How to get back to work after sick leave

Clinical Director of Wellbeing and Health Promotion
27 April 2017

It’s normal to feel a little anxious about going back to work after being off sick, especially if you’ve been off for quite a while. But it’s good to know that getting back to work can actually help you recover and avoid long-term illness.

Returning to work successfully should be a team effort. The three people who’ll make it work are your doctor, your employer and, most importantly, you!

People working together

Your doctor

By using a ‘fit note’, your doctor can help you talk to your employer about how your health may affect your abilities at work. Your doctor may be your GP, or the hospital doctor who’s been looking after you. The fit note offers your employer advice about possible changes they could make to help you get back to work. These may include the following.

  • Coming back to work gradually – having a phased approach to increasing your work tasks and amount of hours you work.
  • Altering the times you work – the number of hours or the times of day.
  • Changing the tasks you do at work – either temporarily or permanently.

Talk through the fit note with your doctor. Remember, they’ll only be able to give general advice and guidance about how your health may affect your work. For instance whether you can drive, how mobile you are and whether you’ll need to attend medical appointments during work time. It’s up to you and your employer to talk about specific changes needed in your individual circumstances.

Your employer

While you’re away, it’s really helpful to agree a ‘return to work’ plan with your employer. This might include a suggested date for return and any changes to be made to your workplace or role.

Discuss your doctor’s advice from the fit note with your manager. Your employer can use this to try to adapt your work based on your doctor’s advice. Some of the helpful changes your employer could make include:

  • making physical adaptations to your workplace
  • offering you extra training or a refresher course
  • allowing you to work from home, or have conference calls instead of meetings
  • setting you up with a mentor or buddy
  • changing the range of tasks you do
  • looking at risk assessments, including taking your mobility into account

You and your employer might find it helpful to get advice from an occupational health specialist in planning your return to work. These are health professionals who specialise in the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace. If you work for a large organisation, they may have an occupational health service you can contact. If not, your doctor or your employer may be able to refer you to an occupational health specialist.


Re-entering the work place after time off can be nerve-racking. But taking charge of your situation and planning ahead can really help ease any worries.

Keep in touch. While you’re off work, keep in contact with your employer and some of your colleagues if you want to. Regular contact can help you to feel ‘in the loop’ and make it easier to get back into things when you do return. It’s often a good idea to call into work, by arrangement, nearer your return time. This can allow you to meet and greet people, see your work area and agree the details of the work you’ll be doing. You don’t have to tell everyone what the problem has been if you don’t want to. Consider just thanking them for asking, adding a positive statement about returning and ask them how they are. In my experience, this can lead to an almost instant normalising of work relationships.

You don’t need to be signed back to work either and can go back any time you feel ready, with the agreement of your employer. Getting back to work may help your recovery.

Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. You may not be able to go straight back to doing what you did before you were ill. Give yourself time, try to stay positive and accept support where it’s offered.

If you don’t feel supported or things aren’t going to plan, don’t stay silent about it. There are organisations that can offer advice such as your trade union, Citizen’s Advice Bureau and occupational health services.

Dr Jenny Leeser
Clinical Director of Wellbeing and Health Promotion

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