The effects of stress during an absence: The employee perspective

Stress in the workplace is a common topic of conversation. We’ve discussed over morning coffee and at water coolers ad nauseam. But what we don’t talk about nearly as much is stress outside the workplace during an absence — and how it affects both the employee and the employer. Approaching each person with empathy and compassion can contribute to how fast employees return to work. We sat down with Heather Luiz, Senior Vice President of Absence Management at York and Fran Toussaint, Director of Clinical Services, to discuss four best practices employers can follow to get employees back to health, work and productivity faster.

For a human resources department, employee well-being comes first and foremost. But employers may be surprised to learn that much of the stress employees face while on an absence is in part due to a lack of support by their organization. After working in risk management for nearly a decade, Heather noticed a common theme: Employees who felt supported by their employer were typically more engaged and ready to return to work than those who did not. The stress of the financial burden, job security and obtaining any necessary accommodations are overwhelming. But with the right approach, employers can limit the stress employees face and create a positive experience for everyone involved.

Keep them engaged

As employers become more cognizant of stress-related issues for employees, they can proactively work toward better solutions. “Reach out to them during the process,” Fran suggests. “You can provide a sense of belonging that eliminates some of the stress they’re going through.” Something as simple as sending the company newsletter is a way to help employees feel included while they’re on a leave of absence.

Assign a single point of contact

For employees, the claim process can be overwhelming. Alleviate some of the stress by providing employees with a single point of contact. Someone within your organization who can understand absence management, communicate the process, share resources and answer any questions or concerns they may have. A single point of contact helps bridge the gap and tie up any loose ends, while staying compliant and avoiding potential legal fees.

Provide reliable resources

Employee assistance programs are designed with the employees’ well-being in mind. By providing resources like confidential counseling, employees receive an unbiased opinion on how to handle a variety of issues that affect their productivity. Anxiety, substance abuse, financial concerns and health-related issues can lead to an extended absence. By having access to and taking advantage of an employee assistance program, employees are less likely to bring their stressors back into the workplace. As a result, employers see higher levels of productivity among employees.

Be accommodating

As a liaison between employers, employees and medical professionals, Fran listens to the needs of all parties and helps tie conversations together. For instance, if a doctor recommends that an employee limit heavy lifting, she can create a plan of action that benefits both the employee and the organization. A job accommodation may mean decreasing the weight from 50 pounds to 20 or taking short breaks throughout the day. As an employer, your willingness to provide accommodations shows how invested you are in your employees.

It’s all about making the process of returning to work after an absence — and the absence itself — as stress-free as possible. With the right approach, employees can make it back to health, work and productivity.

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