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Has anyone been signed off work for stress before?

(33 Posts)
citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 14:32:45

How long for and how did your employers treat you?

compo Wed 20-Jan-10 14:34:01

my colleague was signed off for 2 weeks

everyone was very sympathetic and our employer treated her fine

when she came back a few months later she relocated to a different office (her choice)

compo Wed 20-Jan-10 14:34:30

incidentally you don't have to say what teh stress is

it could be home related for example

RibenaBerry Wed 20-Jan-10 14:44:44

Honest answer is that it will depend what else is going on at work and what your employer thinks of you generally.

The scenario where employers have an issue is: employee is underperforming. They are given a first warning or informal chat about performance. Next thing you know, they're signed off sick on rolling sick notes and two months down the line there's no sign of them either coming back or the performance being addressed.

The situation where employers are normally very good is: There is no current disiplinary or other issue in the workplace. Employee is stressed for a work or home reason. Gets signed off sick (say for 2 weeks), keeps work informed, talks openly about the issues (especially if they are work issues. if not can be pretty vague, just enough for employer to know it's not their fault!) and engages througout about return to work plans.

I've seen both in a professional capacity. The guy in scenario two was highly valued and promoted shortly after he recovered. The people in situation one I've seen many times and very rarely return to work. Almost always end up compromised out.

citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 14:45:49

Thanks. I have been signed off for 3 wks (work, finance and home related) but could be longer and wondered how amenable employers actually are when you come back or if your cards are marked as it were. Also how best to negotiate new hours/pay.

citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 14:47:54

Oh dear, Ribena, I fear I may be in scenario one.
I don't know how best to deal with the situation.

NoahAndTheWhale Wed 20-Jan-10 14:48:04

I have been signed off for depression twice, for 6 weeks at a time. Both times I was treated very well and any issues connected with work were discussed (although the triggers were mostly non-work related).

NoahAndTheWhale Wed 20-Jan-10 14:48:28

I was actually promoted whilst on one of my sick leaves.

RibenaBerry Wed 20-Jan-10 14:49:40

What's the existing work condition and we'll work out a strategy. It's the lack of engagement that causes problems, not the absence as such.

RibenaBerry Wed 20-Jan-10 14:50:06

Sorry, I meant 'work situation'. Are you being performance managed?

citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 15:12:10

The day before I went sick I was told at my end of year review that I was being put on a Capability procedure where I would be given certain objectives and if those were not met in the given timeframe I would either be given a different role on appropriate salary or terminated. The reason given was that my work was not deemed up to scratch. Whether I actually agree with that is another issue (new manager since October) as this has not been the case in the past.
However the past 2 years have been extremely stressful for me. I extricated myself from an abusive marriage and trying to cope with working full time in a demanding environment and bring up 2 small children on my own. On top of that I have huge financial worries due to debts hanging over from marriage. I thought some of the pressure would be relieved once the old marital home would get sold but it still hasn't sold. All this added to a 3 yr old who has not slept through the night once in his little life had given me chronic insomnia so I am physically as well as mentally exhausted all the time. I can see that I can't have given 100% attention to the job.

I would quite like to be able to take a reduced role/hours but the financial pressure is big. Like I said house of cards.

RibenaBerry Wed 20-Jan-10 15:23:24

Right. Ok. We can work this out.

The important thing is that you do not get into a situation where your employer believes that the stress is a convenient way of avoiding the performance message that they gave you (whether or not you agree with it).

You need to proactively take charge of the situation and put in place a holding position which leaves them feeling positive about the situation whilst you were off.

First, pick your point of contact. I take it you probably don't get on that well with your manager. Or can you talk to him/her? If not, is there another manager or HR person you could talk to.

If you can face it, phone that person. If not, email. Explain/refer to the fact that you've been signed off. I'm guessing that work might be aware of the gist of your personal situation, so you could say something like "As you know, this last year has been extremely tough for me personally" without going into details. You might want to say that that has been the main catalyst for your absence, but that the timing is very unfortunate given the conversation you had on the last day and that, if you're honest, that didn't help. Say that the performance stuff came as a shock, and that you don't actually totally agree with it, but that you are 100% committed to working through the issue, or your boss' perception of there being an issue, as soon as you are back. Say that you will be thinking whilst you are off about whether there are ways you could be supported to address your boss' opinion and that you'd also like them to think about ways that they could support you.

