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The IGLOO: A Sustainable Return-To-Work Pilot Study (Recruiting Until Oct ’22) 

About one in 25 employees will take long-term sick leave from their workplace. These sickness absences cost employers an estimated £9 billion in sick pay and other associated costs like recruitment, temporary worker wages and admin each year. People with poor mental health take longer to return-to-work and the longer they are off work, the less likely they are to return. Poor mental health can also affect people on long-term sick leave due to other reasons such as musculoskeletal problems, cardio-respiratory illness and stroke.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE, 2019) strongly recommend that employers improve how they manage sickness absence and support their staff back into work. For example, by providing managers with the skills and tools they need to support their worker whilst on long-term sick leave; and working closely with them on their return-to-work plan. Furthermore, for a more timely and sustained return-to-work, people returning to work after long-term sick leave should be supported with “good work” as evidence shows good work can be therapeutic by minimising the harmful effects of long-term sickness absence, loss in work productivity and the risk of long-term incapacity. However, returning people back to work and enabling them to stay at work is challenging, especially where a common mental health condition is the main reason for long-term sick leave or is present for another reason.

Research experts from Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), Loughborough University and Sheffield University are currently running a pilot study which offers several different types of resources for managing long-term sick leave and return-to-work. Called IGLOO (Individual, Group, Leaders, Organisation), the resources are aimed at employers, managers, and their workers on long-term sick leave and coming back to work. IGLOO is based on the evidence for best-practice and promotes transparency and synergism for employers, managers and workers by, for example, encouraging early communication and support for the worker, making it easier for line managers to provide support and empowering the worker to look after their mental health and wellbeing whilst on sick leave and after returning to work.

Evidence collated on early iterations of IGLOO employed by organisations in the Midlands region shows that managers and workers who took long-term sick leave have found the resources really useful. For workers, the practical tasks helped them to organise their thoughts, feelings and SMART goal-setting kept them on track with their return-to-work plans as well as helping them to focus on being kinder to themselves at a time where their mental acuity had been hampered by their respective health conditions. Line managers found the resources gave them a different focus in managing their worker on sick leave compared with their existing procedures. They found the resources were more comprehensive in their approach and easier to use with clear action-oriented checklists and guidance to make sure nothing was missed. The resources included a focus on supporting the worker’s wellbeing with clear communication guidance on how to check on their worker’s wellbeing. Overall, line managers found that their resources are user-friendly and included best practices that they would not have thought of using otherwise.

Participating in the Igloo study

We are recruiting organisations between May 2022 and October 2022. Participation will last for approximately 30 months so that employers can get the most of out the study. If you decide to take part, you will be randomly assigned to the control group or intervention group. This is so we can compare how useful the toolkits and resources are for organisations against existing processes. No matter which group your organisation is in, we will provide you with a report outlining our findings and give you access to all the resources and toolkits at the end of the study to freely use. As part of the pilot study, you will be asked for information about your organisation to assess your eligibility. This includes gathering sickness absence data and information around existing policies and practices. Workers on long-term sick leave and their line managers who consent to taking part will be asked to complete five short surveys at regular intervals, as well as organisation-wide surveys to understand the “pulse” of the organisation.

If you’re a leader within a large organisation (>600 employees) based within the Yorkshire or Humber region and would like to participate for free, please contact rdash.phobservatory@nhs.net for more information, or to arrange an onboarding meeting.

Author: Oliver Davis – Clinical Studies Officer, Grounded Research @RDaSH, and Jo Yarker – Director, Affinity Health at Work

Photo credit: Joe Green on Unsplash

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