2020 has been an unprecedented year. The global pandemic has caused an unforeseen healthcare crisis, with many people still feeling the effects of the virus months after testing positive. However, it’s not just Covid-19 that’s keeping people off work. According to a report by the CIPD earlier this year, mental health was the most common cause of long-term absence in 2019.

Whatever the reason for you long illness, being poorly for a prolonged period can take its toll physically and emotionally. If you’ve been given the all-clear by your doctor to return to work, it may seem like a daunting prospect. But there are ways to prepare for that first day and to make sure you’re ready to take on your workload again.

Make sure you feel ready

Before you let your employer know you’ve been given a clean bill of physical health by your doctor, think carefully about how you feel mentally about going back. Whether you work in a labour-intensive role or your job is desk-based doesn’t matter; taking on any form of work after you’ve been away can feel daunting regardless of your job role.

Consider how you feel about going back. Do you feel like you can face a full workday? Might a phased return make you feel more comfortable? Perhaps your illness has made you want to cut your hours back or maybe you want to try flexible working to see if that will help.

Is your job even right for you anymore? It’s possible that your illness has led to you rethinking your role.

During this period of consideration before you speak to your employer, think about the level of medical care you received, too. If you feel like your doctor has rushed to say you can return to work when you still don’t feel right or if you experienced care that wasn’t at the level you expected, you might have encountered medical negligence. Only you know if you feel ready to return to work. If things aren’t quite right, you might not be physically ready to go back.

Check your company’s sickness absence policy

You’ll find this policy in your employee handbook or ask HR to send a copy to you. Knowing the policy means you will have information about the phased return in place for anyone who is off on long-term sick. This usually comes with a time limit, so you’ll need to weigh up whether you think you will be able to be working at full capacity by the end of this period.

If you don’t feel sure, speak to your doctor in the first instance and see if there is a way to access occupational therapy through your workplace, too. Your employer will want you to return but they will want you to feel able to do so, so taking these steps before committing to going back are perfectly reasonable.

Speak to your employer

If you feel ready to do so, speak to your employer about when you think you might want to begin your phased return. It may be that your employer has to make adjustments in order for you to return to work, so be sure to have an open conversation with them about what you will need.

There are different types of reasonable adjustments that can be made. The first applies to the way things are done, such as processes and procedures, the second covers physical details, such as adding a ramp, and the third is providing aids so you can do your job, such as an adapted desk or chair.

Take it easy

Once you are satisfied that you feel you are ready to return and you’re confident that your employer has worked with you to prepare the workplace, go in for your first day. But take it easy. It’s been a while since you were last there and you need time to get used to the environment again.

Avoid stressful situations that can impact on your wellbeing and set your recovery back. It can be a long road before you feel like you’re working at full capacity again, but your employer has an obligation to make sure you feel safe in the workplace.