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.

What’s the Best Way to Keep Your Staff Happy?

Happy employees make happy clients and customers. Here’s a check list of all the things you should be doing, to keep your staff – and therefore your clients and customers – happy. How many are you doing?

  • Improve their engagement with your company – low cost options include offering flexibility, the opportunity to buy or sell holiday and working from home
  • Cheer everyone up – buy them food at work
  • Give lots of praise – in public, if necessary
  • Recognise their achievements – a lot
  • Be reassuring (but realistic) about job security
  • Be flexible about working hours and opportunities to improve their work life balance
  • Be open, honest and involved with your team
  • Keep them in touch with all the news – good or bad
  • Keep up with employees training and development – it does not need to cost a lot. Don’t abandon development and new opportunities. Job training is perceived as a value
  • Develop your company culture – involve everyone in decisions and provide opportunities for staff who don’t normally work together to get to know each other
  • Offer chances to put forward suggestions – it could save you a fortune and it increases the sense of ownership and belonging
  • Provide regular team meetings to reinforce the company culture and beliefs
  • Think about using a promotion as a low cost way of improving self-esteem and self-worth
  • Treat everyone with respect – it doesn’t cost anything and it improves motivation.

How well did you score? What more could you be doing to keep your staff happy?

Family Matters in Your Business

Many of the recent Employment Law changes have focused on family matters. There are more to come in 2015, so it’s important that you are prepared and know how they might affect your business. Many changes relate to the families of your members of staff. While you might not think you’re directly involved, you could be and you need to know how to handle each situation.

Here are some examples: 

2015 Childcare Scheme. From this autumn, almost 2 million families will be able to make use of the tax-free childcare scheme announced in the last Budget. Eligible families will be able to claim a 20% rebate on their childcare costs up to £2,000 per child. How could this affect your business? Research shows that nearly a quarter of employed mothers would increase their working hours if they could arrange good quality childcare. This could be a good thing for your business, but not every family is eligible and some could end up worse off. Some might need to reduce their working hours, which might not suit your business.

Flexible Working. In the past, only parents with children under the age of 17 and carers could apply for flexible working. Now employees who are not caring for others have the right to make a request and as the employer, you must deal with these requests in a reasonable manner. This means you can no longer only expect your employees with children to request flexible working. Now you need to be prepared in case any of your employees makes the request. Do you know how you would deal with these matters?

Time Off for Dependants. All employees have the right to time off during working hours, to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies relating to dependants. This is unpaid leave, unless you’re willing to give paid time off. Employees have a right to a reasonable amount of time off – usually 1-2hours rather than days – to deal with emergencies involving a spouse, partner, child, parent or an elderly neighbour. Leave can be taken to deal with a breakdown in childcare, to put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives, if a dependant falls ill or is taken into hospital or to arrange or attend a funeral. Do you have a plan in place to deal with employees needing to take time off at short notice?

Shared Parental Leave. In the past, mothers could take 52 weeks of maternity leave and receive 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay. Now they can decide to share the leave with their partner. This means that if you are the employer of the partner, you could still find yourself having to give them parental leave, if the mother decides to go back to work early. To make sure your business is prepared for this, know how many of your key members of staff this could affect. Having a contingency plan for what it could cost you.

Antenatal Rights. Pregnant mothers are entitled to time off for antenatal appointments. In addition, partners of mothers-to-be can now take unpaid time off work to go with her to two of these appointments. While you might not have any expectant members of staff, think about the impact on your business of losing a key member of staff for a day – the partner. Can you still hold a Board Meeting with one of your Directors absent?

There have been a number of recent Employment Law changes affecting family matters. However, there are many other legal requirements that you need to be aware of, relating to your employees and their families. For more information the Acas website is always a good place to start.

Employment Law Update Workshop

On 21 May 2015 we’ll be spending the morning at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, going through the latest changes to Employment Law. For individual help with your business and your employees, book your place on the workshop. We’ll talk about how the changes will specifically impact on your business. Click here to book your place for just £15 +VAT.

One of the attendees at a recent workshop said “I thought the workshop would be full of other HR people who knew more than me – but it wasn’t like that at all. I learnt a great deal from the Employment Law update and it was really useful talking to other people to hear how they dealt with similar issues to me.”

Can Santa Get the Sack?

Santa

Can Santa get the sack?

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat … but so is Santa! He’s now too big to fit down the chimney; the elves think they have man flu; and Rudolf says the roads are blocked with snow so he can’t get to work!

You might think that Christmas runs smoothly at the North Pole – after all, they have all year to plan it. However, this year there are a few problems for the Head Reindeer (HR) department to sort out.

Father Christmas is too big to fit down the chimney. All year Santa has been relaxing at the North Pole and as a result, his girth has expanded somewhat. The Head Reindeer is worried that he won’t be able to do his job properly – after all, he is supposed to climb down chimneys in order to deliver presents. Can he get the sack for not being able to carry out the work in his job description? If Santa is morbidly obese and can’t carry out his daily tasks, he could be classed as disabled. This means that sacking him because of his girth may be discrimination – something the Head Reindeer would like to avoid!

The elves think they have ‘man flu’. They’re sneezing and coughing and their noses are running, so they’re really like to stay in bed – especially during December when work gets really busy. Are they allowed to take time off sick, when Father Christmas thinks they just have colds? Staff taking time off for sickness usually increases over the winter months, so the Head Reindeer will need to speak to each of the elves and find out what’s actually wrong with them and make sure they have the right evidence to support the reasons for their absence. Keeping in contact with sick staff is always a good idea. After all, how can Christmas carry on without the elves?

Rudolf says the roads are blocked with snow. He says he can’t get to the office because of the weather conditions. He can’t really work from home, although for some staff, it’s worth setting up remote access, so that they can still work, even if they’re not in the office. The Head Reindeer needs to make sure that the Staff Handbook is up to date, to cover issues like bad weather. And he needs to find out how else to get Rudolf to work, if there is snow on the road, or Christmas might have to be cancelled.

With a little bit of forward planning (and perhaps some advice from an expert) the Head Reindeer (HR) manager will be able to make sure that everything goes to plan for a great Christmas. At least he can let all the elves take time off together, once the festive period is over!