Employees end up taking medical leaves for a variety of reasons – they may experience a musculoskeletal injury and be unable to do their job, they may experience common mental disorders like depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder, exhaustion disorder, chronic insomnia, chronic pain etc. and be unable to continue working, or they may experience a toxic work environment and that prompts them to take a medical leave. These medical leaves are costly for organizations, workers, families and society. In Canada more than 1/3 medical leaves are because the employee is experiencing a common mental disorder that has either originated due to personal issues or has originated due to a toxic workplace.
Some organizations have sick leave, short-term disability and long-term disability insurance. When the worker has exhausted these options, they may then apply for Employment Insurance, use personal savings, or end up on income assistance. The consequences of being off work are negative for organizations, the worker, and society as the costs are downloaded from the organization, to the individual, then to societal social support systems. The worker progressively loses more and more financial stability and ends up spiraling into poverty.
It is to everyone’s benefit to:
Prevent medical leaves if possible. Some measures include: early screening and treatment of common mental health disorders; recommendations to their workers that they take advantage of employee and family assistance programs, or use their extended medical coverage – if they have it to talk to someone to get help.
Create harmonious work environments. Workers that are the most likely to stay on an extended medical leave or the experience unsuccessful return to work programs are those who identify the workplace as toxic. When they feel unsupported and disconnected from supervisors and managers, when they feel outright harassed and bullied by supervisors, managers and co-workers, when they feel that their competence is being questioned or their contribution to the work environment is not genuinely valued and appreciated, when lines of communication are poor etc. workers tend to not be motivated to return to work. There is a real fear that returning to the toxic environment will further aggravate their mental health issues.
Provide robust return-to-work programs and support that involve the worker as a full-partner in planning what the return-to-work will look like, find ways to tap into the worker’s motivation, find ways to help the worker to mentally tap into their personal and job resources, and in some case find ways to financially and emotionally support that worker to moving to a different department if possible or to support them financially and emotionally to find another career path at a different organization.