Then go off and take the time you need. Just bear in mind one thing. The work stress won't go away whilst you are not there. You'll have to go back to deal with it. I say that not to be mean, but because I've seen too many people signed off time after time. They are still stressed because the work stress is still hanging over them and they never get better because they don't get it resolved. Vicious circle.

happywheezer Wed 20-Jan-10 15:26:06

I was off with stress for a month although the doctor was very kind and put it down as a viral illness.
I was in the early part of my pregnancy, terrible MS and more and more pressure was being put upon me.
I also had a heart thing whilst off on sick leave and I came back after the month and told the Head that they thought it could be stress related. Her response was the teaching was a stressful job. I never went back after maternity leave.

citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 15:32:54

Ribena you speak words of wisdom. Are you in HR by any chance?

Your words are not mean at all they are exactly what I need. I started a letter to HR but just haven't been able to articulate what I want to say without being afraid of making some massive faux pas. I just am so confused and scared at the moment that I am in a panic and I need step by step help to deal with it all. I am going to include everything you say in the letter.

citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 15:55:33

You are also right about the issues not simply going away. That is why I need a step by step plan because at the moment everything is overwhelming me and I just don't know what to do for the best.

citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 16:07:49

happywheezer that must have been a tough time.

EvilHRLady Wed 20-Jan-10 17:24:36

Citronella - I am in HR, and happy to give you the HR view of this kind of situation...Ribena has very nicely summed up the pressure points that turn it into a combative situation, and when it reaches that point, it becomes all about getting the employee out at minimal cost.

If you have a sensible HR person (I'm allowed to say that, I am one!) then they can really help articulate your issues with your manager - ultimately, this is the relationship that has to work, because a good HR person *should not* insert themselves in the day to day employee/manager relationship.

There is not really a massive faux pas that you can make, TBH, as experienced HR folk will have heard similar before, and will have suggestions on how the company can support you, and how you can help yourself. This point is especially important, as it really shows the difference between an employee who expects their manager/company to come up with all the answers & refuses to engage with the situation, and one who genuinely wants to improve things.

Some suggested practical steps:
- does your company have any kind of advice/support service (they are quite often part of a health insurance scheme)? They can give some level of counselling, whether it be financial/legal advice or for other support.
- if not, have you tried CAB or any of the other debt advisory services? This may give you some sense of control over your non-work worries, which will give you some brain space to deal with the work-based ones...
- in the short term, can you contemplate a change of role / reduced hours - and then use the time that you get back to tackle your non-work issues? I appreciate the probable financial impact... but you may find that your employer will agree to a phased build up back to your normal role, and there is a way for them to pay you part sick pay, part normal salary, and you don't necessarily have to take any kind of cut.

Without knowing exactly what you do, I can't really add much on how you can reach your objectives - but stay proactive. If you can face it, arrange to go in and see your HR person (or for them to visit you) even during your sick leave, as it's often the uncertainty of 'what happens next' that can add to your anxiety.

Hope this is somewhat helpful...come back and post anything you have any more specific questions on...

RibenaBerry Wed 20-Jan-10 18:14:05

Oh yes, all Evil's stuff is really practical and helpful. I'm on the legal side Cintronella, so I know the ropes, but am a bit more distanced from the coal face grin.

citronella Wed 20-Jan-10 18:23:56

Thank you Evil.
- The company does have a counselling service, I might suggest that
- CAB were very good 2 yrs ago and helped me get on a debt plan. But there are other issues which although I didn't think would be resolved overnight are still ongoing and I think that has demoralised me along with the sheer physical slog of it all
- Idea of a phased build up with part sick part normal pay sounds really sensible. I might suggest that.

