How managers can support their staff

Employee health and wellbeing is a complex issue, with stress becoming more of a concern for organisations and their employees. Stress and physical health problems have negative consequences for both the employee and the organisation, having been linked to negative psychological, physical and social impacts on employees, while also costing organisations financially through increased attrition rates and training costs.

Workplace stress is not the only matter that organisations have to contend with. Illness, grief, and other health afflictions all take their toll on, not just the individual, but the organisation too. Organisations need to replace lost staff, train others, or face the consequences of an increased workload while being low on staff. The aftereffect can lead to low morale and reduced motivation amongst the employees left behind.

Many organisations are aware of what they need to do on an organisational level to manage sickness in the workplace. From workplace stress programmes to ergonomic redesigns, these changes can help offset any potential problems long-term.

Social support helps

If an employee has a good peer or social support system, both in the workplace and out, then there is more likelihood that they will return to work if they have taken time off because of ill health. Supportive management is a necessity in the return-to-work phase if an employee has been absent from work, and is more likely to increase motivation to return to work too.

Ensuring that staff are supportive of those that are returning to work and holding regular meetings is a good way to show that the employee is returning to a safe and supportive environment. Often there is heightened anxiety when returning to work, so offering this support can alleviate this.

A motivated and engaged team

There are many factors that impact on motivation at work. Having an engaged workforce is the motivation of any employer. Motivation and engagement are linked to productivity, so the results speak for themselves.

If an employee is off sick and in the process of returning to work, their support needs may differ too. Working with an individual on an individualised-basis is key. Perhaps an employee may be keen to get back to work, whereas another may experience anxiety and hesitation. They may be worried about how well, they will be received at work, especially if their absence has been a long time. Some people may be happy to jump straight back into work full-time, whereas others may need a tailored graduated programme that gently introduces them back to the workplace.

What motivates people to work?

The very fact is this: work is good for our health and well being It increases prosocial behaviour and gives us a sense of purpose. It reduces boredom and offers us a social life.

There are organisations where the culture is unhelpful though. Studies have shown that those that work in roles that have high workloads with little autonomy are more likely to experience stress, and, in essence, less likely to want to return to work.

Flexibility and autonomy are key here. Don’t micromanage staff, but offer a nurturing environment filled with support. Especially if a person is returning to work after a long time off. Make the employee feel welcome, check in regularly, and ensure that they have a trusted peer that can navigate any bumps along the way. A happy workplace is a healthy workforce. Fit for work. Fit for life.

Farhan Shahzad, consultant occupational physician, www.drfarhanshahzad.com

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