When an employee takes a leave of absense due to a mental health issue, how soon should they return to work? It's an important question, but according to a new study, it's also one that is rarely addressed in treatment.
In fact, new research from the American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that employees may have a better chance of getting back to work when that goal is specifically defined as a part of their therapy. The study followed 168 employees in the Netherlands who were on sick leave due to psychological problems such as anxiety, adjustment disorder and minor depression.
“Integrating return-to-work strategies into therapy leads to less time out of work with little to no compromise in people's psychological well-being over the course of one year," said the study's lead author, Suzanne Lagerveld, of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research.
Almost half of the employees received standard, evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), while the rest received CBT that focused on returning to their job. In the latter group, work issues were addressed early and the workplace was even used as a "mechanism" in treatment. Clients also drafted detailed, gradual plans for returning to work, focusing on how they would engage in specific tasks.
Those in the work-focused group returned to full-time status an average of 65 days earlier than those in standard therapy, and returned part-time 12 days earlier.
“Being out of work has a direct effect on people's well-being," said Lagerveld. “They might lose part of their income and consequently tend to develop even more psychological symptoms. We've demonstrated that employees on sick leave with mental disorders can benefit from interventions that enable them to return to work."