Managing return to work
Communicating with colleagues
Colleagues' reactions are often an area of great concern for people returning to work after mental illness.
Managing return to work
Many people describe experiences of stigma and discrimination while others report that support from colleagues played a role in recovery. Experiences of stigma usually happen because of ignorance and fear, rather than ill will. Deciding whether or not to disclose a mental health problem at work is one of the most difficult issues an employee can face.
The way in which information about an employee’s absence and return to work should be communicated will vary. Some people are more open than others and some workplaces are more accepting of those with mental health problems.
- Worrying about what people think can act as a barrier to return to work.
- Supervisors need to manage issues related to team morale and concerns about workload. This may be particularly difficult if there are interpersonal issues complicating a person’s absence.
- An employee’s privacy needs to be respected.
- Colleagues might not be sure what to say and find it easier to avoid the employee or not mention mental health.
DOs and DON’Ts
- be guided by the employee’s wishes. Ask “How much do you want to disclose?”
- discuss and come to a clear agreement with the employee about who is to be told and what they will be told
- if the person does not want any information to be given, you may just want to say that the person is having time off for personal issues
- some colleagues might want to send flowers, cards or even visit the person. If this is the case, ask the employee what they would prefer and pass on their wishes to
- try to deal with mental health problems in an honest, matter-of-fact way. As much as possible, try and treat a mental health problem in the same way you would treat a physical health problem.
- watch out for hostile reactions – stamp out any hurtful gossip or bullying promptly
- check in with the employee about how they are getting on with colleagues as part
of the process of reviewing the return-to-work plan
- put pressure on an employee to disclose more than they feel comfortable with
shroud the issue in secrecy
- allow the person’s absence or mental health problems to become a source of office
- discuss and come to a clear agreement with your supervisor about who is to be told and what they will be told
- welcome the employee back after sick leave. A simple “It’s good to see you back” can be very helpful
- be respectful of the employee’s confidential mental health history
- avoid talking with the person for fear of saying the wrong thing. It’s ok to ask “How are you going?”
- pry for details about their problems