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Workplace Factors
Communication by supervisors plays a critical role in the return to work process

At a glance:
Health factors are not the only thing that influence whether an employee with mental health
mental health
Emotional wellbeing. Ability to cope with difficulty and enjoy life. THe absence of a mental health problem.
 problems returns to work.
When supervisors communicated regularly with employees who were taking sick leave, they returned to work more quickly.
Supervisors who are responsible for return to work processes are more likely to contact their employees and other professionals.
Perspectives:
Employee
You may find return to work after sick leave is difficult when suffering depression
depression
A symptom of mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of loss, sadness, hopelessness, failure, and rejection. Major depression is likely to interfere significantly with everyday activity, with symptoms including insomnia, irritability, weight loss, and a lack of interest in outside events. The disorder may last several months or longer and may recur, but it is generally reversible in the short run.
 or another mental health problem.

Supervisors may not be aware of the difficulty you face. This study shows that when there is regular contact between employee and employer, people are more likely to return to work and to do so quicker. Even if your supervisor does not call, you can still phone the company. Make contact with the supervisor or others within the workplace such as colleagues, or the human resources department.
Employer
Keeping in touch with employees with a health problem sounds like common sense but it can be challenging for supervisors to juggle everyday activities and maintain production while also finding the time to call people who are off work. However, it is exactly these simple approaches that prevent long-term problems. Relationships are maintained and an atmosphere of goodwill, trust, support is established which leads to a return to work.
Treater
Encourage ongoing communication between the employee and employer. Companies underestimate the importance of communication, and when relationships break down people are less willing to return to work.

Treating practitioners know that medical management plays a limited role in return to work for long-term cases. Employers benefit from hearing treating practitioners' advice, as the treating practitioner
treating practitioner
A health professional that treats patients. In return to work this may include doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, psychologists, masseurs, etc.
 has a deep understanding of their patient, and is in a position to encourage workplace initiatives to improve return to work outcomes.

Supervisor contact, positive communication, co-worker engagement, and flexibility with return to work are essential. Employers may need feedback to fully understand the importance of their role.
Insurer
Employers can improve return to work outcomes through regular communication with their employees. Supervisors play a key role in improving return to work. Many employers are unaware of their ability to improve return to work outcomes with simple everyday positive communication. Advocating positive communication between employee and employer can be an effective tool in resolving problem cases.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
Nieuwenhuijsen K1, Verbeek JHAM1, de Boer AGEM1, Blonk RWB2, van Dijk FJH1: (2004)

Supervisory behaviour as a predictor of return to work in employees absent from work due to mental health problems. Occup Environ Med; 61(10):817-823.

1Coronel Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
2TNO Work and Employment, Hoofddorp, Netherlands
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
When an employee takes sick leave, their health is not the only factor in whether or not they return to work. Other influences are their work environment and level of social support. Previous evidence suggests that the behaviour of supervisors might have an effect on employees' return to work.

This study investigated whether certain aspects of supervisors' behaviour influenced the return to work of employees with mental health problems. Also explored are the factors that influence supervisors to interact more positively with their employees and help them return to work.

85 employees, mostly from the education and services sectors, completed the study. Each had been absent from work due to mental health problems for less than six weeks. They completed a questionnaire at the beginning of the study, and again three, six and 12 months afterward. The researchers collected information about how much work each person had missed and whether they believed their illness was related to their work. They also used an approved test to gain an idea of how severe the employee's symptoms of depression were. The employees' age, sex and occupation was also recorded.

Six months after the beginning of the study, the researchers conducted a telephone interview with each employee's supervisor. This established how often the supervisor had communicated with the employee, whether the supervisor had encouraged the employee to return to work gradually, and whether the supervisor had discussed the employee's return to work with other professionals (such as human resource managers and psychologists.) The supervisors were also asked about workplace factors that might influence their behaviour. These included whether or not the supervisor was responsible for managing their employees' return to work, and whether or not there were direct financial incentives for returning employees.

Finally, the researchers analysed their results in order to observe the supervisors' influence on the employees' return to work, as well as the workplace influences on the supervisors' behaviour. They took into account differences in age, sex, occupation and severity of the employees' symptoms so that these factors would not influence their results.
Study Findings:
The amount of sick leave taken by the employees before they returned to work ranged from 7 to 486 days. The average (median) was 91 days before a partial returning to work, and 215 days before fully returning to work. Most supervisors (72%) contacted the employee at least once every two weeks during their sick leave. Only 14% discussed a gradual return to work plan with the employee, although 62% made changes to the workplace, such as giving less hours or tasks.

Overall, the study found:

Employees who were contacted regularly by their supervisor while they were on sick leave returned to work more quickly.
Supervisors who were responsible for the return to work process were more likely to communicate with their employees and with other professionals.
If the employee's sick leave had financial consequences for the supervisor's department, they were also more likely to communicate with their employee and with other professionals
Supervisor communication did not improve return to work for employees with severe depression
Conclusions:
Many factors influence whether or not an employee returns to work after sick leave – not just their health. This study showed that when supervisors communicated regularly with employees while they were on sick leave, employees return to work more quickly. It also showed that supervisors are more likely to contact their employees and other professionals if they are responsible for the return to work process.
References:
PubMed Abstract
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