Ribena, I have sent a letter using all your points to HR. Hopefully they will reply soon and I will get a better sense of the lie of the land.

I am being cowardly though I can't deal with face to face right now because I don't want to be put on the spot.

Superficially I get on ok with my manager but privately I don't like him much at all.

flowerybeanbag Wed 20-Jan-10 20:11:33

The trouble with stress as a reason for being signed off is that it has a really bad press with managers. That's because 99 times out of a 100, there is already an issue there. Normally the person is either not performing and probably having that dealt with in some way, or there might be a disciplinary or grievance situation, or their attendance is problematic. Something anyway. It's so rare for someone to be signed off with stress in the absence of any other workplace issue.

Because employees getting signed off with stress noticeably often follows straight after some kind of performance management/disciplinary investigation/similar, there tends to be a certain amount of eye-rolling from managers, and more of a tendency to think the problem isn't genuine than with other sicknesses.

I'm not at all implying that yours isn't genuine of course! But just worth bearing all that in mind - it makes it even more important to do as Ribena says and make sure you maintain contact and are as proactive as possible.

You've had some good advice here, the only thing I would add is that if your performance has been less than ideal and is being looked at, and there are external/personal issues that might be affecting it, it's really important you make sure your manager/HR are aware of that. If there is a counselling service you really should have been referred to it already, but do make use of it.

citronella Thu 21-Jan-10 14:36:49


The performance thing is not the cause but the final nail in the coffin. I thought I was just about coping until that.

GP has now put me on anxiety medication.

Haven't heard back from HR yet after I emailed letter yesterday.

When you say I should maintain contact, how much detail should I actually go into?

flowerybeanbag Thu 21-Jan-10 15:01:43

Yes absolutely. I was speaking in a general sense.

Because being signed off with stress so frequently immediately follows something like performance management/disciplinary, there can be two problems. Firstly it is less likely to be taken seriously as an illness by some managers, sometimes leading to a lack of sympathy and support.

Secondly, because the assumption is often made by managers that the person in question has gone off with stress (either genuine or otherwise) because of the performance management/disciplinary, any other (possibly more significant and long-term) causes of the stress are sometimes not investigated and appropriate support is sometimes not given. This means the other, deeper problems are not taken into account when dealing with the performance problem.

It's really important that if your performance is being managed, any contributory factors are known by all involved. You are likely to be given much more leeway and support if your manager/HR are aware that there are other issues which are impacting your performance.

You have written to HR already, which is good. Longer-term I think the goal should be to identify one (ideally nice, supportive) person in HR to be your regular contact. Keep in touch with that person, meet them if at all possible, off-site if that's better for you, and be as open as you feel you can about your problems, taking any support offered.

You also need to continue contact with your line manager. This is often more difficult, especially given the performance management issue, but if the HR person knows your manager he/she may be able to help you identify how best to do this.

citronella Thu 21-Jan-10 16:50:35

Thanks flowery,

I think I will write to my manager as well - a tailored version of the letter I wrote to HR with a few more details.

I feel a uncomfortable exposing my weakness to this person though although outwardly they will be perfectly understanding and reasonable. It's just a feeling. I don't trust him.

semirurallife Fri 22-Jan-10 13:02:25

hi citronella,

just wanted to add some support here, I went through something not dissimilar, marriage break-up, kid to raise alone, money to find and performance that suffered. has your GP offered you counselling? It sounds to me like your trying to stay on top of a huge mountain of issues and am sure that would help - I got that and got signed off work for a bit, with time it all got better - wih you best of luck

citronella Mon 01-Feb-10 10:31:26

Thanks semirurallife, good to know you managed to sort things out.

EvilHRLady and Ribena,

I am due to go in this afternoon for an "informal chat" and I'm not sure what to expect so am feeling apprehensive. I have pretty much deleted the word "informal" in my mind. I am going to go in in my work clothes so that I look professional and not too flakey but I have no idea what to say or not say. (I have spent the last two weeks looking after DS2 24/7 who has had a mysterious rash which no one was able to confirm whether he was contagious or not). Any tips gratefully received.

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