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Is workplace stress intensified after an extended leave of absence?

Stress is a real productivity killer in the workplace. If it's not managed properly, issues with both individual and organisational output will quickly become apparent.

Extended periods of anxiety can lead to both mental and physical problems. These feelings are only compounded when an employee has been out of the workplace for a prolonged time span and has to readapt upon return.

Returning to work after maternity or paternity leave

One period in particular which can pose stress-related issues is returning to work after the birth of a child. Worries typically stem from struggling to get back up to speed as processes and even the job itself may have changed.

In fact, research from the International Labour Organisation* found that new mothers and fathers may "not feel ready to return to work and [can ultimately] drop out of the workforce" due to anxiety – even though there has been "a gradual positive shift" in the amount of time companies allow for maternity and paternity leave.

The increased stress is not just reserved for those returning after having a child, but can be experienced by anyone who has faced an extended period away from the workplace. This can be for reasons ranging from looking after other family members to a shift in career focus.

Going back to a previous employer

These issues are still present if the individual previously worked for the organisation, or even in precisely the same role.

"After a break in employment, or changing their work situation, men or women returning to work … may feel apprehensive about the new job – even when they have worked for the company in the past," explained Acas**, a UK government-backed body that reviews employment relations.

Prevention will always be better than the cure, and having a stringent work health and safety training routine for those coming back to the workplace is key in avoiding stress-related problems. 

Reduced productivity outweighs cost of absence

The financial impact that staff anxiety can have on the organisation will quickly become inflated if troubles are not tended to properly. 

"The cost of reduced productivity at work due to mental distress and ill-health is actually much higher than the cost of absence," suggested HR and people development body CIPD.***

To that end, keeping staff up-to-date with best practices, ensuring that the process of coming back to work after a leave of absence is kept simple and generally reducing levels of anxiety are crucial steps for any company looking to keep staff at the peak of their powers and productivity high. 

In efforts to help businesses looking to tackle workplace stress, WorkPro has published an e-book covering the topic. With everything from statistics to legislative information included, the resource can provide guidance to anyone hoping to better address the issue.

*International Labour Organisation, "Maternity and Paternity at work".

**Acas, "Stress at work".

***CIPD, "Building the business case for managing stress in the workplace".

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