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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness
 Work and mental health

Preparing for the return of your employee after a period of mental ill health

Build in policies and processes that help your employees to maintain and improve their health – including mental health – when they return to work.

Keeping in contact during sickness absence

Managers often fear that if they contact someone who is on sick leave this will be seen as harassment.  However, lack of contact or involvement could signal to your employee that you have ‘written them off’ or have forgotten about them.  A lack of contact during sick leave could make returning to work even more daunting. 

Most guidance aimed at improving sickness absence stresses that early regular and sensitive contact with employees during sickness absence can be a key factor in enabling your employee to return to work more quickly.  Remember too that evidence shows that work can actually aid your employee’s recovery. In addition, the longer someone is out of the workplace, the more difficult it becomes for them to return to work and the less likely it is that they will return to work at all.   

Some employees, especially in a recession or in a tough economic climate, may feel guilty or worried about taking sickness absence in the first place.  The 11th annual survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) of almost 600 organisations shows that presenteeism and reported mental health conditions have increased as a result of the recession.  CIPD point out that ‘Failure by organisations to address employees’ concerns may lead to mental health problems and costly longer-term consequences.’  It is helpful then if you make it clear that all employees are entitled to be absent from work when they are not able to work productively.  It is more efficient and cost effective for your business if your employees recognise when they need to take time away from work and when to return. 

Support for your employees and the managers in your organisation should be a key part of the health and well-being policies that are in place in the company. It is much easier to manage the pressing ‘real-life situation’ if you have already thought about, sought advice and consulted on these policies. 


Links to resources


This is an initiative to tackle stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health issues in England. The campaign aims to create a society where people who experience mental health problems enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other people.  The website has links specifically for employers.  The line managers resource is a practical guide to managing and supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace.  There is a section specifically on ‘Keeping in touch during sickness absence’ which includes tips on supporting an employee who is off sick.


Employers’ Forum on Disability

‘A practical guide to managing sickness absence’ and ‘Non-visible disabilities line manager guide’ includes guidance on keeping in touch during sick leave agreements.


Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

The HSE with CIPD and ACAS has developed a toolkit aimed at small and medium sized businesses to help you to manage sickness absence.  It has information on absence management practices and procedures that line managers can pick and choose information from. It is split into four parts to help managers:

  • Identify an absence problem
  • Develop an absence strategy
  • Deal with short-term absence
  • Deal with long-term absence

Information on workers’ rights and employers responsibilities.  The resources section includes publications on sick leave entitlement.


Mental health and work

Royal College of Psychiatrists, Health, Work and Wellbeing, 2008

This review was commissioned by the cross government Health, Work and Wellbeing Programme.  This report includes a section on the effect of stigma and discrimination in the workplace.  It includes quotes from people with mental health conditions, some of whom have been treated well at work and the effect on others when the necessary adjustments have not been made to aid their return to work.


Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD)

Annual Survey Report 2010, Absence Management

This report of the 11th annual survey carried out among 573 organisations.  The report provides benchmarking data for organisations on absence levels and the cost and causes of absence.  This year there are topical sections about employee wellbeing and the effect of the economic climate on absence. These sections highlight the vital need for organisations to manage employee absence effectively. The report includes two case studies which focus on early interventions to minimise absence.


The CIPD has worked with the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Healthy Working Lives to develop new guidance on the key behaviours managers need to support successful and lasting returns to work after long-term absence.

Jobcentre Plus

Access to Work is a valuable, but underused Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) scheme designed to financially assist employers with costs beyond that of reasonable adjustments, helping to produce a more efficient support system in the workplace.

Working together to support people recovering from mental ill health at work  (Clinician module)