Depression can sometimes mean that we need to take sick leave from work for a while. If we we have to take time off, we don’t need to be ashamed. With 12.7%
of all sickness absence days being due to mental health conditions, we’re definitely not alone.
When we’re able to return to work, there are some things our employers can do to help smooth that transition. In this post we share ways to welcome someone with depression back to work.
Stay In Contact
Being off work can be isolating, and the longer we’re off, the more out of the loop we can begin to feel. This can make returning to work build up in our heads until it feels scary and unachievable.
Staying in contact with us while we’re off can help to stop things building up so much. It might be helpful to arrange regular catch ups. As an employer, you could take the lead from us on this. Everyone’s different and some people will want to be in contact more than others.
It might also be nice to send a get well soon card while we’re off. It can mean the world to us to know that people are thinking about us.
Refer us to Occupational Health or Human Resources
Many places of work now have occupational health and human resources departments. Some even have departments specifically designed for long-term illness. These departments are there to look out for staff welfare.
If these departments exist in your workplace, it’s helpful to refer employees to them. They can remain impartial. They will be knowledgeable about the various policies in your workplace. They will have experience in smooth return to work transitions. In general, they ensure that, as an employee, we’re well enough to return, and that the return goes well.
Legally, employers have to help us with reasonable adjustments relevant to our role. This could include having set ‘work from home’ hours, or arranging our work schedule around medical appointments.
An occupational health department will be able to offer suggestions for reasonable adjustments. If the costs are a problem, the government offers funding through their access to work scheme.
Listen Don’t Assume
We are a person, before we are an illness. We are the experts in our own illness. There isn’t a one size fits all to depression. You may have employed others with depression in the past; but everyone’s illness is different. So everyone’s work is affected in a different way.
Take the time to have an open and honest conversation with us. Listen to what we have to say, rather than making assumptions. It can help to make our return to work much more effective and successful.
Be Clear On Confidentiality
When we return to work, it can feel like everyone is staring at us. We never quite know what our colleagues know about our illness.
Being clear with us about where the information about our illness goes can be helpful. We may or may not want to tell our colleagues, but if we do we will do so in our own time.
If you have to tell your supervisor about why we’ve been off – let us know. If you have to inform another department, such as occupational health – tell us! Being aware of who knows what can help us trust you, and stops us worrying about where our information goes.
Meeting with us on our first day back, so that we’re not going in blind, can be reassuring. Developing an action plan with us in this meeting, can be a great place to start. It can help us to know what we’re doing and when.
The plan can be as formal or as informal as you like. It could be really detailed – listing all our duties and the times we’re in. Alternatively, it could just give us a rough idea of the sort of hours we’re doing and what some of our tasks are. Either way, it’s a helpful thing to have so that everyone’s on the same page.
Explain Any Changes
If we’ve been off work for a while, it’s likely that there will have been changes within our workplace, and within our job role. Taking the time to sit down and explain these to us can stop us from feeling out of the loop. It can also help to prevent mistakes, and stop us from getting into too many awkward situations.
Altering Our Hours
Going straight from having weeks off work, to completing a 37.5 hours week is a big ask. It is likely to be far too overwhelming and result in us needing to take even more time off.
A graded return can help. Starting with a few hours and building up slowly can help us learn to manage our mental health around our job.
We might need to reduce our hours for a while. This could have financial implications as we will most likely be paid for a lower number of hours than we’re used to. However, it’s something that could be worth considering for a period of time.
If our job allows it, it could be helpful to build some flexitime into our hours. This could allow us to make time for appointments. It could also help with things such as medication hangovers. If we’re struggling on a morning, for example, we could work 10am-6pm instead of 9am-5pm.
Reassuring us that we don’t need to rush back too quickly is important. We can feel pressurised to return too quickly, especially if work is busy. But coming back too soon can result in us becoming overwhelmed and needing more time off.
Discuss Our Work
It’s possible that certain aspects of our work cause us more stress than others. It’s also likely that bits of our job give us more enjoyment than others.
No job is perfect and every job will include elements of stress. However, it can help to have a chat with us about how the different parts of our role affect our mental health.
It might be possible to alter our job role a little to reduce the stress and increase the enjoyment. If it’s not possible to do that, there might be solutions to some of the things that have been stressing us out. There could be new ways of looking at things, or training we could do to help improve confidence in situations we find stressful.
Check In Regularly
Booking in regular check-ins can be as simple as a fifteen minute catch up every week.
This time allows us to bring up any problems quickly, helping us to solve them before they become a big deal. It’s better to book in time, instead of just saying ‘let me know if you have any problems’, because that can seem vague. Additionally, we’ll often it hard to tell someone that there is a problem unless they ask us specifically.
Let us know how we can contact you if we need to. Or who we can contact if we need some help.
It might be your email or phone number, or the details of human resources if that’s more appropriate. Knowing who to contact if we need some help can save us from struggling on alone and can help us to feel supported.
This might sound school-like and simple. But people like to be valued!
Being off work for a long time can drain our self-esteem. It can make us feel replaceable and unworthy.
Telling us that you’re happy to see us back can mean the world. Letting us know when we’ve done something well can begin to help us feel worth something again. It doesn’t need to be a big deal. It can be a text, an email, or a passing comment. But feeling valued can help us to keep working to the best of our ability.
Be Honest If You’re Worried
Sometimes, we might not see quite how our illness is affecting us, or affecting our work. If you’re worried about is, then arrange a time to talk to us, and tell us.
Handle the conversation carefully and compassionately, but be honest. It might be that we need to take a small step back for a couple of weeks before moving forward again. Picking things up early can stop them from spiralling.
Be Supported Yourself
Supporting someone with a mental health problem isn’t always easy. Sometimes it can be hard, and you might not know how best to help us.
Have someone to take it all back to. Perhaps someone a little more experienced, or someone we can bounce ideas off. This is important for your wellbeing, as well as helping you to help us.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.