Returning to work

Going back to work after time off can feel a bit nerve-wracking. Plan ahead what you'll need with your employer to make sure it's a positive experience for both of you. Having the right support in place should make it easier to readjust back into working life. 

Sorting out your return

When you feel ready to go back to work, and your doctor agrees, let your employer know. Ask them to set up a pre-return to work meeting where you can discuss the support you might need and plan a phased return to work for you, if this is something you need. 

Your employer might ask for your consent to get a medical report from your GP or consultant. This will give them more information about your illness and any adjustments they could make to support you. You can ask for a copy of the report and always let your employer know if you only want certain people to have access to it.

Your employer may also seek advice from their occupational health service if they have one. If they do, you may be asked to see or speak with an occupational health adviser, which is a good opportunity for you to discuss any adjustments you think would help you return to work.

"The therapy affected my home life, but actually work was like an escape from it – I could just carry on as normal and everyone thought I was wonderful!"

Working hours and getting time off for treatment

If you're still having treatment and need time off from work for appointments, you'll need to manage this with your employer.

Before your pre-return to work meeting, it might be helpful for you or your manager to prepare a suggested timetable for your phased return to work. This can then form the basis of the discussion at the meeting.

Some employers may be happy for you not to work on treatment days, and may simply agree to reduce your wages according to the number of days you take off.

Other employers may be happy for you to make up the time on the days when you feel better, or allow you to work from home. Make sure you get access to and fully understand your organisation's policies around sickness and flexible working.

Choose a representative and take notes

You might feel it would be helpful if someone accompanied you when you met with your employer. If so, discuss it with them. You could suggest:

  • A union representative if you are a member of a union
  • Someone from your Human Resources (HR) department
  • A colleague you trust

This can be useful as you can run through what was said with them after the meeting. There will probably have been a lot to take in, and they might have picked up on some points you missed.

Someone should take notes of what's agreed at the meeting, type them up and circulate them afterwards. This ensures everyone is expecting the same things to happen and knows what their individual commitment is.

Any changes to your contract should ideally be agreed in writing with you. This could include a change to your working hours, either temporary or permanent.

How colleagues react

You might think of your colleagues as friends, especially if your workplace is small and is made up of a close-knit group of people. They might have been there for you through treatment and have a good understanding of what's going on.

Alternatively, you might only have purely professional relationships at work where it's not easy to share personal matters. Or it might be a mix of both.

When you first told your employer, you may have asked them to share the news or to keep it confidential. Or you might not have thought about this at the time and it's since been shared through the grapevine. 

People don't always react or behave as you'd expect or hope for so you might have to deal with some awkward interactions or questions. Try not to let this throw you - it's ok to say if you don't want to talk about it. Or if you do, tell them that too. The main thing is that you feel comfortable setting your own barriers and if you're struggling, ask your manager for advice on this. 

Where next?

Updated January 2018, next review due 2019.