure that there is plenty of time for informal conversations about progress; an “open door” approach should help employees feel comfortable discussing their situation.

Do you have a question about managing mental health absence in your business? Do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.

* This blog is an edited version of an excerpt of an article by XpertHR – Managing Mental Health.

Is it Cheaper to Look After Your Staff or Cheaper to Replace Them When They Leave?

How can the loss of key staff members be prevented when so many employers are not interested in managing retention?

Many employers don’t attempt to manage retention of their staff. Those that do so seldom evaluate the impact of their measures, and often base them on unreliable assumptions about the reasons why employees resign.

Several research studies have shown that retention is linked to employee engagement, which in turn is linked to profitability, customer service and other important business metrics. So is it better to focus on improving engagement, rather than retention. Or should you not worry and just bear the cost of replacing people when they leave?

Despite all the evidence that staff attrition costs money, many businesses take no active steps to control their staff turnover. Research has shown that action is most likely to be taken after the event: when turnover has already become a problem and damage is being done to organisational efficiency.

Studies also consistently show that employers tend to mishandle their efforts to manage retention, focusing on issues that they believe are linked to resignations rather than those that actually motivate staff to leave. Pay in particular is often used to encourage employees to stay, yet it is much less of a deciding factor in employees’ own decision-making than being offered career opportunities, being kept informed and consulted and having faith in the business’s leadership.

What is ‘employee engagement’?

It embraces the older concepts of job satisfaction, motivation and attachment that described individual employees’ attitudes to their employer, but goes beyond them to provide a complete model of the psychological relationship between individuals and organisations. It is a two-way process in which employers and employees interact and respond to each other, unlike the more static concept of job satisfaction.

Employee engagement involves two issues:

  • personal satisfaction in the individual’s job or role (“I like my work and do it well”); and
  • the individual’s contribution to their employer’s success (“I help achieve the goals of my organisation”).

Staff retention can be used as a measure of employee engagement, with many companies now believing that employee engagement is one of the keys to managing performance and retaining talent. Initiatives to improve employee engagement are much more likely to gain the interest and active support of senior management than those focused narrowly on increasing staff retention. Employee engagement has much broader business benefits, including:

  • increased profitability
  • faster revenue growth
  • improved organisational efficiency
  • better attendance levels
  • heightened customer focus.

Look after your staff and they are more likely to look after you and the future of your business. If you need some advice or ideas on employee engagement, email us at sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk or call 0118 940 3032.

What’s the Difference Between Informal and Formal Appraisals?

This is a question I’m often asked by managers, so I thought I would answer it here.

A performance appraisal can occur in two ways – informally or more formally (or systematically.) Informal appraisals can be carried out whenever the supervisor feels it is necessary. The day-to-day working relationship between a manager and an employee offers an opportunity for the employee’s performance to be assessed. This assessment is communicated through conversation on the job, over coffee, or by on-the-spot examination of a particular piece of work. Informal appraisals are especially appropriate when time is an issue. The longer feedback is delayed, the less likely it is to encourage a change in behaviour. Frequent informal feedback to employees can also prevent surprises when the formal evaluation is communicated. However, you should make sure that they don’t become too informal – don’t be tempted to discuss an appraisal in the pub!

Although informal appraisals are useful, they should not take the place of formal appraisals. These are used when the contact between a manager and an employee is more formal. This could be when they don’t see each other on a daily, or even weekly basis. It requires a system to be in place to report managerial impressions and observations on employee performance.

When Should You Carry out Appraisals?

Appraisals typically are conducted once or twice a year, most often annually, near the anniversary of the employee’s start date. For new employees, common timing is to conduct an appraisal 90 days after employment, again at six months and annually after that. ‘Probationary’ or new employees, or those who are new and in a trial period, should be evaluated frequently—perhaps weekly for the first month and monthly thereafter until the end of the introductory period for new employees. After that, annual reviews may be sufficient.

Some managers prefer to meet with their employees more frequently. Some companies in high-technology fields are promising accelerated appraisals— six months instead of a year—so that employees receive more frequent raises. The result for some companies has been a reduction in turnover among these very turnover-prone employees.

A regular time interval is a feature of formal, systematic appraisals that distinguishes them from informal appraisals. Both employees and managers are aware that performance will be reviewed on a regular basis and they can plan for performance discussions. In addition, informal appraisals should be conducted whenever a manager feels they are desirable.

Should We Talk About Pay As Well?

Many experts say that the timing of performance appraisals and pay discussions should be different. The major reason for this view is that employees often focus more on the pay amount than on what they have done well or need to improve. Sometimes managers may manipulate performance appraisal ratings to justify the desired pay treatment for a given individual.

However you carry out appraisals – whether informally or formally – take some time to think about the pros and cons of the different options. This will help you implement the best process for the development of your business and your employees.

Communication is the Most Powerful HR Tool

Communicating on a regular basis with your employees is one of the most powerful HR tools available to you. Talking to your staff can help prevent small issues from turning into more complex, potentially expensive ones, such as grievances or disciplinary problems. Finding out what your employees are thinking can even help you encourage them to work harder for your business.

How do you do this?

One of my clients called me in to help them sort out some problems recently. The management had noticed that their staff were complaining about not being told what was going on in the business. There was actually nothing happening for them to worry about, but because the management didn’t tell them anything, they started to think that the management was hiding something. A regular open forum was held at their quarterly staff meetings, giving employees the chance to speak up and ask questions; but no one ever did. So the managers assumed that everyone was happy.

To find out more, I arranged a meeting with a cross section of the staff, to ask them how they really felt about the communication in the business and how it could improve. One thing they told me was that no one liked asking questions in the open forum. No had had the courage to stand up in front the whole business to speak out!

Next I had a meeting with the directors of the business, to report back what I had found out. There was another staff meeting coming up, so instead of expecting employees to voice their concerns at the open forum, we came up with an alternative. Before the staff meeting, we would split the employees into a number of smaller groups, each with one of the directors. They would ask their group how they would like to be communicated with. One person from each group would then bring forward the ideas from their group to present to the whole business. This allowed people who were brave enough to stand up in front of the colleagues the opportunity to do so.

At the very next staff meeting, a whole range of issues where brought up in front of the whole business in this way. It gave the employees a real chance to tell the management what they thought. There was an opportunity to really discuss, openly, what was going on in the business (and what wasn’t going on!) Concerns were aired and fears where allayed. The end result was a very happy staff – and happy management too.

This is just one example of how communication can be used to improve a business. This solution worked for this business – what is important is that you work with your staff to find out what will be the most appropriate for them.

When you have regular and open lines of communication with your employees, you can help to prevent negative issues from arising and build a happy, engaged and productive team for your business.