5 Tips to Supporting A Colleague Who is Absent due to Mental Ill-Health

Sometimes, physical illness requires a member of staff to take time off work to recuperate. The same is also true of mental ill-health. It is crucial that individuals treat staff who are off work due to mental ill-health in exactly the same way as they would treat that staff member if they missed work while recovering from a broken arm.

One of the worst things that you could do to a fellow staff member, would be not to take their mental health seriously. Feeling as though the whole team at work supports them, can make a world of difference to someone who is struggling and can also help them to recover more quickly. Here are some tips on how to best support colleagues who are going through these difficulties.

1. Accept That Their Absence Is For Serious Reasons

If a colleague is absent for a period of weeks or months, you may have to take on extra responsibilities at work in the short term. Certain workers can resent having to complete extra tasks because a colleague is absent and then begin to challenge the reasons for that absence. It is vital that you empathise with your colleague and understand that they are not absent because they fancied going on holiday or catching up on daytime TV. Your colleague is taking time off so that they can overcome serious challenges which are destroying their health. They are suffering so much that they are unable to work, and need to take time off urgently to recover. Their colleagues should accept this as a legitimate cause of absence from work.

2. Let Them Know That You Care

This may seem obvious, but when you are working, it can be easy to become consumed by the matter you are working on that day and forget about others. You may be unsure of what to say or worried that you may make a situation worse. If you take the time to check in and see if your colleague is ok, they will greatly appreciate the effort you have gone to. Imagine if you had undergone a traumatic event, such as a bereavement, or a horrendously bitter divorce and this, alongside other factors, had led to depression which caused you to miss work. You would want to know that your friends from work were there for you and wanted you to recover as quickly as possible. The same applies to a colleague who is absent for these or other similar reasons.

3. Make Their Return To Work As Easy As Possible

Returning to work after a mental illness is hugely difficult. Knowing that someone is there to have lunch with you on your first day back, walk into the office with you, or even just to talk to you in breaks can give someone who is recovering from mental ill-health invaluable and much appreciated support.

4. Manage Empathetically

Line managers need to make sure that their teams run effectively and profitably at all times. But they have a responsibility to look after their team members' mental and physical health. When a team member returns from absence due to mental ill-health, it may take time for them to get back into their normal duties. It is important to offer them options to work reduced hours and gradually build back to a point where they feel confident in resuming full hours. They may even benefit from taking on an entirely new role. Reasonable adjustments could also include allowing a member of staff to take time off to attend therapy sessions.

Managers should also contact these employees while they are on leave to ask how they are doing. Sending a card from the whole team would be a hugely appreciated gesture for most people. As a manager, it is easy to feel consumed with work for much of the day. It is important to continue to treat that employee as a member of the team, by inviting them to social events and calling, while appreciating their need to recover from the serious difficulties they are facing.

5. Upskill Managers

At Altruist, we offer a unique course that not only helps managers to manage absence due to mental-ill health but enables them to spot the early signs of an issue before that staff member is afflicted so badly that they take leave from work. We’ve helped organisations save thousands of pounds by training managers to reduce the number of absences related to mental ill-health at their firms. We would like to help your business to make these savings while treating staff experiencing mental ill-health with the respect and compassion they deserve. To find out more about how our course can help your business visit either our Mental Health Training for Managers or our Online Mental Health Training For Managers course pages.

'The high-quality training that Altruist provides directly impacts on the mental well-being of staff and empowers them to unleash their full potential.' Neil Mortimer, Business Manager, West Midlands Academic Health Science Network

Katie attended the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy where she set up Altruist in 2013. Since then, Katie has won various awards including Birmingham Mail's Young Achiever of the Year 2017, New Entrepreneurs Foundation 'Future Face of Business' and Entrepreneurial Spark's 'Most Accelerated Business'. She has also been a finalist in nine other award categories and in 2014, Katie was invited to attend the prestigious 'Women of the Year Lunch' in honour of her work raising awareness and reducing the stigma attached to mental health.

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