15 Tips on Returning to Work After Illness

Businesswoman blowing nose

Most people take an odd sick day here and there when they’re feeling a little under the weather, especially during the winter flu season that hits the office like the plague. Sometimes, though, those days turn into weeks or months – or even years!

And when it comes to returning to normality and your 9-to-5 job, it can be a little daunting and never-wracking, to say the least. Fortunately, we’re here to help you make the transition back to work after illness as smooth as possible with these top tips!

1. Get all Your Paperwork in Order

If you’re returning to the same role, it’s a good idea to check your company’s sick leave policies and find out if there’s any paperwork you need to provide when you do return. This includes things like medical clearance from a qualified doctor saying you’re fit to return to work. Turn up on your first day back without all these important documents, and you’ll delay your chances of getting your statutory sick pay (and come across as disorganised, in the process).

2. Get a Fit Note

Once you’ve been sick for more than seven days in a row, it’s vital to get a fit note (a statement of fitness for work) from your GP or hospital doctor. This note will provide evidence of how capable you are to work and will typically include details of your condition and any further treatment that’s required.

If you’ve been off work for over a month, Fit for Work (a UK government-funded initiative designed to support people in work with health conditions and help with sickness absence) can help you put together a safe and efficient return-to-work plan to guide you back into full-time employment.

3. Know Your Rights

Whether it’s due to stress, mental health issues, a psychical illness or something that requires surgery, you are entitled to some kind of compensation and it’s important that you’re familiar with your rights as an employee.

In the UK, for example, you can get £89.35 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks if you are too ill to work, which is paid by your employer. In order to receive this payment, you should have been off work for more than four days in a row (including weekends and other non-working days).

In the US, there are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave. For companies subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are provided with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical situations for either the employee or a member of the employee's immediate family. In some instances, paid leave may be substituted for unpaid FMLA leave. To be eligible to take FMLA leave, you should have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months and worked at a location where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.

4. Check Your Company Policy for Sick Pay

Some companies will have different policies when it comes to sick pay. In the UK, you can’t get less than the statutory amount, but you can get more if your workplace has a sick pay scheme. In the US, on the other hand, it’s up to the company’s discretion to pay sick pay and you may have to request the money from the government or through your insurance company. Whatever the case, it’s important to check the fine print of your contract before you return to work to ensure your employer is sticking to the law.

5. Arrange a Phased Return

Instead of re-entering the workforce full-throttle, you can arrange a phased return to gradually immerse yourself back into the daily practices of work until you’re ready to work the same amount of hours and days as you used to.

You can discuss how to manage your schedule with your doctor and your manager to ensure that you’re doing the best for yourself and the company. If you’re returning to work from an operation, for example, they can advise remote work or part-time office work to ensure you’re healing at a natural process.

6. Get Some Sleep the Night Before

After taking even two days off, your sleeping pattern will have probably become non-existent as you’ve gotten used to the 12-hour bouts of sleep your body needed to recover.

The worry of making sure you get up on time for your return to work can be extremely nerve-wracking. Cue a lot of late-night tossing and turning, resulting in just a few hours of shut-eye, and you’re already a bad mood for your first day back to work. So make sure you sleep early the night before.

7. Leave the House Early

Just like on your first day at work, you’ll be a little rusty with travel times and will need to make sure you give yourself enough time to get to work in the morning. If you commute by train, for example, check the travel schedules to ensure there are no disruptions on your normal journey. If you’re driving, make sure you set off 10 minutes earlier than usual, so you don’t run into a morning accident or a traffic pileup.


8. Go Easy on Yourself

You’re probably still feeling a little bit rotten, so there’s no need to put heaps of pressure on yourself. Take a little longer to read through your tasks and catch up on what has been going on in your absence to get back into the swing of things. Give yourself extended deadlines and don’t push yourself to stay longer than expected while you’re still getting over your illness.

9. Take One Email at a Time

The first thing you’re faced with when you turn on your PC is an alarming 1,000+ emails. You instantly want to click ‘shut down’, run back home and curl up into a ball for another decade. The key is to just take your time and carefully go through each email. Mark the ones that are urgent and deal with those first. The rest can wait until later or even the next day.

10. Prepare to Explain Where You’ve Been

Although your colleagues mean well, you’ll end up speaking about your illness for at least 20 times by 12pm. If it’s making you feel a little queasy, or if you simply don’t want to discuss it, think of a polite answer to give every time you’re asked before you get into the office.

11. Don't Overthink It

If you’ve been off work for a long time, you’ll start to overthink your abilities to even do the job anymore. You’ll wonder if your colleagues question your capabilities and you’ll likely feel a lot less confident than ever before. Don’t panic, though – returning to work can seem scary at first but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll get back into the swing of things.

12. Try to Stay in the Loop During Your Illness

During your illness, it’s important to stay in contact with your manager and colleagues to stay up to speed with the processes and procedures. If you’re unable to do so, schedule a meeting with your manager on your first day back to quickly get you up to speed so you can get a general update on what’s happened in your absence.

13. Prepare for a Return-to-Work Interview

If you’ve been off work for a long time, you’ll probably be faced with the third degree from your manager or HR department and will need to prove that you were actually ill and not skiving during this time. (It’s a good job you took a bunch of selfies of your drawn-out, sick face to defend yourself!)

14. Get Emotional and Practical Support

Being off work can make you feel isolated and vulnerable. If you’re feeling a little down in the dumps, get support, either through your HR department, social media or by confiding in a friend. It’s important to know that there are other people that have been in the same situation as you who managed to get through it all.

This is especially important if you’ve suffered from a mental health issue or cancer, and there are a number of charities and useful organisations that can guide you through this challenging time in your life.

15. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you feel that you simply can’t fulfil the duties of your previous role, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make a list of your concerns, reasons and questions, and speak to your manager about them. They will either get you an extra pair of helping hands to ease you back into work or will look at alternative positions that are suitable for you.

No matter what your situation is, returning to work doesn’t have to be a big deal. And by following this guide, you’ll be able to ease back into your job without adding too much pressure on yourself.

Have you taken sick leave before? Let us know how you felt heading back to work and walk us through your experience in the comments section below…