Employers must put a greater emphasis on meeting individual needs when planning an employees’ return to work following mental illness.
This is according to researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, which found a need for a more tailored approach to bringing an employee back to work.
The study, commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), found that by paying attention to an individual’s situation and conditions, organisations can help prevent mental health problems from becoming more severe and can achieve a more sustainable return to the workplace.
Giving employees a sense of hope while they are off work because of mental ill health may also be beneficial, along with more frequent communication with their employer and colleagues.
IOSH research manager Mary Ogungbeje said around 12.8 billion working days are lost due to anxiety and depression, so it was vital for organisations to better understand how they can meet workers’ needs.
She said: “With the costs to society of absenteeism, presenteeism and unemployment due to mental health problems, this attempts to get a better understanding of individual variations and the return to work process.
“The imperative to better understand the individual needs of those returning to work after experiencing mental health problems is likely to get even sharper focus over the coming weeks and months, of course, as employees worldwide re-enter the workplace after coronavirus lockdown.
“Many of these workers will have been living with stress and social isolation as they worked at home, away from their ‘normal’ working environment.”
The study found employees with stress complaints and adjustment disorders were more likely to return to the workplace sooner, while slower return-to-work trajectories featured more employees with burnout – an issue many have said is rising due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“With such significant societal costs associated with mental health problems, not to mention people’s quality of life, we need more insight into how employees who have these issues return to work and a greater understanding of the different ways individuals negotiate this process,” said Dr Margot Joosen, a senior researcher at Tranzo, Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.