If you have been absent from work through sickness for an extended period (usually considered to be over a month in one stretch), then making a return can feel daunting. No matter what the medical reason for your absence, time away from the workplace can leave you feeling isolated and out of touch with the everyday business of working life. Your confidence might well be in need of a boost.
Whilst your return should not be hurried - returning too soon can only cause further complications for both you and your employer - there are certainly benefits to getting back to office life once you’re ready to do so. Heed the medical advice you’re given, but don’t forget that returning to a routine, and environment where you have regular interaction with supportive colleagues, and mental challenge and stimulus, can actually help your recovery in many ways.
If you’re ready to either return to a previous role, or set out to find a new challenge after time off due to sickness, consider the following points to improve your confidence and your chances of a speedy return:
#1 Rebuild connections and network
One of the best ways to build your confidence about returning to work is to pick up again the business connections you had previously. This will reassure you that very little has actually changed in your absence, and can be as simple as dropping an email to your colleagues, if you are returning to a previous role, asking for a meeting over a coffee to catch up on what’s new. If you are moving to a new position or job hunting then use Linkedin to build your network, along with word of mouth.
#2 Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need (and be honest)
If you are returning to a position, you have previously held then don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need to make your return a success. Be honest with your employer - if you are not confident talking to your boss then seek out support from your HR department or a trade union representative if relevant. Don’t pretend you’re OK and fully ready to return if you are not. Returning too quickly can be damaging in the long term, and if you don’t ask for help, others might be too busy with their own work to realise you need it. Knowing you will get the help you need can be an immediate confidence and mood booster.
#3 Know your rights
If you are returning to a role in the UK after a period of sickness, then you may find that you are covered by legislation which requires your employer to make reasonable adjustments to support your reintegration in the workplace. Even if you are not covered by a legal requirement to support you, most reasonable businesses will have policies offering help to get back on your feet. Make sure you know your rights, and then ask in a balanced and calm fashion for the support you need, whether that be adjustments to your duties, a return on gradual hours, or a change in working terms or location. Show you’ve thought about how the support you need can be accommodated by the business and you will get the best response.
#4 Be realistic in your expectations of yourself
Think carefully about the timing of your return - too early can cause a relapse or further complications, and yet the longer you stay out of work, the more difficult it can feel to get back into the groove. Whenever you do return, make sure you act on the advice of medical professionals, and give yourself time to adjust. Often the majority of pressure felt upon a return from work is actually self-inflicted.
#5 Think outside the box
If you are looking for new work after a period of sickness, it can pay to think outside of the box. Try to find relevant volunteering opportunities, which can build your CV and help you to manage your return in a way that suits your needs; and don’t be afraid of using your network and word of mouth to find your next position.
Managing your return to work after a period of sickness absence can feel like a delicate balancing act. The best that you can do is to act on medical advice, get the support you need from your employer, and be realistic about how much you can do and how fast. Putting thinking time in prior to your return, and having a plan in place can make sure you’re confident and able to make the best of it when your first day back rolls round.
Image: Get Well Soon via Flickr