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Returning to work after sick leave

Two-thirds of us will have suffered from some form of mental illness at some point in our lives. It can be even more devastating when it forces us to take a lengthy absence from work. However, once we are on the right road to recovery, going back to work is often one of the most important factors in speeding up our return to full health. It provides us with a support network and is an opportunity to regain our sense of self-esteem and puts some routine and stability back into our lives. Here are some tips on how to transition seamlessly back into the workplace.

Stay in touch

If you can, keep in touch with a trusted colleague while you’re off sick, or when you’re about to return. They can keep you abreast of things like door codes changing, if the stationary cupboard has moved etc, that your manager might overlook, and can help you feel at home in the office. You can also arrange a ‘drop in to work’ before your return to say hello to colleagues and get re-familiarised.

Speak to your GP

Before returning to work, speak to your GP as they might have recommendations to make for your return to work, such as:

  • a phased return (not immediately returning to your full working hours or duties)
  • flexible hours
  • reasonable adjustments, such as recommending specialist equipment to help support you while you’re at work

Be honest

If you’re struggling, be honest! Let your employer or colleagues know if you need extra support. Please remember though that it’s up to you how much or how little you’d like to tell your colleagues about why you’ve been off work. Don’t feel pressured into sharing more than you feel comfortable with.


There’s nothing worst than being late and feeling rushed on your first day back at work. If you can, lay out your outfit and items that you will need such as lunch, the night before. This will help ensure your morning goes as smoothly as possible. It could also leave you with extra time in the morning to allow for any unexpected delays or cancellations.

Looking for a job?

If you’ve had to leave your last job due to a mental illness and are now ready to return to work, here are some tips to help you with your job-seeking journey

Think ‘transferable’

Think about your transferable skills. Sometimes it might help to talk through the person specification for a job with a friend – you might be a better match for a role than you think! There are some skills which are invaluable regardless of the role, such as, time management, communication skills, the ability to work alone and as part of a team, and being able to prioritise tasks.

Ask questions during the interview

Although it can be tempting to ask about salary or promotion opportunities, the interview isn’t the best time to ask these questions. Instead, ask questions that will demonstrate a genuine interest in thse company, for example, ask the panel what they enjoy about working at the company.

Identifying gaps in your skills and experience

Do this by looking at the job descriptions and person specifications of roles you are interested in and see what areas you may need to work on. You could “fill in the gaps” by volunteering or completing a short course

Consider “flexible working”

More and more companies are offering “flexible working” and “working from home” as the way we work changes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what this really means, as it can differ greatly from company to company.


Sometimes it’s not about what you know but who you know. Make an effort to get to know people and attend events to keep updated of industry happenings to get your foot in the door.

This story was originally published in the Winter 2020 Community Living Well magazine. It has been edited for website purposes. Subscribe today to receive mental health and wellbeing tips straight to your inbox, four times a year!

Refer to the Community Living Well service here.

Author: Michelle Jackson
Posted on: 11th February 2020

SMART St Mary Abbots Rehabilitation and Training
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