Managing return to work

Reasonable adjustments

The person coordinating return to work should organise to make reasonable adjustments that remove any barriers that prevent an employee from fulfilling their role to the best of their ability. This involves identifying suitable duties for the person returning to work.

When making reasonable adjustments, do:

  • consult employees about reasonable adjustment and negotiate if there are different points of view
  • be flexible and treat each case individually, but on a fair and consistent basis
  • avoid making stereotypical assumptions about the capabilities of employees with a mental health problem
  • make sure that any side effects of treatment the employee experiences are considered against their job requirements. This is particularly crucial in jobs where there are health and safety risks.
  • regularly review adjustments

Some examples of reasonable adjustments to consider include:

  • offering flexible working hours, to enable the person to have time off to keep appointments with healthcare practitioners
  • shift or location changes
  • adjusting the environment of the workspace (if possible)
  • establishing goals, prompts, reminders and checklists to assist the employee with time-management and to stay on top of the workload
  • reducing workload or specific tasks
  • providing access to professional mentoring, coaching or on the job peer support
  • ensuring that the employee does not return to a back-log of work or emails
  • identifying and modifying tasks that the employee may initially find stressful or overwhelming, for example, the management of staff, public speaking or direct customer contact.

Where possible, employees should be supported to access treatments by being allowed time off work to attend appointments. In cases where access to treatment is ongoing, suggest to employees that they make appointments for the end or the middle of the day to limit the impact they have on the employee’s work day.

You should also investigate other workplace supports that may be available to the employee, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), rehabilitation services or a local employment service.

The Australian government’s JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund helps people with disability and mental health condition by providing financial assistance to purchase a range of work related modifications and services. Assistance is available for people who are about to start a job or who are currently working, as well as those who require assistance to find and prepare for work.

The language you use can play an important role in successfully working out reasonable adjustments. For example if someone says to you that they have depression, it can be helpful to ask “What does that mean for you?” because mental health problems affect people differently. For one person, it might mean that they have problems concentrating while for another, it may mean that they do not sleep well. If you know more about how symptoms affect the person’s work, it will be easier to make reasonable adjustments.

Jane's* advice
"I think it's important to remember that when people are anxious they can struggle with situations that they would have dealt with previously. They might be less likely to remember everything they've been told. So a manager might need to tell them something three times instead of once. If that manager can tolerate that and make it clear that they can ask again if they are finding something difficult, it can help them to relax. That often makes things a lot easier in the long run."
Return-to-work coordinator
*not her real name