Psychological Health – Managing a Return to Work

Although the taboos surrounding mental health are less tenacious than they were a few years ago, many employers have the impression they are walking on slippery ground when it comes to medical leave. And managing the return is all the more delicate…

Here are the 5 steps recommended by Ghislaine Labelle, CHRP, in an article written for the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés. The three attitudes to retain throughout the process are the employee’s comprehension, planning and participation.

1. Schedule a preparatory meeting with the employee before his scheduled date for returning to work.

The objective is to help the person be psychologically prepared for his return and to discuss the process with him. Ask openly how his leave is going and how you can help prepare for his return. It is possible that the discussion will bring back to the surface the anxiety related to his leave, so be honest about his health and show understanding about what he has experienced, without judgement.

2. Discuss the working conditions under which his return will take place

The logistical aspects of the work the individual will have to deal with upon his return are then discussed: what tasks will be entrusted to him, what are the files in progress, who is taking the person’s place during his absence, etc.

3. Addressing fears about returning

“An absence from work for psychological reasons says it well: there are psychological aspects linked to the disease, which will have to be addressed to make the return successful,” summarizes Ghislaine Labelle. Once again without judgement, ask your employee about the aspects he is anxious about and the things that are arousing his apprehension. You will be able to see what facilitative measures can be put in place to limit discomfort, especially if the leave arose from a prickly relationship with a co-worker.

4. Develop a return plan

The last objective of the meeting is to reduce the unexpected events related to the return — and therefore the individual’s stress and anxiety — so that the return to work is done sustainably, as gently as possible. What support does he want from his manager, and how often? Who will he be able to speak to in case of difficulty? How does he want to get back in touch with his colleagues?

5. Announce the person’s return to their work team

Even if this step can be uncomfortable for you, it is nonetheless crucial to foster a smooth return to work. “Preparing both entities will help increase the chances of successful reintegration,” says Ghislaine Labelle. You can discuss their apprehensions with them and remind them that they should adopt the same attitudes with their colleagues as they would like to be treated: with openness and without judgement.

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