Returning to work after stress-related absence

If staff take time off because of work-related stress, getting them back to work as quickly as possible is important. A well-managed early return to work will reduce the risk of the absence lasting longer than one month, after which it is considered long term. In general, people find it more difficult to return to work after a long-term absence.

It is important to:

  • Keep in regular contact with the employee to help keep work on their agenda. This also offers good opportunities to plan the return to work
  • Review the situation. The employee needs to regularly review their situation with their GP
  • Hold a return to work discussion to identify what led to the absence and any adjustments their manager could make to improve the situation.

Keep in mind that the person may find it difficult to talk about these issues. There may also be factors outside work that contributed to the person’s work-related stress. Talking to the employee about these will help identify whether adjustments at work will help. But don’t assume that stress is only caused by factors outside of work.

Staged return

When the employee feels ready to return to work, a staged return – for example, working part-time hours for the first few weeks – can assist with their smooth return to the workplace.

As stress at work is often linked to specific problems – such as having too much to do in too short a time – it may be helpful to think about practical steps or adjustments that may help the employee when they return:

  • If workload is an issue, some temporary adjustments may need to be considered to reduce the amount of work they will have to deal with – could work be distributed to other team members?
  • If the person has found it difficult to cope with particular tasks involved in their job, temporary changes to their role may provide valuable breathing space by reducing immediate work pressures on their return
  • Is the person clear about what their job involves and what is expected of them? If not, a review may clarify the aims of the job and the tasks they are expected to complete
  • People returning to work after being off with stress (or other illnesses) may prefer a period of stability. If changes are necessary or unavoidable, the employee needs to be fully involved and consulted.