Stay at Work and Preventative Supports

The second in a series focusing on stay at work supports.

The issue

When faced with challenging times, finding balance and maintaining some stability are important foundations for recovery and a return to normal function. However, it may feel daunting or even impossible to manage a medical condition while remaining at work in some capacity. Employees and their supervisors may not be aware of the types of support available to allow staff to remain at work, while also allowing them to focus on their health, safety and treatment options. 

As we prepare to begin a gradual return to campus in the fall, it is important to be aware of how the return to the workplace may impact those managing an injury or illness (mental, emotional or physical). Some university members may be able to manage an injury or illness due to our current work-from-home structure but will find the return to the office physically, mentally or emotionally difficult. The university has several proactive supports available to staff who may benefit from additional support as they return to campus. The intention of these supports is to proactively address any concerns and minimize the need for a formal leave. If you feel you may benefit from additional support, learn about the services that are available to you.

The expectation

In psychologically healthy and safe workplaces, staff members are provided the ability to discuss workplace challenges with their supervisors. Managers and supervisors are responsible for creating the conditions to allow for these conversations. Conversations of this nature may be difficult for both parties but it is a shared responsibility.

The university supports stay at work arrangements and gradual return to work plans that assist in recovery and return to full function when a staff member has been off work. This is consistent with the Canadian Medical Association’s 2013 policy statement, “The CMA recognizes the importance of a patient returning to all possible functional activities relevant to his or her life as soon as possible after an injury or illness. Prolonged absence from one’s normal roles, including absence from the workplace, is detrimental to a person’s mental, physical and social well-being. A safe and timely return to work benefits the patient/employee and his or her family by enhancing recovery and reducing disability.”

With many medical conditions, fully or partially remaining at work can support a person’s recovery while treatment takes place. The many benefits of a modified work arrangement include a shortened duration of illness, feeling valued and appreciated by contributing at work, maintaining workplace relationships, having a purpose and feeling connected to work and the world.    

With some medical conditions, a full absence from work may be necessary for recovering physical, cognitive and emotional function. Once stability is achieved and function is starting to return, then resuming all activity at a reasonable level is healthy and rehabilitative.  

The goal is to create a safe and healthy workspace to enable employees to remain at work while tending to medical issues – this requires active engagement and open communication from both the employee and supervisor.

The tools

The university’s benefit plan has extensive supports to assist eligible staff in maintaining their health and proactively dealing with life and work circumstances as they occur. A healthy lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, personal development or social activity) provides a foundation for resilience in challenging times. Taking an active interest in your wellness can help maintain stability when life throws a curveball.

By taking preventative steps as issues begin to arise, an employee may avoid absence from work or be able to maintain modified work while acute recovery takes place. The supplementary health care benefit plan provides an extensive array of services/treatments. Many staff have access to a personal spending account and/or a health spending account to provide some additional benefits such as smoking cessation programs, weight management programs or additional paramedical expenses.

An important aspect of staying at work and managing a medical condition or minimizing an illness absence is to start addressing concerns as they arise rather than hoping they resolve over time. Too often those niggling issues, if left unaddressed, can develop into chronic problems that become more difficult to resolve. Early intervention with the right supports can make a significant difference in shortening the duration of illness and minimizing the impact on your life and work. 

As a manager, if it appears that a staff member is experiencing difficulty in their work, it is important to discuss your observations with them. Conversations of this nature can be difficult for both parties but it is a shared responsibility. While it isn’t necessary to disclose the diagnosis, it is imperative to be open about the tasks that the employee is struggling with and the supports they need. 

To learn more or to request support, see the following resources. 

Faculty and staff

Employee Recovery and Return to Work - provides instructions on how to obtain supports from Homewood Health directly. 

University of Alberta Employee and Family Assistance Program - counseling and other supportive services.

E-Courses - register with the university’s EFAP and gain access to self-paced, self-directed e-learning opportunities of stress, resilience, workplace change, mood and more.

Psychological Health and Safety - staff and faculty page which contains information, resources and an e-learning opportunity. 

Wellbeing Through Change - access resources to help faculty and staff maintain their wellbeing through ongoing change.

Facing Facts - read about the university’s campaign to address mental health/illness stigma in the workplace.


University of Alberta Employee and Family Assistance Program - counseling and other supportive services.

Preparing for Supportive Conversations - planning and preparing for difficult conversations is crucial for a positive result.

Workplace Advice Line - knowing how or when to address concerns in the workplace can be daunting. The university’s EFAP can support leaders in initiating these discussions with empathy and compassion. 

Guide for Assisting a Colleague in Distress - helps leaders determine how best to support someone in distress. 

Duty to Accommodate Policy

Creating Psychologically Safe Workplaces - information and resources. 

Facing Facts - read about the university’s campaign to address mental health/illness stigma in the workplace with leaders specific information sheets.

For more information about stay at work supports, contact

Our next article will be on health and wellbeing in the workplace.