Thinking about going back to your job after a period of poor mental health can feel overwhelming. You may be worried about what colleagues will think or that you won't be able to cope. For some, returning to work is a big milestone in their recovery.
Even though you're feeling better, it doesn't always mean that you're no longer experiencing a mental health problem. So it's important to think about how you can manage your mental health as you return to work.
My employer offers me supervision and counselling.
You might want to think about:
What support is available to help me to return to work?
If you have been on sickness leave for more than seven consecutive days, consider doing the following before you return to work:
- Visit your GP. Your GP can assess whether you are fit to return to work, give you advice as part of your fit note and make suggestions about what changes your employer could make to help you.
- Your employer may also refer you to an occupational health professional. Occupational health will work with you to create a plan detailing your condition and the type of support you may need to return to work.
If you have been off sick (or are likely to be) for four weeks or more, your GP or employer can discuss with you a referral to the government scheme Fit for Work.
Fit for Work provides impartial work-related health advice and can refer you to occupational health professionals for support in returning to work.
How do I prepare for my return to work?
While you're off work there are some practical things that you can do to make returning to your job easier:
- Keep in touch with colleagues. Using social media can be a good way of communicating if you don't feel ready to see them face-to-face.
- If your work place has a staff bulletin, ask to be put on the mailing list.
- Arrange with your manager to drop in to work before you return, to say hello to colleagues and get re-familiarised.
- In the time leading up to your return, try to go to sleep and rise the same hours as if you were going to work. This can help you to readjust to your working hours.
- Use peer support. Sharing your experiences with others going through the same thing can help you feel less alone. You could join an online community, such as Elefriends, where you can talk openly about your mental health.
What support can I get from my employer when I return?
Make use of any support you can from your employer:
- Request to return to work gradually – for example, by starting part-time as part of a 'phased return' to work.
- Make a schedule with your manager for your first week back. Plan what you will be doing where and when so you know what to expect. Arrange to catch up on any training you have missed.
- If you are worried about walking into a busy office on your own, arrange for someone to meet you at the front desk.
- Schedule regular catch ups with your manager to talk about how you are getting on. Let them know what you're finding helpful or difficult.
- Develop a Wellness Action Plan with your manager.
- Request changes to allow you to be better able to do your job. See our page on support at work for more information.
- Find out if your employer has any specialist support services on offer, for example; occupational health services or an employee assistance programme (EAP).
My employer supports me by helping me when I get stressed and feel like I can't cope, changing my tasks or just being there to talk to.
This information was published in April 2016. We will revise it in 2019.