Merge's Blog

Bouncing back from (or preventing) mental health sick leave

mental health sick leaveMental health has always been an issue, but the pandemic brought it to the surface in the consciousness of more employees and their leaders.  As a result, I am now hearing from a lot more leaders who have more staff away on sick leave due to mental health matters.  These leaders are, quite appropriately, concerned about what they can do to not only get their employees well and back to work, but also how to support them once they return.

Which is why this study in The Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation published last June 2022 caught my attention.  The title is long – Barriers and facilitators for return to work from the perspective of workers with common mental disorders with short, medium and long-term sickness absence: a longitudinal study (Joosen et al, 2002) – but its results and conclusions are definitely worth noting.

In summary ….

In this study, the causes that lead to mental health sick leave absence were identified as (1) high work pressure, (2) poor work relationships, (3) unhelpful thoughts and feelings eg. lacking self-insight, and (4) ineffective coping behaviours.

What were found to facilitate a successful return to work were (1) work adjustments, (2) fulfilling relationships with supervisors, and (3) adequate occupational health guidance.

The article concluded that the following would not only facilitate an earlier return to work for employees, but might even prevent the sickness absence in the first place:

  • Helping employees gain self-awareness
  • Helping employees feel like they are regaining control
  • Discussing the value of their work with employees
  • Creating conditions in which employees could do valuable work

Supervisors were key to implementing these actions, and the study recommended that they be given support in developing these skills.

What could this mean for you as a leader?

Now at this point, I wasn’t really surprised by any of the findings in this study.  It all makes sense, right?  Create a mentally-healthy workplace and support your employees, and they’ll not only hang around, but they’ll do great work!  The crucial part of this conclusion is that we need to give our leaders the tools and skills to create positive workplaces and resilient employees.

As a leader, are you getting the tools and training you need to create workplaces that support your employees so that they are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy?  I’d love to know your take on this?  Please also tell us if you currently have employees on mental health sick leave.  Add your comment below.

P.S. Regular readers of the blog know that I spent all last year producing a series of short video tips on creating resilient employees.  Each video offers one specific strategy to build a positive workplace and a robust team.  And, now that I look through them, every single one will also help you as a leader create a workplace in which your employees are mentally strong.

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