Tips on returning to work after an illness

You might have thought it would never happen to you. Developing an illness or injury and needing to go off work. You have navigated your recovery path and are ready to get back. But where do you start?

If your benefits plan includes short- or long-term disability coverage provided by Manulife, you will be assigned a case manager. They will assist you in getting the care you need.

They act on your behalf and maintain contact with your employer and doctors during every step of the recovery process. This allows them to have a better understanding of your unique situation.

While you're on leave

There is no legal obligation to communicate with your workplace while on medical leave. But if you feel comfortable reaching out to your manager or HR, it can be helpful to provide them with updates on your status and when you expect to return to work. Again, you only have to share what you’re comfortable sharing.

Preparing to go back

Once you’ve spoken with your doctor about your improvements, let your employer know. They’ll contact your case manager and work together to make your back to work transition as easy as possible. You should review the return to work plan and raise any concerns you might have. This will ensure you and your employer both understand the expectations of your return. 

When you return to work, you might need special support to help you do your job. That’s why it is so important to speak with HR and your manager to create a plan for you to go back to work. Remember you might not be able to go back to the same duties or job you were doing before.

Your back-to-work plan may include a graduated return-to-work plan, adjustments to your schedule, or changes to your duties. Having this laid out ahead of time can reduce stress and make your return as smooth as possible for the entire company.

Your case manager will discuss with your employer any possible limitations you might have. However, they won’t discuss your specific diagnosis or condition. Your employer is responsible for addressing these needs. Keep in mind there might be limits on what can be provided.

The first week back to work

If you have control over your date of return, consider heading back to work on a Wednesday. This is a great way to slowly ease back into the five-day workweek with a shorter week.

On your first day, ask about your duties, workload and performance expectations. You should also discuss any training you will need to take. Ensuring you have the skills to succeed will help make your first day back more enjoyable.

Your co-workers might ask you questions about your situation. Just like talking to your manager, use your own judgement about how much detail to provide. You can use general terms instead of your specific diagnosis.

Try to limit the number of meetings you take during your first week. While everyone might be excited to catch you up on everything that’s been going on, it’s important to dedicate time to other tasks that have built up over your leave. For example, spend the time reviewing your tasks, clearing out your inbox, and adjusting to being back to work.

Be kind to yourself

Take the time you need to adjust to being back at work. Your health should be your first priority, so keep that in mind as you ease into your day-to-day life. If you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Speak to your manager about changing your workload or ask HR about temporary accommodations like a hybrid or work-from-home schedule.

Returning to work after an absence can bring feelings of excitement and anxiety. For more information to make a better first day back, check out this returning to work guide.


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