Dr Maze


regular comment for managers on workplace health issues

Returning To Work Can Help People With Anxiety and Depression

Work often gets blamed for causing stress and depression. Recently published research shows that getting back to work can actually help employees get back to normal. However, employers do need to be sensitive and they should consider such things as changing the employee’s hours and job tasks when they initially return to work. An early return to work is more likely when line managers keep in touch at least once a fortnight.


A study published in the specialist journal Occupational Medicine looked at over 500 people from a variety of industries who were off work with depression. A return to work significantly promoted recovery. The approach and flexibility of their employers was a vital factor in the successful return to work.

Dame Carol Black’s Review ”Working for a healthier tomorrow” had previously acknowledged that work is good for the long-term health of most people and for the well-being of their family. Her review found that ill health costs the country £100 billion a year and £40 billion of this was related to mental health.

Dr Gordon Parker, President of the Society of Occupational Medicine said “Better access to occupational health services and psychological support are essential if employees with depression and anxiety are to get back to work quickly.  Employers are often frightened of contacting an employee whose sick note says ”depression” for fear of being accused of harassment, but sympathetic contact with the employee and early help through occupational health can identify the most appropriate support. Occupational health services are ideally placed to advise managers and employees on the best return to work plan and should be involved early in the management of the employee’s absence.”

Each year, roughly 1 in every 4 employees in the UK will have a mental health problem, and depression is one of the most common. Whilst being distressing for the person involved, it also makes them less productive at work and is responsible for high rates of sick-leave, accidents and staff turnover. Work plays a large role in shaping people”s identity and employees who are absent for prolonged periods due to anxiety or depression,  can lose their sense of self-worth. Going back to work is often one of the most important factors in accelerating a return to full health. It helps the employee to regain a sense of self-esteem and puts routine and stability back into their lives.

A good occupational health service can help senior management develop programmes to educate line managers and the workforce about depression so that the problem can be recognised, appropriate early intervention given and employees enabled to remain at, or return to, work. Occupational Health staff have experience of sensitive issues such as workplace confidentiality, job security and the timing of the return to part-time or full-time working. They will know about the particular stresses and strains of the work environment and are  well placed to work closely with family doctors and medical specialists.

Depression and anxiety are now the most common reasons that people take long term sickness absence. This is likely to be an increasing problem as the present economic difficulties increase and we move into a depression. By investing in occupational health services, senior management teams can play a key role in helping employees return to work. This improves the overall performance of the organisation and of individual employees and reduces the costs of sickness absence.

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