A client phoned the other day and wanted to ask about an employee who had been off for 2 months with a mental health issue.
We asked, how are they and when were you last in contact? A pause, then a rather hesitant answer “about a month ago.”
This is unsurprising. As HR consultants it is our experience that employers often fail to keep in contact with employees who are on long term absence for a variety of reasons. Often with mental health issues, they do not want to be seen as hectoring or harassing the employee. They have tried a few times and there has been no reply, or the employee was frosty, distant, or hostile. Then there are the all too human reasons, I forgot as I have so many things to do and the adage “out of sight, out of mind.”
While this is understandable, it does not help you manage the situation. An employer has a duty of care towards all their employees, both those at work and absent. Keeping in touch is a good opportunity to check on the wellbeing of the employee, see if they need any support, and talk about any relevant updates or changes at work.
Where an employee’s absence is due to a mental health condition, it is important to consider how much contact is appropriate and by what method would be best.
By not keeping in touch, you have limited information on how to handle their absence and the employee will feel increasingly, forgotten about, isolated and ignored making further engagement and supporting the return to work more difficult than it needs to be. In absence of conversation and dialogue, we find suspicion and mistrust can grow.
The benefits of remaining in contact with the absent employee promotes an understanding of the condition that is preventing them from returning to work. Understanding their condition can also help towards providing the necessary support to facilitate their return to work.
The way an employee feels about how their absence is dealt with and the support they receive whilst they are unfit to attend work, could have a positive influence on their return-to-work date and the transition of being back at work. If they feel supported by Management and communication is maintained this could mean a reduction in the duration of the employee’s absence.
If you require any further assistance regarding managing absence, please contact us on 01527 909436.