How To Return To Work Following Injury or Illness
Recently I was asked to provide an expert comment on the topic of returning to work following a major illness or injury. Here is a link to the story about a truly inspirational Personal Trainer who has managed to beat the odds against some very frightening illnesses to thrive, which was written by Libby Hakim and featured in Sydney Morning Herald on 14 March 2015 http://www.smh.com.au/business/personal-trainer-andy-zagami-defies-odds-after-cancer-treatments-20150309-13x4yf.html
Having much experience in assisting people to return to work or identify a new pathway following injury or illness, I’ve compiled my top five quick tips below:
Prioritise and take stock – consider what is most important to you, and what your actual career priorities are before leaving work where possible. Are you planning (or able to) return to your current role? Are you self-employed, and is it important that you remain self-employed – if so, consider seeking professional advice as to whether it would be best to have someone step-up while you are unable to, or close the business temporarily.
Stay engaged where possible – continued engagement is an important part of the motivation process and can include maintaining contact with some colleagues, reading articles associated with your job or company (or the new possible companies and job if you are not returning to the same one), or the occasional visit for morning tea at the workplace where health permits (many places could accommodate this virtually if needed via skype or telephone).
"continued engagement is an important part of the motivation process"
Take a graduated approach – minimise the 'all or nothing' approach when returning to work after a period away, as it can often set you up for failure. Wherever possible, a graduated return to work can ease you back into your usual routine and help you build up your tolerance for work again. Remind the boss that this is not simply a form of one-way support either, as it often means that you will be able to begin the return to work process earlier than if you wait for a time when you are cleared to return to your usual hours and duties in one hit. Speak to your HR department about assistance with this. If you are entering a new employer or job type following your time away, consider your options for negotiating with the new boss, or starting in a casual / part t
ime role to begin the graduated return.
Be kind to yourself – after any serious illness you will no doubt be more keenly tuned to the needs of your body. Listen to these needs! It is not unusual for people to experience fatigue and periods of emotional instability following their return to work. Following an illness, your body may function in a different way to how it did previously, and it will be important to recognise that and go with it – your energy is best spent on getting the most out of your body today. This goes for outside of work too – making sure that you are kind to yourself and getting the rest, treatment (if ongoing), and general health is important for a healthy work/life balance and longevity.
Seek help if you need to – Rehabilitation Counsellors and allied health providers are able to assist you with specific strategies for your return to work, as well as Psychologists and Counsellors who are able to provide support to manage your emotional wellbeing during this time. Speak with your GP about your specific concerns, and they can direct you to professionals who will be there with individualised help.