Spectrum Partnership: Occupational Mental Health Service Now Available
As we introduce our new partnership with Spectrum Mental Health; Jayne Grimes, Psychologist & Occupational Mental Health Lead at Spectrum Mental Health shares some advice for HR teams around managing absence and how this new occupational mental health service can support.
Advice on Managing Mental Health related Absenteeism
The last year has challenged stigma around the subject of mental health more directly than multiple campaigns over the past ten years. We are talking about how we’re doing in a much more open and honest way than ever before, and most of us are sharing the bumps as well as the ways we pick ourselves up. We are learning that being direct in how we talk about well-being and support needed is often the most useful way we can be there for our colleagues, friends and family. In our work with HR Managers we are often asked how to support colleagues who may have taken time away from work, or are returning again after a mental health related absence. Here are a few suggestions which we hope might help.
- Ask directly how they are doing and validate their experience without judgement. Create an environment where people feel that they can share if they are not doing so well. If your colleague has been on frequent sickness absence, and you have a concern around their mental health, speak to them. It is very easy to feel isolated and the act of reaching out can help to reduce this feeling.
- Ascertain if they need any support, are they accessing it, or would they like some help in stepping towards appropriate professional supports. If there have been repeated absences lately consider if you might need some additional support yourself. Draw on your occupational health professional to better understand how the individual’s capacity for work may be impacted on and guidance around what they may need to get them back to health and to work.
- Bear in mind that longer absences and disengagement can impact other parts of a person’s life including family, social and financial. Getting the right kind of support in a timely way can prevent deterioration or unnecessarily prolonged mental health and other difficulties. We know that the shorter time between identification of a mental health issue and accessing psychological therapy, the sooner a person will return to work.
- Get a personalised, supportive and realistic return to work plan in place which focuses on a person’s strengths and current capabilities. Support them by leaning into their interests and abilities, how they are spending time at home and on their return to work. Help them to foster a sense of achievement and rebuild their self-esteem, which is proven to help overcome common mental health issues.
- Be clear around agreed period of absence and when this will be reviewed, how and with whom. Communicate this process both verbally and in writing. Be clear who is responsible for managing the absence process and the important role that each person plays; from you the HR Manager, the employee’s line manager, your Occupational Health Professional and your employee. Communication around agreed outcomes is critical. Agree with the employee on what information is communicated with the person’s line manager and team.
- Create clear sickness absence policies with mental health at the heart.
- Contact your employee on regular basis. We know that social support is the most significant protective factor for our mental health, and it’s often one of the things people let slide when they’re going through a bad time. People may not wish to be contacted, as they may be feeling a raft of emotions about their experience, including shame. Your communication to them may not require a response until they feel ready to reach out. Remind people that they are part of a caring team and are being kept in mind even when not physically there.
- Plan well for your employee’s return to work. Have policies that enable a phased return to work, in a variety of formats. Consider how flexibility can be applied to the shape of a role; part-time, working from home, job-sharing, building back up to an agreed role at a pace that works for your colleague. Work this out directly with the person who is on leave. They will know best what they need and can manage. We know that the longer people are on sick leave, the harder it is for them to return, and the more likely it is that absence may lead to turnover.
- Support them well in their return to the office. Plan carefully how they would like to return to their team. Agree with them in advance how you will describe the reason for their absence to their team. Who will communicate this – give the individual control over how this message is shared. Ensure their trust and confidence in how you talk about their return, and discourage any conversation that steps outside these boundaries.
- Carry out regular reviews with your colleague. How are they doing, and how are they faring in relation to their work objectives. Set transparent milestones together with time-frames moving them towards an agreed standard of performance. Keep your door open for informal and formal check-ins.
Our new service in partnership with Spectrum Mental Health enables your Cognate Occupational Health Professional to offer clear and transparent advice to you which in turn can bolster your ability and confidence in addressing mental health related absences. Our complete assessment and optional psychological therapy service can be your guide to preventing extended employee absence and unnecessary escalating financial and health costs.
If you would like to learn more about how our service might benefit you and your organisation, please contact your Cognate Occupational Health Professional or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Our Expert
Dr Jayne Grimes is a Counselling Psychologist and Occupational Psychologist.
With over twenty years’ experience in psychology, she brings understanding from extensive clinical practice into supporting people to have mentally healthy and meaningful working lives.
Jayne has managed mental and psychosocial health projects within the NGO sector and has worked for many years in the NHS in primary care and outpatient settings, including a specialist anxiety and trauma service. Prior to this she worked for many years in the private sector where she delivered management assessment and development programmes across a broad range of industries.