Returning to work after an injury can be a stressful time. Whether you are going back to previous employment by necessity or choice, it’s often an uncertain time, especially if it has been some time since working in your previous role. In this article, we ask Steven Hoey of Therapy Solutions about how to make the transition as smooth as possible and less stressful.Over the years we have helped hundreds of people return to work. As Occupation Therapists, our role is to assist people in recovering from their injuries and get back on their feet. While it’s not always possible to be able to return to work following a physical injury, illness or mental health problem, for most it is an inevitable part of the rehabilitation process.
When facing returning to work, whether by necessity or choice, it’s very normal to feel uncertain about the transition. Questions that people often ask are:
- Will I be able to do my job?
- Will things have changed in the team?
- What if I can’t handle it?
- What if my employer doesn’t support me?
- What are my rights?
While the return to work plan will be very different for each person, there are some general principles that apply to most people and that can make the transition back to your old job easier and less stressful:
- Start slowly. If your doctor has given you the green light to return to work, it’s possible that you can go back to your old job doing fewer hours, or to a modified or new role, until you are well enough to return to your usual routine. Starting slowly is the key. While you might be eager to get back to normal, it’s possible that moving faster than you have been advised could do further damage. Don’t overdo things. Take as much time as you need to get back on your feet.
- Keep in touch. Depending on your circumstances, it can be good to keep in touch with someone from your team while you are recovering. Whether your manager or a colleague, keeping up-to-date with changes that take place means things won’t feel quite so new or different on your return.
- Stay active. Where possible, try to keep moving throughout your rehabilitation process. Lying around all day can lead to chronic pain, or other complications. Doing simple low-impact activity like walking the dog around the block will mean that your body is more physically able to do everyday activities like getting to and from the office, buying a coffee, and grabbing your lunch.
- Know what you can and can’t do. Ask your treating doctor or occupation therapist to detail the activities you can and can't do. For example, limitations, difficulties with bending, lifting, and repeated movements. It’s important information for both yourself and your employer so make sure you relay it on to them well before your return-to-work date so that they can be prepared.
- Talk to your OHS team. Depending on how big your workplace is, it may have a rehabilitation and return to work coordinator, a health and safety representative or an occupational health and safety (OHS) coordinator. Talk to them or your manager about your needs and issues in returning to work or doing your job.
- Know your rights. It’s important that you know your rights. Any discrimination is unlawful. All employees—including people with a disability or mental illness—have the right to be treated fairly at work, and respected for their contribution to the workplace. The Australian Human Rights Commission provides information about disability rights, and explains what types of behaviours and actions can be considered disability discrimination. If you believe your rights have been breached it is possible that you have a case to bring against your employer. Contact us for a confidential discussion.
- Work safely and always be mindful of your injury or illness. Take things slowly, and be careful not to aggravate a condition by doing too much too soon.
- Focus on a goal. Returning to work can be an emotional hurdle. Having a goal to work towards, like savings or a holiday with your loved ones, can be a great way to feel more motivated.