When an employee is experiencing mental health challenges, it can be easy to assume sending them home for recovery is the best course of action. However, staying at work is often a healthier option.

“The longer someone is off work, the less chance we have of getting them back to work,” explains Communicorp principal consultant psychologist and SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training faciliator Dr Laura Kirby.

“Even after just 20 days of being off work, you’ve dropped to having a 70% chance of getting them back, and 12 months down the track it’s reduced to less than a 5% chance of getting them back to the workplace.”

There are several benefits to helping your employees remain at work.

Benefits to the employee and to the organisation

The benefits of staying at work are many and varied for the employee. “Sending an employee out the door is creating additional risk, and one of the reasons for that is there are so many health benefits associated with work,” says Dr Kirby. “Work is giving them a structure, giving them a social network, easing financial stress, and providing a sense of value, purpose and meaning to what they do each day. All of these things are really important for mental health.”

There are also many organisational advantages. Dr Kirby says: “If you have a mentally healthy workforce with people who are working to their maximum capacity and who are fully engaged in the work they do, you have better outputs and a highly productive and energised employer.”

Make changes that can help make staying at work a reality

As an alternative to sending an employee home, consider making alterations to their work instead. “Look at workplace ways to support them better,” suggests Dr Kirby, adding employers have a major role to play.

“There are any number of factors that are contributing to someone experiencing stress and mental ill health, and work stressors are likely to play a part in that. That’s where managers have some influence: how are you going to adjust the workplace for a short period of time to suit the person and keep them in that environment?”

Create an open communication culture

Constant communication with employees is a vital support method. “Be open with your people, and have conversations to understand what’s going on for them,” Dr Kirby says.

In SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training, we provide in-depth knowledge for having those conversations.

Seek advice and assistance

Importantly, you don’t need to do this in isolation. There are many support services you can tap into, including your human resources and health and safety departments, and training programs to help you know your role in providing employee support. Workplace supports such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are also useful.
If you think you need a helping hand with getting started, SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training is designed to provide managers with the knowledge and preparation to create and maintain a mentally healthy workplace.

This article was featured in SuperFriend News, a monthly e-Newsletter which provides practical advice for employers to guide them in creating positive, cohesive and productive environments for all employees.