Returning to work after sick leave

If you’ve recently had some time out from the workforce due to illness, the idea of coming back to a nine-to-five job can be a daunting one.

While returning to work does come with its own set of challenges, such as dealing with changes in your role or industry and fielding questions from curious colleagues, you can make the transition a little easier with a few key steps.

Make sure all your paperwork is in order

If you’re returning to the same role, Specialist HR’s Principal Consultant, Gabriel Alkan, says it’s important to get up to speed with your company’s sick leave policy and any paperwork they may require upon your return (such as a medical clearance from a doctor that states you’re fit to return to work.) If needed, you can obtain a medical clearance from your local GP and issue it to your manager or the HR or Safety Manager in your place of employment.

Returning to work after sick leave

Chat to your manager before you come back

Whether you’ve been out for a few weeks or a few months, things may have changed at work. If you’re returning to your role, schedule a meeting with your manager before your first day back to help you get up to speed on what you may have missed.

“When employees return from extended leave we strongly recommend that they request a ‘return to work’ catch up with their manager. In this meeting, the manager should highlight the important changes that may have occurred during your absence and also provide a general update on what has happened with your workload during this time,” says Alkan.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you’re finding being back at work a little overwhelming don’t be afraid to have a chat to your manager about how you’re feeling.

“Ensure you are prepared for the meeting with a list of questions you have, your concerns and what you would like your manager to look into,” says Alkan. “For example, if your concern relates to system changes that took place whilst you were on extended sick leave, then retraining would be a suitable request.”

Returning to work after sick leave is a great opportunity to look into further study. If you’re returning to your old role, it’s an ideal time to retrain to ensure that your skills are still in keeping with what’s required of someone in your position.

If you’re re-entering the workforce again it’s the perfect opportunity to broaden your skill set and earn a new qualification to strengthen yourself as a candidate on the job market.

Decide how you’ll field questions

It’s understandable that people may be slightly curious about why you were away, or for an employer to ask about the gap in your CV in an interview. This is why it’s a good idea to decide how you’ll broach this topic before you return to work.

“This is a personal choice each employee needs to make – naturally, it comes back to your level of comfort and if the reason for your absence is personal or not,” says Alkan.

If you do decide to answer colleagues’ questions, Alkan says that honesty is the best policy. Keep it short, and decide where your boundaries are as far as the kinds of questions you’re willing to answer. If you don’t want to talk about it, then simply explain that the matter is private. Most people will respect this request and you shouldn’t have to discuss it any further.

The same honest approach goes for potential employers. If you are called for an interview Alkan says, “The only decision you need to make is whether you prefer to explain why you were sick or keep it private. Regardless of your decision employers cannot discriminate.”

If you do feel the need to explain the gap in your CV, be upfront about the fact that you had to take some time out due to illness, however emphasise that you are now well and ready to return to work. Read more about how to answer more tricky interview questions

Manage your expectations

Don’t expect to return to 100 per cent performance straight away. You need to ease yourself back into your work routine. If it’s an option, see if you can come to an arrangement with your manager to work a few days a week for a month or so, or seek part-time work if you’re re-entering the work force with a different role.

This will help you transition into being back at work and will help you familiarise yourself with your role again without having to do a full working week from the beginning. Just remember your health is paramount so only do what’s realistic and take it slow.