Getting started

Why does it matter to your business?

Key facts:

  • One in six workers are affected by stress, depression or anxiety.
  • Sickness absence can cost your business between £1,205 and £1,560 per employee (this includes all employees, not just those who are off), per year.
  • The longer someone stays off work, the less likely they are to return.
  • While someone is off, it usually means that others in the business take on more work. This may mean others are doing longer shifts or adding work to their pile.

Getting your employee back to working well is key for you, for the employee and the team.

Did you know that the way an employee is treated during their absence and their initial return has a major impact on their likelihood of returning to work?

On hearing that an employee has stress, anxiety or depression, many employers/managers have the initial reaction – “I feel out of my depth” or “I don’t know where to start, it is all too complicated, and I don’t want to make things worse.”

BUT there are some easy things that you can do to support an employee in this situation. This guide will help you with this.

Take 20 minutes to read through the six simple steps in this document and you could save over a £1000 in sick pay, insurance pay, lost productivity, recruitment costs. You could also potentially save one of your employees from a life on incapacity benefit.

Black and white photo of a womans face looking down

What are stress, anxiety and depression?

Everyone’s experience of mental health is slightly different. People with stress, anxiety or depression may display different signs or symptoms and some might not show any at all.  Often, we cannot tell by people’s behaviour alone. A more important sign is a change in the person’s behaviour.

Some signs that might indicate that something has changed for that individual include:

  • Behavioural signs – struggling with workload, low levels of concentration and focus, difficulty in organising, low productivity, negative attitude, changes in motivation.
  • Emotional signs – feeling anxious or irritable, mood changes, changes in how they interact with colleagues, excessive emotion, feeling isolated or socially withdrawn.
  • Physical signs – tiredness, having sleepless nights, increased drinking and/or smoking, not feeling hungry, headaches.

How do stress, anxiety and depression affect work?

Mental ill-health does not automatically mean poor performance. Many employees with mental health problems perform well at all levels in organisations.  It may just be a case of supporting them and making adjustments to their job (where possible). First of all, the key thing is to have an open culture about mental health. Another important factor is to recognise the signs early on.

Remember it is the change in their behaviour not the behaviour itself. Some signs include being repeatedly late for work, short spells of absence, making mistakes, difficulty in making decisions, withdrawing from the team, or forgetting to complete tasks.

For more details on signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and the possible impact on work see the Mind website.

What causes mental ill-health?

  • It can happen suddenly, as a result of a specific experience or life event
  • It can also happen as a result of pressures that have accumulated over time
  • It can be linked to another illness such as back pain or heart disease
  • Sometimes there is no obvious reason

Can work cause or exacerbate mental ill-health?

The causes of stress, anxiety and depression are often complex; but, for some people, work can play a part. The Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards outline six aspects of work that can cause stress, if they are not properly managed. See the Health and Safety Executive website for more information.

However, overall, research has consistently shown that work is good for our health so getting back to work is important – as long as the work is well designed and managed.

What to do:

The manager’s role in identifying mental health problems in employees:
Individuals need an open and safe environment to be able to talk through any mental health problems they are having. If you see a change in a colleagues’ normal behaviour that persists for more than 2 weeks, don’t ignore it. Talk to the employee; maybe say that you have noticed some changes in their behaviour and ask if they would like to talk about it.

The manager’s role in supporting an employee who takes sick leave due to mental health problems:
An employee’s manager is often the first point of contact when they are unwell and is responsible for the day-to-day management of the employee. Research shows that how the initial period of sickness-absence is managed can impact how much time an employee takes off work. It also affects how they cope on their return and whether they are able to stay at work. This is not about additional skills, it is about good management plus extra empathy, kindness and patience.

The role of professional support including Human Resources, Occupational Health and external services:Many small businesses do not have a dedicated HR function. This guide is designed to help you to handle the absence and return yourself. However, if your employee’s absence is recurring, goes beyond four weeks, or is particularly challenging to manage, you may want to seek external professional advice. See the where to go for further information pdf.

Your business may have an internal Human Resource professional. It may have access to Occupational Health services, depending on the type of insurance you have. If so, this guide can be used alongside these services’ support and guidance.