The very first step, before you sound out exactly how you feel about going back to work, is to appraise yourself of your legal rights, and to understand the professional protocol involved in the process. Knowing what you can and can’t do might well shape your attitude to the whole transition.
Make sure you’re sorted on your entitlements in terms of sick pay, and definitely consult your doctor. The best thing to do is visit your GP and discuss whether you’re ready to go back.
Read up on the ‘fit note’ too, which you’ll need when you do return. The fit note replaced the ‘sick note’ around seven years ago, and is largely aimed at detailing what individuals can do, rather than what they can’t. It supports the idea that you don’t need to be fully recovered to return to work, but that employers should accommodate the end of your recovery so that you can ease back into employment as you get better. In your fit note, your doctor can explain important details relating to your condition, make recommendations for a healthy return, and encourage your employers to help in all the reasonable ways they can (preparing an environment in which you’ll feel comfortable; providing a room for you to take any medication or rest occasionally, for example).
There are plenty of other tips for going back to work after a long period of sick leave – these should help avoid unnecessary stress, blows to your confidence, and all the other obstacles that can make it a bumpy ride.
divide and conquer.
Rather than taking on too much at once, explore the possibility of a phased return to work, so that you change your working patterns and workload – make them work for you instead.
Gradually return to your usual hours and duties by designing a slowly-expanding schedule that makes things manageable for your condition at the time of your return.
Try to push back if you have any sense that you’re being pressured into an unrealistic timetable.
The phased period can be anything from one week to four/six weeks, depending on your health problems and whether you suffer with long-term fatigue issues.
Depending on its length, it’s a good idea to regularly review your phased timeframe, so that your colleagues and managers can adjust arrangements to ensure they’re running smoothly.
But be prepared for the fact that phased returns are not silver bullets, and try not to be discouraged if…
Your recovery is slower than expected, which causes setbacks to your pre-planned schedule.
Your job doesn’t lend itself perfectly to phased working.
plug back in.
Start communicating with your colleagues and managers again in the run up to your return – sometimes it’s even a good idea to stay in touch throughout your leave of absence. It’ll make it much easier to slowly re-immerse yourself in the world of work, and the process will feel friendlier and less uncomfortable if there haven’t been long periods in which you and your fellow workers haven’t spoken at all.
use your network for real support.
Reach out to colleagues or bosses from previous jobs, or join a forum that brings together people who have had similar experiences. You’ll be able to have candid conversations about what your co-workers might expect when you go back to your current role, and you can learn from people who’ve been through similar periods of illness.
try something new.
Don’t be afraid to apply for a new role, or even start afresh with a different career if that’s what feels right. But remember that honesty is the best policy: if you do opt to change things up and try a different position or industry, prepare to be frank about the reasons for your absence from work.