Returning to work after a disability can be challenging—not only might you feel out of the loop with relationships, projects and changes at work, but you are also dealing with the emotional and physical impact of your condition. (And if you didn’t have long-term disability insurance, you might be dealing with some financial repercussions as well.) But if you are feeling healthy enough to head back, you are probably eager to get back into the swing of things and “rejoin” work life. Here are some tips to ease the transition back to work.
Make Sure You’ve Been Cleared
Talk to your doctor about whether you’re truly ready to return to work and make sure that she has signed off on all the paperwork you need as documentation.
Practice Your Job At Home
Does your job entail a lot of typing? See how it feels to do so at home. Or, do you frequently give presentations? See if there are any challenges you’ll need to accommodate for, such as being able to stand or use the video equipment. Finding the potential pitfalls in advance will help you feel more confident.
Talk To Human Resources
Chances are good that you’ve been in touch with the human resources department throughout your disability, but make sure that your first stop is to talk with them about any special accommodations you need, such as a quiet room to work in, a different kind of chair, assistance with mobility or an office space that features accessible design. While you’re there, revisit any sort of discussions you need to have about benefits.
Initiate a Chat with Your Supervisor
Whether it’s the same manager you left or someone new has taken the reins, schedule a private meeting with your supervisor to find out what you might have missed while out….new goals, new processes, new clients. Also be open with them about sharing any limitations you might have, whether they are physical or mental. Perhaps you need to take breaks more often, or can’t be on your feet for extended periods of time. If there’s information you’d like him or her to share with your team, this is the time to ask for that.
Communicate With Your Team
Part of the joy of work is the camaraderie you have with your workmates. If the same colleagues are still in your department, they surely have missed you, but they might be hesitant on how to approach you. Sending them a friendly email and then having lunch or coffee with them (as appropriate for your relationship) can be a good way to open the door. They might be unsure what topics are off-limits—be open with them about what you do and don’t want to talk about. Everyone has different privacy limits so consider yours and let your co-workers know.
As you consider a return to work, plan for a staggered schedule as you get back into the swing of things. Maybe getting up and out the door is more difficult now so a later start is preferable. It could be that coming in every other day is the best you can manage to work efficiently, or you tire easier so you’d rather work five shorter days. Whatever schedule works for you is the right one; you don’t want to rush your return or re-entry. “As frustrating as it may be to spend long boring days at home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be ready to resume working. A too-soon return could set back your recovery and set you up for failure, creating disappointment both for you and your company,” notes mindfulness and leadership development coach Isabel Duarte, who has experience returning from disability leave.
Look Into Retraining
If you’ve been out for a while, you might have lost some skills or the rest of your team might have upskilled. You’ll gain confidence by getting up to speed so look into development opportunities for specific areas, whether you seek training from a fellow team member or ask your supervisor to recommend an outside course.
Take Care of Yourself
No matter what the disability you are dealing with, you have undoubtedly had to relearn a host of skills that used to be second nature. In addition, adapting to a routine with a disability can be exhausting, especially when you have to return to work. Make sure you take time for self-care, whether than entails mild exercise, meditation, journaling or art therapy. And make sure to get plenty of rest so you can wake up refreshed and ready to handle the challenges that come with returning to work after a disability.