This article is not about returning to work post-pandemic, but rather about Simon, who is going back to work after a three-month absence for a mental health problem.
On September 20, 2021, Simon went back to work.
Human Resources, Simon, and his supervisor mutually agreed upon a gradual return to work and a partial resumption of duties that his colleagues had taken over while he was away. The first few days were complicated. Simon had to get used to things again and absorb what had changed and evolved in his assignments. He also had to regain his self-confidence and maintain the work-life balance he had set aside a few months earlier.
Simon reunited with his team of nine coworkers, and the welcome was warm but hesitant. Some people had not been told he was coming back, and others were uncomfortable with the topic of mental health or didn’t feel involved in his reintegration.
The return to a workplace, a job, and a team raises a lot of questions about the involvement and role of actors in a successful return to work. What we are particularly interested in is the role and actions of team members to facilitate Simon’s reintegration.
What is the benefit of getting colleagues involved before the return?
Simon’s situation is not uncommon. According to a study (M.F. Bastien and M. Corbière, 2018) conducted with 219 employers, only 2% reported seeking the cooperation of colleagues and none reported involving them in putting in place accommodations. Yet the colleagues’ practical knowledge of the job is a source of information, specifically in identifying stressors (Biron et al, 2014), preventing difficulties, sharing concerns, or expressing any sense of unfairness they may feel about the accommodations provided. Prior involvement creates better engagement in the return-to-work process. This also empowers them in a more global prevention effort, for everyone’s benefit.
What if we thought in terms of shared responsibility?
While supervisors play an essential role in a successful return to work and more broadly in the psychological health of employees, employees also have a responsibility. Day to day, the professional practices of employees, in the form of professional acts and underlying cognitive activities such as skills, have an impact on the mental health of supervisors (St-Hilaire, 2017). These practices influence their ability to take action that fosters psychological health in the workplace. In a context of returning to work, supervisors need to foster the employee’s reintegration, and colleagues need to follow suit for the reintegration to be effective. This can mean support for certain tasks, jointly creating a welcome plan, arranging pleasant moments, and providing social support (advice and emotional or informative support) or kindness.
A team’s involvement is a success factor, and cultivating kindness makes it possible to shift the focus to relationships in a professional context that is often task driven.
Whether someone is returning to work after mental health issues or just day to day, psychological health prevention in the workplace is a shared responsibility.
Uniting teams around mental health in the workplace – Ensemble, cultivons la santé psychologique au travail (Working it. Fostering psychological healthy cultures at work)
Bastien M.F., Corbière M. (2018) – “Return-to-work Following Depression: What Work Accommodations Do Employers and Human Resources Directors Put in Place?”
Biron, C., St. Hilaire, F., & Brun, J.-P. (2014). “Implementation of an Organizational Intervention on Quality of Life at Work: Key Elements and Reflections.” In C. Biron, R. J., Burke, & C. L. Cooper (eds.), Creating Healthy Workplaces: Stress Reduction, Improved Well-being, and Organizational Effectiveness (pp. 261–280). London: Routledge
Dorceus, S. (2019). Enquête sur les pratiques professionnelles d’évaluation psychométrique en santé mentale et en relations humaines au Québec (pp. 54). Thesis presented at Université de Sherbrooke.
St-Hilaire, F. (2012). Les pratiques de gestion et de travail en lien avec la santé psychologique au travail. Une étude exploratoire par approche méthodologique mixte, unpublished doctoral thesis, Université Laval, Québec
St-Hilaire et al., (2017). “What if Subordinates Took Care of Managers’ Mental Health at Work?” Revue Santé Mentale au Québec
Laflamme, A.M (2017). “Troubles mentaux et accomodement raisonnable au travail: les potentialités du droit Québécois”
St-Hilaire, F. (2014). “La santé psychologique au travail: vers un leadership et des comportements concrets au quotidien” – https://ordrecrha.org/ressources/revue-rh/archives/la-sante-psychologique-au-travail-vers-un-leadership-reciproque-et-des-comportements-concrets-au-q