Healthy Living

Returning to Work After a Long Term Absence

Let’s face it, returning to work after a long absence is exhausting. Whether it is after a personal absence like cancer treatments or a joint experience like the pandemic, it takes its toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. As people in many countries are returning to the physical workplace, I thought I’d share some ideas that might make it easier.

Returning to Work After A Personal Absence

My last day at work after the cancer diagnosis was 28th March 2019 and I didn’t return to work until the beginning of November. In total, I was absent from work for just over seven months. After all that time and treatments, there was no way I could return to normal duties and hours straight away. I was knackered, especially from the radiotherapy.

When you return to work after a long absence, I would definitely recommend negotiating a phased return with your employer. This is when a person returning to work might have reduced hours and/or lighter or different duties. These can be negotiated before you return to work with your employer or an HR manager.

In my case, the meeting was with my head teacher and a representative from the council’s HR department. As a teacher in the public sector, the borough is really my employer, as that’s where the money comes from. I also asked a representative from my teaching union to attend to support me negotiate a fair timetable.

If you are a in a union, I would recommend having a representative with you. I’m not saying that you can’t negotiate it yourself, just that I found it helpful to have someone with me who knows the procedure and what provisions my employer has to make by law.

For more information on returning to work after a personal absence, you can visit the Acas website.

Getting Back to Work After The Lockdown

I was having a discussion with some colleagues the other day and we said that coming back after the lockdown is like everyone coming back after a long-term sick leave. So perhaps everyone should be on a phased return. Obviously that’s not possible, so how can you make the return to work easier for yourself?Make returning to work easier for yourself

First, don’t be too hard on yourself.

Returning to the workplace is going to be exhausting, so cut yourself some slack. If that spreadsheet or a presentation or marking the maths books can wait until tomorrow, leave it and go home earlier. Teachers are especially notorious for working long hours (you can read an article I wrote on teachers and overtime here) and going straight back to that will only lead to exhaustion after months away from it. We all need to remember to pace ourselves.

Take regular breaks.

Get away from your desk for a while and take a walk around the office or even better pop outside for some fresh air. This is clearly not possible with a classroom full of kids, your head teacher might have something to say if you left a roomful of kids unsupervised because you fancied a walk. My trick is to have everyone take a movement break or put on a short guided meditation. After all, the kids have just returned after a long-term absence, too, so taking a short extra break benefits them as much as you.

Consider Part-time or Flexible Hours

When you return to work, especially after a long-term illness, you might want to consider part-time hours. A full recovery from certain treatments including chemo- and radiotherapy can take months, sometimes years, and working part-time will give your body more time to recover and rest between working days.

There are of course financial implications if you reduce your working hours, but let’s not forget that health is your wealth (I think I got the saying right). Returning to full-time hours can be detrimental to your recovery, so I would definitely consider it if at all possible.

If part-time is not possible for you, maybe flexible hours would work instead. Perhaps you could negotiate with your employer that you work from home for a few days each week. I know the government is urging people to return to the offices to save city centres, but I hope most, if not all, employers would be happy to discuss flexible home/office work arrangements with their employees. This would reduce the number of people travelling on public transport, too.

Make Your Time Off Count

If phased return/part-time/flexible hours are not possible, make the most of your time away from work. And, thinking about it, we should do this anyway. When you close the door of your office, or school, or shop, or wherever you work, don’t bring work home with you.

Again, teachers are terrible at bringing work home. I myself have been guilty of using Sundays to do planning. Also, I know many teachers who bring in a small suitcase to work on a Friday, so they can they lots of books home for the weekend to mark them.

The work-life balance seems lost in the modern society and we need to get it back. We need to use our evenings, weekends and holidays to recharge our batteries and enjoy ourselves, not continue to worry about work. So, on your next day off, leave the worries about work where they belong and instead spend your time doing things you enjoy most.

I would love to hear in the comments how your return to work has gone and what has helped you to adjust.

Until next time.

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11 thoughts on “Returning to Work After a Long Term Absence

  1. I’m definitely exhausted after just one week back at school. Counting down the weeks until half term and a rest already!

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  2. The first week back has been hard. Had a nice family walk in the park this morning and plan on having a lazy afternoon to relax, making sure the weekend is for family and not work! I am also trying this year to prepare some food that I can take for lunches in advance so I at least have a good healthy lunch at school each day.

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