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What to do when you have an employee off sick with stress

3 min read  |   3 July, 2018   By Sarah Benstead

Businessman stressed out at work

Stress is no laughing matter – in its worst cases it can lead to poor emotional wellbeing, heart disease or even death. So, as an employer, it’s crucial you’re able to spot the signs and know how to look after your employees should they be suffering.  

According to research by Perkbox in 2018, work is the most common cause of stress for UK adults, with 59% experiencing it and 21% UK workers experiencing moderate to high-levels of work-related stress several times per week.

If an employee is particularly burnt out, it may be necessary for them to take some time away from the office and re-charge their mental batteries. And as their employer, it’s super-important you know how to manage this to ensure they make a speedy recovery.

How do I tell if my employees are stressed?

Here are a few stress-related symptoms to keep an eye out for:

  • Loss of interest in work
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Loss of sense of humour
  • Increased sickness absence
  • Poor time-keeping
  • Tiredness and irritability
  • Physical illness i.e. nausea, aches, pains and headaches

What to do when an employee is off sick with stress

As outlined in our 2019 Sick Report, we discovered that according to the CIPD, 37% of UK businesses have seen an increase in stress-related absence in the last year – with heavy workloads and poor management styles as the culprits.

If you have an employee off sick from work with stress, there are a number of steps you, as an employer, can follow to aid their recovery and ease them back into work.

The support that the employee receives during their time away is absolutely ‘make or break’ in terms of how quickly you’ll have them back in the office and working at optimum performance.

In The Culture Economy Report 2020, we found that toxic workplace cultures are an all-too-human story of burn-out and stress. In fact, this toxicity has had eye-watering consequences on the UK economy: our research found that 1 in 5 British workers quit their job due to poor company culture – costing the UK economy a staggering £15.7 billion a year (yes, you read that right).

So what do you need to do when an employee needs time off work for stress? Here are some helpful pointers.

Understand why they’re stressed

This needs to be done sensitively, in private and with compassion. Try to establish what it is that’s making them feel stressed and go beyond to minimise the causes for them.

The employee may find it hard to talk about their mental health and how they’re feeling but assure them that you’re there to help and support them. It’s important that you’re patient and allow your staff member time to explain.

Communication is key

Whilst it’s important to respect the employee’s wishes and give them the space they need to recover, a level of communication is also needed to ensure that both parties are in the loop.

It’s a good idea to check in on the employee every now and then to see how they’re doing, gauge whether there’s anything else you can be doing to support them and get an idea of when they may be returning to work.

It’s also helpful for the employee to know of any updates that concern them within the business; this can help avoid a feeling of isolation during their leave and will also help prepare them for when they return.

Carry out a return to work interview

When the staff member is eventually ready to return to work, it’s important you put some time aside to catch up, welcome them back and make your own judgement as to whether they are ready to return. It’s also a great opportunity to remind them of how much you value them as an employee and of their importance to the business.

You should use this time with them to establish how they’re feeling now and if there’s anything you can be doing at your end to make their return to work easier for them.

Make reasonable adjustments when they return 

Once you are aware that an employee is off sick with work-related stress, you have a duty of care as an employer to carry out a risk assessment and consider making reasonable adjustments.

Consider changes to working arrangements to help your employee get back to work quickly. Perhaps late starts, flexible working or reduced hours for a period will help. A reduction in responsibilities for a period of time may also help your employee to feel less overwhelmed.

You should try to find solutions that will ease the pressure and help your employee get back to work in an environment where they feel supported. The ways in which you do this will become clear after you have the initial conversation with the employee and understand why they’re suffering from stress.

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