Supportive managers are crucial to return after stress and depression, says report
Thursday 12th October 2017
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The new research recommends improving managers' and supervisors' knowledge and skills to support workers with mental health problems. The study advises improved support both before and after employees go on sick leave.
The Return To Work After Common Mental Disorders report concludes that employees' perceived heavy workload and pressure was the leading cause of absence and that mental health conditions were seen as the consequence rather than the cause of the absence. The researchers also found employees on long-term sick leave often disliked the content of their work, which affected their motivation to return.
The key motivators identified in a successful return-to-work process included having a supportive and understanding manager; having a safe, welcoming and stigma-free work environment; personalised return-to-work support; and empowering and supporting employees so they can adapt their work tasks where possible.
The research, which was undertaken in the context of the Dutch social security system, looked at the factors that influence how workers who are on sick leave because of common mental disorders (CMDs) return to work. It also investigated the barriers they faced and what measures could improve the successful reintegration of employees back into the workplace. The researchers said that the findings were also relevant for UK-based occupational safety and health professionals.
Researchers from Tranzo at Tilburg University in the Netherlands focused on CMDs such as anxiety, depression, stress-related complaints and adjustment disorders, which are the most common causes of sickness absence and work disability. Prolonged absences can put employees at risk of unemployment and are associated with high business costs.
The research involved two qualitative studies. The first considered the perspectives of four categories of professional who regularly encountered workers with CMDs: mental health and occupational health professionals, general practitioners and managers. The two-hour focus group meetings included a discussion on what they perceived to be their roles and responsibilities in the return to work process.
One of the key differences between the perspectives was that managers didn't speak about the effect of conflict between the worker and the manager. All three groups of health care professionals agreed on the importance of managers' behaviour in the return to work process.
The second study focused on workers on sick leave, who were split into three groups depending on their absence length: short-term (less than three months); medium-term (three-to-six months); and long-term (more than six months). A total of 68 employees were interviewed at the start of their absence and again after they had returned or after six months if they were still absent.
Dr Margot Joosen, lead researcher, said: "It is clear from the findings of our study that more support is needed to facilitate the successful reintegration of employees back into the workplace after sick leave with common mental disorders.
"It is crucial that approaches are well planned and involve the joint working of the employee, their supervisor and relevant occupational health expert."
The report has made 40 recommendations for businesses, regulators, the government and the public sector after it found one worker in six suffers from a mental illness and 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs every year.
The figures, which are drawn from the quarterly Labour Force Survey and other sources and produced by the Office of National Statistics, show that the number of workers who said they experienced stress, depression or anxiety was up 7% on the previous period, from 488,000 (a rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers) to 526,000. In 2014-15, 440,000 workers reported a mental health problem caused or made worse by employment.
The Grenfell Tower fire and the latest terror attacks in London, Manchester and Barcelona have focused media and public attention on how people react to traumatic incidents. They have also led to increased scrutiny of how organisations and society can best protect those affected from long-term psychological damage.
However there remains a chance that the current draft could be amended for final publication before the end of 2017, according to IOSH’s head of policy and public affairs, Richard Jones.The working group that is part of ISO/PC 283 – the project committee developing the new standard – met for what is anticipated to be the last time, from 18 to 23 September in the Malaysian city of Malacca.
Developed with the State Claims Agency, the “Work Positive” tool can be used to carry out confidential psychosocial risk assessments. It has been designed to help employers assess workplace stressors, employee psychological wellbeing and critical incident exposure in the workplace. Intended to cover whole workforces, the HSA said the stress assessment can be carried out over three to six months and be re-used every few years.
In 2016-17 – the first full year that the new sentencing guidelines for safety and health offences were in place – fines reached £69.9m compared with £38.8m for the same period a year earlier. This is the second consecutive year in which financial penalties have soared. There was a 115.5% rise between 2014-15 (when £18m worth of fines were collected) and 2015-16.