You have invited an employee who is off with stress, or depression, in for a meeting to discuss the absence. Earlier blogs have described the background, invitation to a meeting and some preparation for the meeting. Now the employee has come in and you are meeting them.
Start the meeting by thanking them for coming in. It is really beneficial to you that they have done so, as these sensitive issues are best handled face to face – this provides more opportunity for understanding.
The reasons for the stress might come into the normal course of the conversation but, if they don’t then they need to be discussed. Seek first to understand, then to be understood, is a good adage.
An earlier blog examined how you might need to take some responsibility for any work-related stress. Some of these matters might emerge during the conversation. Certainly if there are actions you can take then you could see your employee returning sooner rather than later.
But do not be tempted to overlook the employee’s responsibility. They have a responsibility to tackle their problems and you should encourage them to do so. You may be able to be supportive, pointing them to suitable sources of advice for debt problems, for example, or being prepared to make temporary adjustments to hours. If they are suffering from depression then has their GP referred them for any treatment? But, before asking, see below for that fine line about intrusion. Depression can also leave you obliged to make reasonable adjustments for the depression; these would need to be discussed with the employee and, if reasonable (!), implemented.
In the discussion there is a fine line between gentle encouragement and intrusion and you will have to judge in each case. But it is legitimate to discuss what actions they could take to speed up a return to work.
However well or badly the meeting goes, do end on a positive note and be clear about communications going forward: can we expect them to return when the current sick note runs out; will they telephone if it is renewed; if it is long term how often should we contact them. Setting expectations face to face is much easier than any other way.
When you have finished, immediately make some notes of what was said.
In a later blog we will look at what to do if they do not return quickly.
In the meantime we are always happy to advise clients, new and current, in particular cases.