Research by Loughborough University has concluded that employers must do more to help staff who return to work after a period of mental illness.
The university’s study, “Returning to Work”, examined the role of depression after a period of sick leave across four types of chronic illnesses: depression and anxiety, back pain, heart disease and cancer.
It showed that almost half (45%) of those with a physical condition experienced mild to moderate depression when returning to the fray and that they were more worried about telling their employer about a mental health issue than a physical problem.
In response the report called for managers to produce better “return to work” schemes for the sick and emphasised that firms should not allow this need to be sidelined because of the credit crunch.
Encouragingly, researchers actually found evidence of good practice where “case conferences” were held to discuss the return to work with an employee, manager and an occupational health specialist.
However, the report indicated that most people who had been on leave with a mental health condition reported symptoms of continuing depression and that they were less likely to see well- constructed return to work schemes compared to their physically ill counterparts. This was despite the fact that their illness was much more likely to have been work-related in the first place.
Among the key working aspects reported to be beneficial to the employee’s mental health were shorter working hours and fewer tasks. Support from colleagues was also found to be extremely helpful and the report recommended employers provide mental health training to staff to help improve understanding of the issues.
“It’s understandable that people still feel more comfortable talking to an employee about cancer than they do about mental health – the stigma has yet to be properly addressed,” says Rowan Myron, Associate Head of Research at the Mental Health Foundation, the organisation which funded the report.
“Employers really need to take this on board. The recession means more than ever, companies need to make sure they are getting the best out of their staff – so now is really not the time to sideline these efforts.”
To read the “Returning to Work” report please visit: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/?entryid5=67533