Properly reintegrate an employee with burnout: When an employee wants to get back to work after a burnout, we talk about the reintegration process. A reintegration process has to have effort made by both the employee and the employer. Not only does the employee begin work again, as a manager you also have an important task during the work reintegration process. How long a burnout lasts differs from each person. On average, people with burnout take between 55 to 100 days to show signs of getting back into the swing of things again.

What can the manager do in the event of a burnout? Research has shown that managers play an important role in successful reintegration in the event of absenteeism due to psychological complaints, including burnout, depression and anxiety. Below you will find a practical guide on how to lead a successful reintegration.

Do you want to know what your duties are as a manager and how you can best stimulate the reintegration process? Then read on. This article gives you all the directions on how to proceed as a manager. We also provide you with the vital do’s and do not’s to make the reintegration as smooth as possible.

First time reintegrating an employee? find out exactly how to carry out a successful reintegration process here.

The first step in the reintegration

Is your employee coming back to work? Then it is important to start by taking small steps. You shouldn’t throw someone straight at the deep end when in the middle of burnout. If you do start too quickly, there is a good chance that the employee will become completely exhausted again. It is really a process of small steps. Bear in mind that starting just with 2 hours a week is not strange at all. You can gradually build on this until the employee works at full capacity again.

employee reintegrates

Many employees themselves indicate during the first reintegration interview how they see themselves starting working again. In this way various options are possible. It is an idea to start by working with mornings only or part-time instead of full-time. As a supervisor, be strict and don’t let the employee immediately start running too fast. Is there a possibility that the work can also be done at home? Then suggest working from home.

Communication during the reintegration of an employee 

The first step is always communication. Many supervisors keep in touch during the absence of the employee via, for example, e-mail or telephone. When the employee shows that he or she is ready for it again, it is important to schedule a return to work meeting. The following points will be discussed during this first meeting:

The current state of affairs

First the question: “How are you now?” To know what you can expect from the employee it is good not to ignore this vital question. People who have been struggling or have suffered a burnout often retain long-term symptoms. Fatigue, irritability and concentration problems can persist for a long time. It is important both for you as a manager and for the employee that you both know where you stand.

first step in reintegration

Highlight the cause of burnout

Secondly, it is important to address the cause. Start a conversation about what caused the burnout. For example, was it pressure on performance or too many working hours. You naturally want to prevent your employee from going sick again. By knowing what the cause was, together you can come up with a solution for how you can prevent it this time.

Preventing long term absence is something all employers and managers should be concerned with, learn here how you can play your part in reducing absences in your business

Ask what you can do as a manager

Next, it is important to ask what you can do as a manager. Is it nice to keep in touch from time to time and see how things are going? Or does this feel intrusive for the employee and is it actually counterproductive?

At the end of this conversation, you can talk about the options for returning. How do you want to start and are there any other work options, such as working from home?

This first interview after the absence is very important. Take the time for this. Don’t schedule just fifteen minutes on a busy day, but make sure you are available and can listen well and are not distracted by other responsibilities. Preferably make notes during this conversation.

Would you like to know how to conduct an effective return to work meeting with an employee suffering from stress?

support during reintegration

Consultation with involved parties

After the interview with the employee, it is important to seek specialist advice and information. Consult with the employee’s general practitioner, psychologist or coach. They can advise you well about the employee and the physical and mental status. Someone who has had a burnout can feel within themselves very well, even though this may not actually be the case. In general, people with burnout want to recover too quickly.

Your employee has also started a process with the company doctor. This doctor can state that the employee is able to get back to work. You will also have a conversation with this doctor to find out more about the causes of the burnout. For example, the doctor will inform you about work pressure, stress and other issues that may contribute to burnout.

discussing reintegration with specialist and employee

Problems during reintegration

Do you want to prevent your employee from off work after a few weeks due to (emotional) overload due to work? Then also read what you should avoid during the reintegration process.

  • During the first interview, the points that led to the burnout were discussed. For example, did your employee get a lot of work home with them or did the continuous e-mail flow that had to be kept on top of became too much for the employee? Make sure you know what the pitfalls are and prevent them. For example, have your employee log out of the work mail after working hours and take it a bit easier when not working.
  • No matter how well you mean it, too much attention can become patronizing. This form of attention can also give negative pressure. It is good to ask how things are going and to keep communicating, but do not just emphasize burnout. Finding a good balance between genuine interest and concern is still a challenge.
  • Progressing too fast. You long for the return of your employee. Perhaps there is work that is overdue and deadlines approaching, but don’t walk too fast, give it time. As much as you would like to pick up the pace yourself, the employee must indicate the rate at which the reintegration takes place.
eintegration and rehabilitation

Issues and reintegration

As a supervisor, it sometimes feels like walking over eggs dealing with a burnout employee while you also have to meet deadlines. Do not be afraid to ask for help or even inquire of self-help. For example, hire an extra worker who can help with the tasks of the employee with burnout and ask for a little extra help from your other employees in this situation.

When someone in your workplace is confronted with burnout, it is also important to review your strategies. If the workload for one person is too high, this may be a sign that you expect too much or that your employee’s feel too much pressure. Do you want to prevent more employees from being absent? Then make sure you change your approach. Hire more people to relieve work pressure and make work stress negotiable in the workplace.

Learn more about Reducing absence in the workplace

What is required of you to reintegrate an employee?

What things make the reintegration process really a success? We have conveniently put together a list for you to see what is needed from you.

