Stress is the number one cause of long term absence, report the CIPD in their annual survey. It is a curious observation since stress itself is not a disease and yet it is increasingly appearing as medical diagnosis.
Also curious is that work is only one of many potential causes of stress. Debts, family and marital problems, lifestyle changes (such as house moves, marriage or bereavement) and declining health are other big sources of stress. Strange then that absence from work (another significant lifestyle change) should be seen by doctors as the natural antidote to “stress”.
The question for employers is what to do when it first appears, or in more accurate terms such as depression, on a doctor’s sick note. Do you invite the employee in (and get hung for harassing them) or wait and see (and get hung for not caring).
Our advice would usually be to invite them in to discuss the situation. A phone call might put them on the spot (and risk the harassment charge), so a polite letter or an email (if you would normally communicate with their personal email) would be better. We’d advise against calling round. It could be seen as harassment and might, if you find them working in the garden for example, give rise to complex situations. Is gardening “swinging the lead” or legitimate therapy? It is safer to handle issues in the work environment. All you need say in your invite is that you would like to discuss the situation so you know better how to handle matters at work.
We will look in a later blog as to how to prepare for that first meeting.
In the meantime we are always happy to advise clients, new and current, in particular cases.