Whether a minor illness has escalated into sick weeks rather than days, or you’re dealing with a long-term condition that compromises your ability to work regularly, the point at which you finally return to the workplace can make for a daunting prospect.

It’s entirely normal that being out of the loop and physically compromised might knock your confidence, and it can be hard to tell when you’re ready to return.

So…

take your time.

Your inclination might be to get back to work as quickly as possible – it’s a way to mark your recovery properly, and to dispel the sense of boredom and time-wasting that comes with being unwell. But the disappointment of attempting to re-join the working world and having to leave again because you weren’t quite ready can do even greater damage. Be patient.

seek medical advice.

Consult with your GP or relevant healthcare professional about whether you’re physically ready to go back to work. If they agree that the time is right, ask them to submit a ‘fit note’ that explains your illness and confirms that you’re now fit to work. Consider starting part time, or working slightly shorter days for the first few weeks.

be frank with your employer (past or future).

You might be returning to an old job or starting a new one, but don’t be afraid to speak honestly with your employer about your condition and what you might need. They’ll respect your candour, and you’ll present yourself as a trustworthy and conscientious professional who’s aware of their circumstances and the need to manage commitments carefully. You might also feel that it’s the right time for you to begin working again so long as you and your boss can set realistic performance targets together, or pair you with a trusted mentor.

shake things up.

The experiences you’ve had away from work may well have changed the way you feel about your professional aspirations, or even just given you a chance to alter your direction – there’s no reason why you shouldn’t look for jobs in new industries. Prepare yourself to openly acknowledge the (entirely valid) gap in work on your CV, and then turn your attention to conveying how the time you’ve had way from the professional sphere has shaped you.

put yourself first.

If you find yourself coming under pressure to get back to work too soon or commit to arrangements that might jeopardise your health or sense of wellbeing, always defend what works best for you. Letting others dictate the terms of your recovery or return to the workplace can compromise the efficacy with which you re-involve yourself with the working world, and make it a needlessly unpleasant experience

Knowing when to get back in the saddle can take a tricky mix of caution and confidence, but creating a kind and supportive environment for yourself, and managing the way in which co-workers will interact with you and your recovery, will help to ensure a smooth and invigorating return to work.