- By Ian Bradley
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The return to work from a psychological disability can be harrowing, but worse yet, it can fail. The prognosis for returning becomes worse, the longer the disability leaves continues according to an expert report. Seventy-five percent of disabled workers are able to return after 12 weeks, only two percent after one year.. http://www.mentalhealthroundtable.ca/june_2004/monitor_june2004.pdf
Although not examining psychological disability per se, Baril writing in the Society of Scientific Medicine in 2003 found that if a company was interested in the disabled employee’s well-being, perhaps by being willing to make adjustments to the job to accommodate the worker, then the return was more successful. This study also found that the more contact with the co-workers, the better the results.
However in my professional experience, workers with stress or depression leaves, there are serious hurdles to overcome to maintain this contact.
Often the manager or co-workers are too busy replacing the absent worker to provide more than a few cursory calls. HR consultants might do so, but they are usually not part of the workers usually social circle nor are they familiar with the workers specific job or departmental context.
Interesting things happen to the workers placed on leave. Initially, there is great relief that that they have at least taken action to do something about the job situation. Often the mandatory medical and HR interviews that punctuate the start of the leave substantiate the psychological disability by providing a sense of validity.
Someone has recognized the impossibility of my situation.
However after the initial recognition and rest, things begin to change.
Clients begin to lose touch. They lose touch with those skills and abilities that they used in the workplace. They also lose touch with the people and accompanying news of what’s happening to co-workers. The water-cooler is gone and workers who stay out of contact begin to feel isolated. This isolation only increases the perceived difficulty to ever returning to work.
The Lunch: To stem this negative tide, I often prescribe a series of lunches for my clients away on disability leave. In all honesty, my suggestion is not generally greeted with enthusiasm. In fact the longer the client has been away from work, the less likely he or she even wants to discuss work let alone break bread with a colleague or, heaven-forbid, a manager. However, I use my best persuasiveness and CBT techniques to make the process possible.
Together we target key people and begin with the easiest. Nothing much is left for chance, we plan how to deliver the invitation, the restaurant and the most importantly the goal. We review potential responses to tough questions especially those related to the disability especially its cause and course, and we role-play the results.
Sometimes the lunches are purely social maintaining existing contacts or even using the time to make new contacts. Other lunches are strategic, where the employee floats specific ideas related to accommodating the job or its execution to a new and better way of doing things. See, The Plan, Part IV in this series.
However, these lunches serve to maintain contact with the workplace and ultimately facilitate a positive return to work.