A company policy which may look good on paper could be bad for the health.
Sometimes, procedures established to ensure the smooth running of a business may have consequences that are to the detriment of both employer and employee.
Take, for example, the way company policies on employee contact at times of illness are followed. If not conducted with care, the result could be damaging to the long term health of the member of staff, their relationship with the business and their ongoing effectiveness.
Very often, if somebody is away from work with an illness, particularly if it is in relation to depression or stress, it is preferable if that person is given the appropriate space for their recuperative needs.
As much as it is important for companies to keep track of employees’ health, it is the focus of these contacts which needs to be considered.
All too often, the direction of the conversation will be geared around how soon the member of staff will be returning to work. This line of questioning will certainly instil feelings of guilt in a conscientious employee, leading them to return as soon as possible, often before they are truly ready to be back at work. In such situations, the risk of a circle of ill health can be created, with the premature return leading to further problems, more time off and then more guilt and feelings of obligation to go back to work early again.
The focus during such contacts needs to be on the individual’s wellbeing. Replace “when will you be back?“ with “how are you feeling?“ and the employee is more likely to return when the time is right and be in a position to once more be a strong member of the team.
Sometimes, the right handling of such a situation can give the employee an implied “permission” to start their recuperation.
Particularly at times of stress or depression, the more remote the support is from the workplace, the more effective it can be. External counselling allows transparency, whereas internal support might not be conducive to the therapeutic airing and discussion of all of the relevant workplace issues.
Statistics back this argument up and it is clear that, when there is a work-based dispute or suspension, personal relationships can be eroded, with a feeling of helplessness while decisions are made, or endlessly delayed, hence the value in external support.
Around 80% of people who have been referred to such assistance say they have benefitted, whether it is developing a strategy to better cope with a situation, or simply the opportunity to rant. It may be that they get the training they require to function better, whether it is resourcefulness, robustness or other coached skills.
One in ten people have an active depression at any time, with many grinding on at work and it is worth noting that in such situations support is still valuable to both individual and employer. At times like this, the employee is generally unhappy, unfulfilled and becomes cynical, with morale affected, and this can be infectious.
According to ACAS, the cost to businesses of poor mental health is £30 billion. Tasks take longer, multi-tasking becomes more difficult, and staff members are less likely to show patience with clients or customers.
There lies the real value in providing external support to the individual, as line managers are not always best placed to give an objective appraisal of, and response to, the situation.
Like any other aspect of managing a business, ensuring the correct handling of staff illness and the increasingly visible issues of stress and depression is vital not only the efficiency of the company, but also to the employer’s duty of care.