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Better support needed for employees returning to work after mental health absences

31 May 2019

Better guidance is needed to support employees who have been absent due to mental health issues to return to work, a congress in Turin will hear today.

Common mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression affect one in six of the UK workforce, and 1.6 million employees report experiencing a mental health issue at work.

British Psychological Society members will lead a symposium at the European Association for Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP) 2019 congress on how failing to support the return to work of an employee who has been absent due to mental health issues can lead to problems like reduced productivity, and potential further absence.

Research being presented found that current resources available to employees and organisations only cover the absence period itself, and there is a lack of guidance available to support a successful return to work.

The researchers make the following recommendations to improve current guidance:

  • Line managers should offer long-term adjustments and support, rather than just in the immediate return period.
  • Employees should be support with self-care (such as exercising and eating healthily) to promote a successful return.

A further paper finds additional problems for people with moderate and severe mental health conditions.

Individual Placement and Support (IPS) is widely used to help people with severe mental health conditions return to the workplace, but is found to have a poor record of achieving ongoing job retention following an initial placement being secured.

Further in-work support is needed by organisations and managers to promote job retention for people appointed with the aid of IPS after the initial start period.

The symposium is led by chartered BPS member Dr Roxane Gervais, and sees research presented by Joanna Yarker (Kingston University), Karina Nielsen (University of Sheffield), Fehmidah Munir (Loughborough University) and Dr Louise Thomson (Institute of Health, University of Nottingham).

EAWOP is Europe’s largest meeting of work and organisational psychologists, held every two years.

The BPS will be hosting the 2021 congress in Glasgow.


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