Keeping in contact during absence -employers

Watch this short film on supporting absent employees:

Employers sometimes worry that if they contact someone who is on sick leave due to mental health problems this will be seen as harassment. Sometimes employers are unsure what to say so they avoid contacting the person at all. However, employees on sick leave report that lack of contact or involvement makes them feel as if people don't care or have forgotten about them. A lack of contact can also make returning to work even more daunting.

Early, regular and sensitive contact during sickness absence can play a key role in helping employees to return to work more quickly. However, the level and type of contact will depend upon the circumstances and should be discussed with the employee.

If the employee is too unwell to be contacted directly, explore if there is someone else, such as a family member or friend, who can keep in touch on their behalf until the employee is well enough for direct contact.

In some cases, employees prefer not to be contacted. This may be because they feel anxious, embarrassed or ashamed about the way that they feel and are behaving. Approaching the person in a sympathetic and sensitive way and treating the person normally can help to overcome that.

Sometimes employees refuse contact because they perceive that their supervisor has played a role in their becoming unwell. In these cases, you should explore whether another supervisor, colleague, trade union official or other intermediary would be more acceptable as a contact person.

If there is more than one person from the organisation keeping in contact with the employee (e.g. the supervisor and return-to-work coordinator where these are different people), it is important to coordinate and discuss the contacts. It can be frustrating and upsetting for an employee to be contacted by different people asking the same questions or potentially, giving different information.

DOs and DON'Ts

Don’t

  • put pressure on the employee
  • mention that colleagues or teammates are under pressure or that work is piling up

Do

  • try to ensure that all communication comes from a position of care and concern for the employee. You might want to say something like: "I've been wondering how things are and thought I'd call and find out. I hope you don't mind me calling to see how you are."
  • let the person know that they are a valued member of the organisation
  • let the employee know that you are not checking up on them, just keeping them up to date
  • find out what help and support the organisation can provide
  • let an employee know that they have a responsibility to keep in contact
  • negotiate and develop a plan for how you will keep in touch with the employee and how often
  • ask the employee who they would prefer to have as their main contact
  • reassure the employee about practical issues such as their job security and deal with financial worries
  • encourage the employee to talk to their own doctor, or other healthcare adviser, about what they may be able to do as they make progress or adjust to their condition
  • ensure that the employee is aware of the sickness absence and disability policies
  • keep a record of contacts made with the employee
  • explain the return-to-work process to the employee
  • discuss any work-based issues that would assist them to feel confident and comfortable about returning to work
  • discuss reasonable adjustments to assist them upon their return
  • at the end of each conversation, agree on when the next follow up contact will be

You might want to adapt and use this template to record discussions.