Supporting staff

There are some simple ways to provide support.

Keeping in touch

Managers often fear that contact with someone who is unwell and off work will be seen as intrusive. But sometimes, a lack of contact or involvement from you can make an employee feel less able to return to work. 

Early, regular and sensitive contact with employees while they are unwell can be a key factor in getting them back to work as soon as possible.

Try these tips.

The most important thing is to let people know they are not forgotten.

It’s also important to remember that employees also have a responsibility to their employers to keep in contact regarding their absence.


What if the person requests no contact?

Sometimes people say they don’t want to be contacted – perhaps because they feel anxious, embarrassed or even ashamed about the way they are feeling and/or behaving.

However, all the evidence shows clearly that staying isolated can hinder a person’s recovery and greatly reduce the likelihood of a successful return to work.

With sensitivity, you can often overcome this barrier.

Sometimes the request for no contact arises because someone at work – sometimes their manager – is perceived to have been a factor in the employee becoming unwell.

Perhaps another manager or another colleague could liaise with the person on your behalf. 

Don’t forget, there are mutual rights and responsibilities for everyone involved. If you have made all reasonable efforts to communicate with an employee and they refuse to remain in contact with you, then you cannot be expected to make reasonable adjustments which might otherwise help that person to return to work.


Good planning

A successful return to work involves the returning employee as well as you their manager and, where appropriate, their GP or support person. 

Good planning includes the following.

Managing reactions

There can be a lot of misunderstanding around mental illness and sometimes this translates into behaviour from other team members which can be distressing for the person returning to work. Usually, it arises more from fear and ignorance than from ill will.

You can help.  

Reasonable adjustments

Almost no-one is ever fully fit when they return to work after an illness (physical or mental). It takes time to recover speed, strength and agility of both mind and body.

It’s common sense to make reasonable adjustments to a work day in the early days after an extended spell of absence either from mental or physical ill-health. It helps promote full recovery more quickly, and helps ease people back into productive employment. 

Most adjustments are made based on common sense following a frank and open discussion between managers and employees. Not everything is possible and each individual has unique needs. 

Examples of reasonable adjustments:

Most adjustments are simple, inexpensive and need only be temporary.



What happens if the return to work is not successful? 

Sometimes, despite everyone’s best intentions, a return to work is not possible.

Before making any decisions, review what’s been done to support the person involved and consider if there’s anything else that could help. Then talk realistically with the employee about the best way to move forward.

For example, if all reasonable adjustments have been made in their current job, it may be necessary to consider transfer to another job.

It might be that you need to help the person move on with dignity. If so, take advice from your HR advisor or a HR professional.