Returning to work
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 of us, returning to work is a big milestone in the recovery process.
On this page:
- Before planning to return to work
- Preparing to return to work
- Staying well after your return to work
Even when you start to feel better, you could still be experiencing a mental health problem. It’s important to think about how to manage your mental health as you settle into work again.
Before planning to return to work
If you’ve been on sickness leave for more than seven days in a row, you might need support before you consider going back.
Consider the following options before you plan your return to work:
- Visit your doctor. Your family doctor or hospital doctor can assess whether you can return to work and write you a fit note. A fit note is a statement where they give their opinion on your fitness to work. It may also include suggestions for changes your employer could make to help you.
- Ask to be referred to occupational health. Your employer can get occupational health workers to help you create a back-to-work plan. This plan can detail your condition and the type of support you may need to return.
Preparing to 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.
- 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.
- Ask to return to work gradually. With your manager, discuss the option of working part-time or on certain days to begin with. This is sometimes called a ‘phased return’ to work.
- Start to readjust to your working hours. In the days leading up to your return, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time as if you were going to work.
• Make use of peer support services. By sharing with others going through similar experiences, you might feel less alone.
Staying well after your return to work
After returning to work from a mental health problem, try to make use of any support you can to stay well.
You might want to make some of the following requests to your employer:
- 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.
- Develop a Wellness Action Plan (WAP). If you’re returning to work but working from home, there is also a WAP home working guide.
- Look into specialist support services on offer. Your employer may offer support like occupational health or an employee assistance programme (EAP). Check with your manager or HR department if you’re unsure.
- Ask for changes from your employer. Some small changes can allow you to feel more able to do your job. See our page on getting support at work for more information.
“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.”