Stress is one of the leading causes of sickness absence in the UK. In fact, stress, anxiety, and depression were the cause of 51% of work-related illness in 2020. However, while most companies know it’s best to give someone space when they’re off with stress, businesses occasionally find themselves in a spot that the absent employee is best equipped to get them out of. This is especially the case for smaller businesses where an employee is solely responsible for an area of the business. The question is – are you actually allowed to call employees who are absent for reason related to mental health?

Besides, if you’re calling for something small, they won’t mind – will they?

This post looks into the factors surrounding contacting an employee that’s off with stress.

Can you contact someone who’s off sick from work because of stress?

The reality is that there aren’t any specific rules that prevent you contacting an employee when they’re off sick – whether it’s from stress or for any other reason. This makes it a matter of whether you should rather than if you can. However, you need to be more careful with employees off sick from stress.

On one hand, you might just want to contact them to see how they’re feeling. There’s nothing wrong with that and, chances are, the employee will most likely appreciate the concern. If you don’t contact them, meanwhile, there’s a risk they may feel forgotten about, worsening their frame of mind.

Similarly, there are occasions when you feel you need to contact them about matters related to their role, and if relevant, their team or department. Again, if you don’t contact them, they could feel out of the loop, adding to their stress or anxiety when they eventually return to work.

If you’re unsure whether contacting them is the right thing to do, you could drop them a text asking how they are. The beauty of a text is that they can respond to in their own time and prevents them feeling they’re on the spot. If you’d prefer to call but aren’t completely comfortable with the idea, be honest about your apprehension so they know you’re concerned about potentially bothering them.

That being said, beyond contacting a member of staff to check in or keeping them in the loop, there are a several reasons not to contact them for anything else.

It could make the problem worse

If they’re off from stress, contacting them for work-related matters could make the problem worse. Firstly, as they’re at home, they’re not going to be in ‘work mode’ and are unlikely to be at their best. In fact, chances are, they won’t be able to help you – or not straight away at least.  This could make them feel bad about their inability to help and stress them out even more.

They could feel pressured to return to work

Similarly, if they’re contacted for work-related matters, some employees might feel pressured to return to work before they’re ready. Even if no one from the company says it explicitly, they may feel the business needs them and they’re letting people down. At that point, the stress of being off from work exceeds the stress of being at work – compelling them to return prematurely.

Detrimental to Company Culture

Creating an environment where employees feel like they could be contacted at any time – when they’re off sick, their days off, when away on holiday – isn’t good for company culture.

Contacting an employee that’s off sick with stress communicates that work is more important than health. This messages aren’t just transmitted to the sick employee but to the rest of your staff as well.

They might conclude, whether accurate or not, that your company doesn’t look favourably upon staff who time off, which could discourage them from taking their full annual leave allowance. However, this is bound to lead to more stress-related absences as staff don’t take sufficient time away from work and succumb to burnout.

Alternatively, it can promote an ‘always on’ culture where employees never feel like they truly relax.