Take a team approach to mental health return-to-work plans

Take a team approach to mental health return-to-work plans

In any year, approximately 7 percent of the American workforce experiences a major depressive disorder.1 Even in the simplest of cases, returning to work after a mental health absence can be challenging due to an infinite number of variables that can interrupt the recovery process, including complex work interactions.

As I’ve mentioned previously, helping an employee return to work after leave for a mental health condition can be made far easier by enacting a well-organized and strategic plan. But what makes this plan most effective is bringing everyone involved in the employee’s recovery together as part of an integrated approach that helps ease the employee’s transition and presents a unified front. Making sure members of the employee’s team are communicating about the employee’s progress can help build a more efficient and effective transition within the workplace.

The main players
When applying an integrated approach, be sure to include these key members:

  • The employee: Your employee is the best expert on his or her condition and the limitations he or she is experiencing. Most mental impairments are diagnosed when an employee self-reports his or her condition, making open lines of communication crucial.
  • You, the employer: As the employer, you can provide other team members with the most accurate information about the employee’s job duties and work environment. You are also the expert on what accommodations are available for the returning employee and how to make them a reality.
  • Mental health provider: This individual serves as the gatekeeper who helps find accommodations that are appropriate for the employee’s condition and recovery plan. By identifying and sharing information about an employee’s treatment and key milestones, the mental health provider can help keep everyone on the same page throughout the process.
  • Disability vendor: A disability insurance carrier can provide outside insights and expertise in return-to-work cases. A disability vendor also can help furnish a variety of experts in mental health, vocational and nurse case management, making the disability vendor a fundamental resource.

Communication is key
As an employer, showing support for an employee throughout his or her disability leave and the return-to-work process is vital to a successful program. By clearly communicating the return-to-work plan, expectations and any adjustments that may occur, you can help the team determine the best course of action to help the employee return to work effectively. In addition, actively showing and sharing your concern and care for an employee in this vulnerable situation can make all the difference during this sometimes stressful transition.

Using a strong, integrated approach with clear and open lines of communication can help make the best of a difficult situation. Working together with all members of the team can and will bring the best possible outcome for both you and your employee.

1 National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. Major depression among adults. 2015. Retrieved at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml.

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