Following on in our series about the return to work interview, we focus this week on strategies to manage the process, following the absence of an employee with mental health illness.
In many ways, this can be more of a challenge to management and HR than any other return to work interview. The improved attitude to mental health care over the last few years has certainly helped bring these issues to the table, yet there is still work to be done to reduce the stigma about mental health and keep up the communication at all levels. Source. This can create a challenging in encouraging an employee open up about what help they need and should be handled with sensitivity and care.
The aim of the return to work interview in this instance is to create an honest and open dialogue that will lead to a system of support and understanding between employers and employees. The first step is often the hardest, but by reaching out to the employee on a regular basis during their time off, it should be a natural progression to discuss how the business might facilitate a return to work that ‘works’ for them.
When they are ready, you might hold the return to work interview in an informal yet private location or they may be happy to come into the workplace.
The first thing to discuss is confidentiality, this is one of the biggest concerns employees have about disclosure during and after a mental health illness. How it is handled is entirely at the discretion of the employee, they may like colleagues to be informed on their behalf, they might prefer totally confidentiality or be happy to share the story themselves. There is no right or wrong and the WRAP is the perfect tool to assess this….
This brings us neatly on to what is arguably the most important tool in a managers’ return to work kit, the WRAP ‘Wellness, Recovery, Action Plan’. This positive collaborative management tool is an informal contract between the employee and employer that details the support the employee needs to enable them to recover and stay in work and what the employer will do to facilitate that.
No two experiences of mental health illness are the same and the WRAP enables a person centred approach. This not only opens up the conversation but also gives the person control over their recovery and helps them feel confident that they will receive the support they need. It might include questions such as ‘Can you describe any of your triggers for mental ill health and early warning signs that we might notice’, or ‘If your health deteriorates, or we feel we have noticed early warning signs of distress, what should we do? Who can we contact?’.
There might be points on the WRAP that a manager will consequently need to monitor, such as that the person isn’t working too many long hours, that they are taking their lunch break or supporting with a flexible approach to hours and workload. This will be an evolving process and used as a basis for ongoing discussion, the WRAP can be continually amended as the employee settles back into work and wellbeing.
There is a good template on page 25 of the guide: ‘Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers’ on the cipd website.
The final important point that a line manager handling a return to work interview should be aware of, is their ‘frame of reference’. This is the unique set of values and judgements that we all hold that affect the way we see the world and the people in it. It affects every decision we make. For a return to work interview, a manager should leave their own ‘frame of reference’ at the door and try and see the situation from the employees perspective. This will enable them to truly listen and respond to the needs of the person in the room, without any preconceived outcome or solution in mind.
Do you use WRAP in your workplace? How have you found it as a management tool in terms of your employees’ responsiveness to it, after a period of absence with mental ill health?