Tip 1 | Demand for resources

Ask if the employee has already sought help for the recovery process and reintegration. If it appears that the employee has to wait a long time for that help, then discuss options available for other help to prevent or bridge the waiting time

Tip 2 | Understand the situation of the employee

Integration after a burnout creates a lot of tension and extra stress for the employee. He/she returns to the place where he/she became ill, where the source of all misery lies. Often this is accompanied by severe feelings of failure, a sense of guilt to their colleagues, not good enough, insecurity, fear, etc. In addition, expectations for the employee to perform just as well or as effectively as they did prior to burnout exists. Sometimes reintegration into another team or at a different site is can be useful because there is no previous expectation for the employee to compete with.

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Tip 3 | Make clear agreements

Ensure clear communication at work between supervisor, employee with burnout and other team members about expectations on both sides. At the start of the reintegration, it is best to opt for projects that are not too complex or time-bound. They can quickly become too stressful for the still-recovering employee. Also, ask the employee which tasks he/she wants to start slowly again.

Tip 4 | Use the plan of the placard as an aid – nothing as a straitjacket

Guard against the plan/reintegration, the plan is not a restrictive straitjacket. A good plan can save the employee from walking too fast and stumbling halfway. If the plan still appears to be something too ambitious, approach the situation differently and reassess what the employee really needs in terms of returning to work in a timely manner that is suitable for him/her.

reintegration guide

Tip 5 | Check the progress weekly

Take a moment every week just to hear how the reintegration is progressing. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time every week; sometimes 5-10 minutes may be enough. Ask the employee how things are going, what he thinks of increasing his or her hours and jobs, and agree where things can be adjusted.

Also show an interest to the employee’s reaction to the workload, for example moving too quickly during reintegration could lead to symptoms such as ‘very tired after a few hours work’  (In the beginning, this is to be expected) or on the other hand ‘Problems sleeping’ (watch out).

It may happen that during the reintegration the pace of the agreed construction schedule appears to be too ambitious. As a manager, dare to deviate from the schedule if it appears that the build-up schedule is too optimistic. As a rule, keep to ‘as fast as possible, and as slow as necessary’. Certainly in the case of reintegration after burnout, the saying ‘err on the side of caution’ applies.

Tip 6 | Coordinate with involved professionals

Contact the company doctor, social worker or coach who guides the employee in the recovery process and discuss specific issues and pitfalls of this employee. You can also ask those professionals questions during reintegration. Remember that ultimately all parties have an interest in successful reintegration.

If no coach or counsellor in question has been in recovery/reintegration process, query the employee feel critical of the motives for this. Motives like “everything will resolve itself ‘ and ‘difficult questions help” may have played a role in the development of burnout. And to prevent repetitive moves, changing these behavioural patterns may be important.

Tip 7 | Dare to ask for feedback

No person is perfect, you can not know all things and everyone has their blind spots. Therefore, dare to ask the employee in the meantime how he or she experiences your guidance during the reintegration. Each person has its own user manual and you should better hear this directly from the person in question. Of course, you do what you do with the best of intentions, but that will not always be experienced and effective. The reintegration is, after all, a joint process whereby it makes sense to occasionally reflect on your collaboration; what goes well and what could be better?

Tip 8 | How do you prevent the next burnout?

It sounds strange, but a new burnout among employees regularly occurs. Not that you have learned nothing from the first, but because as a human being we have generally not changed structurally and have not always learned to deal with the causes of the first burnout. Therefore, discuss the pitfalls and points for attention and have them discussed, for example, as standard in the performance appraisal interview.

burnout prevention planning

Tip 9 | An open mind

An open mind. Colleagues or supervisors often have difficulty recognizing the problems of someone with a burnout. Thoughts such as: “But it is not stressful at all?” Or “I work much harder and I have no problems” can come to the forefront. Not everyone is the same. Keep an open mind on matters and do not condemn the employee. An open view of things ensures the best reintegration process.

Tip 10 Ask further

Continue asking. For many people, it is difficult to really talk about their feelings. That someone experiences stress does not yet tell everything about what this actually does to him or her. To know what you can do as a manager, it is important to know the details. Asking questions is the best way and shows a genuine interest in the employee’s situation.

Tip 11 Take time

Take your time. Burnout is not the same as the flu you recover from overtime. According to the company doctor, when a person with a burnout is fit to work again, this does not mean that he or she is 100% capable of working to the same ability as they did prior to burnout. Also, do not expect this to happen within a few weeks. The better the reintegration process, the greater the chance of a full recovery.

Tip 12 | Communicate and keep communicating

Perhaps the most important point is to keep communicating. Know how things go and what you can do. A reintegration process comes from two sides. It is therefore important to stay in good contact. You do not have to ask every day how things are, this can become patronizing, but once in awhile checking whether everything is still going well is certainly not an extra luxury. Also, schedule enough conversations to discuss increasing working hours and possible help from you as a manager.

As a manager, it is not only your task to keep your employees working, but also to ensure that they can stay working. Do you see that your employee is struggling? Having trouble concentrating or looking very tired? Send your employee home a little earlier that day. It is the small things that can make the process a lot more successful.

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Who Are We?

Milltain supports, with a team of experienced trainers, organizations in the prevention of stress and the (re) finding of work happiness in the workplace. Our training courses are aimed at managers within companies. A burnout quickly costs the organization € 70,000.

In addition to financial suffering, human suffering is great. Not only for the employee but also for close colleagues who have to deal with the blows. Before you know it you are in a negative vicious circle.

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