How can I support an employee who has been signed off with anxiety?

Our Spill therapists share some tips on how to support an employee who has been signed off sick for a week with anxiety, and help them return to work

One of my employees has been signed off sick for a week with anxiety. What can I do to help her? Or should I just leave her be until she returns to work?

First therapist's response

Depending on the relationship you have with your employee it might be appropriate to reach out and just let them know that you are available to talk if they feel the need to before they return to work, but don’t push it.

When someone is signed off with anxiety it will often feel impossible for them to address anything so don’t put any pressure on them to respond to you.

When they do return, have a conversation about what she feels you might be able to do in order to support her recovery and ongoing sense of balance and wellbeing.

Don’t be too quick to makes changes that you assume to be helpful; instead, take your lead from her.

For example, it can be easy to think that removing work responsibilities will help but often this can exacerbate anxiety because the sufferer starts to worry that they will be seen as incapable and of less value.

Make it clear that you will do everything you can to facilitate her recovery but don’t get too drawn into the roots of it unless it centres around work.

One of the most helpful and supportive interventions will simply be creating a safe space for them to share with you how they are feeling. If you can make sure they know that you want to support them they are more likely to keep you aware of how they are managing and, if they do that, you are in a better position to take action where required.

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Second therapist's response

Everyone needs different things in different ways at different times. Rather than guessing what someone needs, it can be more helpful to find out. The easiest way to do this is to ask someone ‘What do you need?’. They may not know or they may say ‘nothing’, and we need to respect this.They know what they need better than we do. It may be different to what we would choose, and that’s OK. It may change over time, and that’s OK, too.

Supporting someone is about standing by their side as they walk their difficult walk. To say to someone ‘I am here’. It’s about letting the other person be in control of their world whilst making it clear through messages or gestures, that you are part of their scaffolding. When someone we care about is in a difficult situation, the greatest gift we can offer is our time and attention. We listen to them and hear them. However, there are times when people need time out from others in order to replenish and heal more effectively, so know when to stand back. And if you’re not sure…ask. (“Do you want me to check in whilst you’re off or would you rather I didn’t?”).

I know it can feel frustrating and helpless at times to see someone struggling but do not underestimate the amazing gift you are giving your colleague of showing them you are there if they need.

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Third therapist's response

Thanks for your question about your employee who is taking time off due to anxiety. You want to know if you should do anything to help her while she is off work. You are free to contact your employee during this time and it may make your employee feel more supported if you do check in. When and if you get in contact, you can get a health update from the employee and offer them the opportunity to ask you any questions they want to ask. It’s important that the employee does not feel that they are being pressured to return to work in any way or that you feel that the time off is not required.

When the employee is ready to return to work you can have conversations about any support they need in the workplace to enable their re-entry. Clarify if work caused any anxiety for the employee, and if so, work out the necessary adjustments. You can monitor progress and any ongoing issues when they return to work. It will help to put a plan in place.

If the employee needs more support managing anxiety and the issues are unrelated to work or persist after workplace adjustments therapy may be of benefit to them. There is often a stigma attached to accessing therapy. If you suggest therapy, aim to normalise seeking help and the benefits of this. If the employee rejects the idea, help them to think about other resources they have or can access.

I am wishing you and your employee all the best.

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