Reduce the stress of getting back to work after a break or illness

Transitioning back to work after a period of time off work can be challenging. You’ve been out of the flow of the office for months and your mind might be elsewhere. How can you ensure a smooth return to work as possible? Start by reflecting on your goals. Prior to your return, think about how you can best contribute to your organization that works for you too.

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Consider what you need to do to fulfill your responsibilities and foster your career in a way that also allows you to manage your wellbeing. Once you’re back, sit down and perhaps acknowledge that your adjustment may be bumpy, but that you’re fully committed to your job and organization. Discuss the future you’re your manager or Team Leader as part of the return to work procedure and maybe use a Wellness Action Plan to work out what might be the challenges and where you might get support for yourself and through the company. Your goal is to reset your expectations for yourself and seek support where it is needed.

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Find out more about how to develop a wellness action plan


Here are some pointers for how to navigate those first weeks back at work.


  • Preparation for the return to work

In the time leading up to your first day back, try some of these ideas to make your return feel easier:

  • Try to keep in touch with colleagues. If you find this would help, stay in touch with people at work during your time off. You could contact them by email, social media or chat on the phone.
  • Catch up on news from your workplace. If your workplace has a staff newsletter, you could ask to be put on the mailing list.
  • Plan to visit work before you return. It might help to say hello to colleagues and re-familiarise yourself with the workplace. If you work remotely or from home, you could join a virtual team meeting.


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  • Arrange for someone to meet you at the entrance. After being off for a while, you might be worried about entering a busy work environment alone. Ask a colleague, your manager or someone at work who you trust.


  • Consider your schedule
    Making the transition back to work will often have its challenges but there are a lot of aspects of it that you can manage and plan for. Take, for instance, the question of whether you return gradually by working a couple of days a week or resume full-time work from the outset. Not everyone has an option, but if you do, it’s sensible to consider the need to look after and maintain long term mental health. Start getting back into a routine before you return to work – set your alarm get up plan out your meals and start getting physically prepared.

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  • Be gentle with yourself
    CBT Specialists BrainTrainersUKFirst things first: Be aware of how you feel in the first two to three weeks that you’re back on the job.  Notice and make allowances for the adjustment of getting back into a routine.   You might feel tired, anxious or sad at certain times.  But if you accept that will be part of the journey and that some happy and sad feelings might come up every day.  Remind yourself if you’re sad and worried now doesn’t mean you will be forever.  Don’t ignore your feelings, but bear in mind that, you are taking small steps forward and  “this too shall pass”. Don’t be too hard on yourself.  See what you are doing that has moved you forward and spend time acknowledging your strength so far.


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  • Find out about the process with your employer regarding returning to work after absence

When someone is ready to return to work after an absence, the employer should have a procedure they follow. You can check your workplace’s absence policy for this.

Your workplace might have a policy for meeting with employees after absences.

After long-term absence

ACAS suggest that if there’s been a long absence or the employee has an ongoing health condition, it’s a good idea for the employer and employee to meet and:

  • make sure the employee is ready to return to work
  • talk about any work updates that happened while they were off
  • look at any recommendations from the employee’s doctor
  • see if they need any support
  • if the employee has a disability, see if changes are needed in the workplace to remove or reduce any disadvantages (‘reasonable adjustments’)
  • consider a referral to a medical service such as occupational health
  • discuss an employee assistance programme (EAP), if it’s available
  • agree on a plan that suits you both, for example a phased return to work


Use a Wellness Action Plan  

negotiate making reasonable adjustments

If an employee has a disability, by law their employer must consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ if needed to help them return to work.  These adjustments could include work equipment, working hours and duties or tasks.  The aim is to help you get back to work more quickly and reduce the risks that maybe led to being off work returning.  Often Occupational Health will be involved.

Find out more about reasonable adjustments.


Keep the regular meetings set up to review your progress. This might be agreed with your Manager or HR The employer or their HR manager and the employee should agree on a plan for how long this will be for.  Ideally your employer or HR manager should continue to regularly review your health and wellbeing in the workplace and make new adjustments if necessary.

Create a schedule with your manager. For your first weeks back, make plans for what you’ll do, when and where. This way you’ll know what to expect. Arrange to catch up on any training you’ve missed.

Have regular catch-ups with your manager. It might help to talk often about how you’re getting on. Let them know what you’re finding helpful or difficult.


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Talking with colleagues
Be mindful of how you manage relationships with colleagues as you settle back into work. Communication is critical. Be direct about how and when you will work. Make your schedule predictable. For instance, if you are trying to reduce the long hours of overtime you used to do tell your colleagues you need to leave every night at 5 PM on the dot, then people will know not to come by your office at 4:59 PM wanting to talk. Things may change over time and even on the fly, of course, but if you  explain your schedule  they will also learn how to adjust as needed.

Seek support
Resuming your professional life is a process — don’t go it alone. As you make the transition Make use of peer support services. By sharing with others going through similar experiences, you might feel less alone. Find out if your employer has resources for mental health issues. Seek advice from colleagues who’ve been through the process.


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Reset your expectations
In those early days of coming back to work, it’s wise to think about how you can recast yourself professionally. Think about what makes you special or the skills you have. Then consider how to modify those attributes to suit your approach to work that helps maintain a balance. If you were the hardest-working person in the office, then maybe you become the most efficient. If you were the best mentor or project leader, you become the best delegator. Your goal is to reset your expectations for yourself. Learn to be realistic about what you can and should give.


Public Health England: Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

NHS: 5 ways to wellbeing

Mental Health at Work: Coronavirus and isolation: supporting yourself and your colleagues

ACAS advice for working from home

UK Government advice on sick pay

Mind information: Coronavirus and your wellbeing

Mind information: Coronavirus and your wellbeing (young people)

Mind information: How to manage stress

Mind information: Coronavirus: supporting yourself and your team


Kim and Carrie
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