Are they really sick?

I am going to have a moan. I don’t often have a moan, but please excuse this one – it is a complaint I know many employers share.

Now I do accept that people get sick. And I do accept there are times when an employee is better out of the office resting than in the office spreading their germs, but I have a plea for all doctors…….

Next time a patient comes to you and asks to be signed off sick due to stress, the answer in most cases has to be “no”.  In 95% of cases, these patients are running away from difficult situations, difficult conversations and a normal workload and a diagnosis of stress is only delaying dealing with problems at work.

I do accept that clinical depression is different, but bursting into tears in the doctor’s surgery does not mean someone is clinically depressed. It means they are tired, they are probably not talking to their manager about problems and in my experience they have not done anything to help themselves and have let the pressure build up a little too much. Being off work does not allow the problem(s) to be dealt with, it doesn’t enable an employer to put any help in place and it doesn’t allow the employee to learn and adopt any coping techniques.

Ask any employee in any workplace if they are stressed and the likely answer is “yes”. For many, stress is a good thing, something to thrive on, something to keep you driven, motivated, engaged and achieving. However, for some, stress needs to be managed a little more carefully, workloads reduced, hours reduced or training provided. If an employee is signed off sick, an employer’s hands are tied. They don’t want to put more stress on the employee by contacting them while they are ill, but they need them back at work. Employers have a duty of care, but employees do need to ask for help in a constructive and calm way. Walking out on the job, running from responsibilities and avoiding the inevitable are not the way to solve any problems in life and getting a doctor to sign you off sick is doing all of these things.

So my plea: Firstly to employees – help is usually available, you just need to ask for it; to employers – value your staff, respect their personal capacity and capability levels and provide assistance and flexibility as required (balanced with the needs of your business); and finally to the doctors – next time a patients presents themselves and asks for a sick note for stress, anxiety and depression, please think twice, understand the causes and the remedies – counselling may be appropriate, but the employee should come back to work, maintain their normal routines and get additional help from their employer. Doctors can make recommendations on the new fit note, but very few do! Encourage patients to talk with their employer, especially when they cite work as the cause of the stress – I promise you will be doing them the greatest service of all!

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