Guideline for recovery and reintegration after a burnout

Imagine that your employee calls in sick due to burnout. As an employer, you have two roles: on the one hand, you want to support your sick employee as much as possible, but on the other you want them to return to work as quickly as possible so that your company can run smoothly. Read the guideline to find out which steps you can take, and which steps you must take, to support your employee’s recovery.

Each year, 1 out of 6 employees (in Dutch) will develop symptoms of burnout. The average sick leave period for burnout is 30 days and costs employers an average of €11,000. But burnout can also last for years. With an average cost of €300 per day, the costs can be much higher. As an employer, you can not only support the employee’s recovery by taking the legally required actions, but also by offering the employee a helping hand when they need it.

Guideline for recovery and reintegration

When an employee calls in sick, you as an employer must follow a fixed procedure. The steps below can help make the process as smooth as possible.

1. Report the sick leave to the company doctor

If you think the employee’s sick leave will last for longer than 6 weeks, you should report it to the company doctor. Officially, you do not need to report it until the 6th week, but sometimes the employee will tell you that they expect to be away from work longer, for example after a visit to the doctor. In that case, you can already contact the company doctor.

2. Ask open questions, without judgement

Reintegration coach Esther van der Scheer has personal experience with burnout. Now she helps people who have been on long-term sick leave return to work. In this phase, Van der Scheer recommends: “Simply ask how the person is doing, and what they need, without judgement. Other kinds of questions can seem suggestive, like ‘Would you rather not talk on the telephone right now?’. Try to ask open questions like: “How would you like to stay in contact?’. Opinionated and judgemental questions can seem unpleasant to someone who is not feeling well. That might make the employee say what they think the supervisor wants to hear, because they feel guilty. But that is not always good for their recovery.”

3. Play an active role in their recovery

If the employee has to wait a long time for an appointment, you can learn more about the stress therapy that you as an employer can offer. Employees may have to wait for months for an appointment with a psychologist, while a stress coach might be able to see them in less than a week. That can shorten the sick leave period by several months, and lower your costs.

4. The company doctor analyses the problem

After 6 weeks of sick leave, the company doctor will draw up a problem analysis. This problem analysis will include the diagnosis, the opportunities for recovery, and the date the employee expects to return to work. The company doctor will also assess the steps that the employee is taking to recover, and then use that information to write a prognosis.

5. Show compassion

A card or flowers is nice, says Van der Scheer: “But do not expect too much in return. A message like ‘we hope to see you soon’ can seem like you are pushing the employee to return. Tell them when you are going to call. Even when you have the best intentions, and are not planning on talking about work, an unexpected phone call can add extra stress for the employee.”

6. Make an action plan

Based on the company doctor’s analysis, in week 8 of the sick leave the employee and employer will make an action plan together. This plan includes agreements about the number of working hours and the work activities. You can use the UWV form (in Dutch) to make the action plan. Every situation is different. One employee might start with a weekly coffee break with their colleagues, while another may be able to start working 2 mornings per week.

7.  Record opinions on agreements

Since 1 July 2023, employees are obliged to give their opinion on the reintegration agreements. You also record this together in the Plan of Action. It states how the agreements contribute to the employee's recovery and who plays which role in it. For example: 'I will always communicate clearly about my physical and mental condition, so we can adjust my tasks and working environment accordingly. It is important that my employer and colleagues understand that my reintegration process takes time. I would like them to be involved in my recovery and support me during my return. I believe this way my recovery will be supported in the best possible way.'

8. Evaluate the action plan

Every 6 weeks, you must evaluate the action plan. You can do that yourself but you can also appoint a coach. The coach may be an external expert, like an occupational health and safety consultant or an insurance expert. Record the result of the evaluation in an evaluation report.

9. Keep a reintegration report

You can add the evaluation reports from the previous step to a reintegration report. The report should also include the original problem analysis and the action plan. Other items for the report are listed on the UWV website (in Dutch). It is important that you follow the criteria. If you do not, you may have to keep paying the employee after 2 years of sick leave.
The coach will periodically evaluate the employee, and the company doctor will evaluate the employee at least once every 6 weeks. It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that the company doctor actually does this.

10. Explore options for reintegration

If the coach and company doctor believe that the employee can return to work, then you can adjust the action plan together with your employee. Maybe the employee has already started working for a few hours per week, to get used to working again. In that case, go on to the next step, such as adding more hours or another task. If it is not clear whether the employee can return to their old job, then you can hire an employment consultant to investigate the situation.

11. Offer a job at another employer

After a burnout, some employees return to work after just a few months. But for others it may take years. If the employment consultant believes that the employee cannot return to their old position, then you as an employer must offer them a suitable new position or workplace. If that is not possible, then you must offer your employee a job at another employer (in Dutch).

12. Report the sick leave to the UWV

If the employee has not returned to work for 100% by the 42nd week of the sick leave, then you are required to report the sick leave to the UWV (in Dutch).

13. Evaluate after 52 weeks

If the employee has not returned to work for 100% after 52 weeks, then the coach and employee will review the past year. The coach can use this form (in Dutch) for the evaluation.

14. Request WIA benefits

If your employee is still at least 35% incapacitated for work after 2 years, you can request WIA benefits for your employee, and you no longer need to pay their salary.

Legislation and regulations

The following laws apply when following all of the steps.