Returning to work after taking stress leave can seem like an overwhelming task. There are many factors that go into a successful transition back to work and several important things to keep in mind to ensure a positive and seamless reentry.
We have compiled five of the most important tips to keep in mind when transitioning back to the workplace. Read on to discover these essential strategies designed to make your experience as comfortable as possible.
Return to Work Slowly after Stress Leave
Returning to work from stress leave can ironically be a very stress-inducing process. Taking the return to work slowly and carefully will help reduce the amount of stress you are feeling. In this section, we will discuss the two pillars of returning to work slowly. These include:
- Maintaining contact with others
- Beginning the transition process early
Maintain Contact with Your Employer Throughout Leave
If you need to take leave from work due to stress, your employer will surely be “in” on this process from the beginning. This will assist in feeling less alienated from your workplace as you begin the transition back to work.
It’s important to establish clear and consistent communication to ease your transition back into the workplace, including:
- Maintaining contact before, during, and after leave
- Reaching out to your employer before the end of your scheduled leave
- Establishing a firm return date and return expectations
- Filling out necessary HR paperwork on time
The more communication that you’ve had throughout leave, the more comfortable you will feel as your return edges closer. Maintaining a clear point of contact at your place of employment will alleviate some of the stress that comes with transitioning back to work.
Begin the Transition Process Early
Returning to work after taking leave due to stress from that workplace can be a daunting task. The earlier that you begin the transition process, the better. This will help to ease anxiety.
Be in contact with your employer throughout the leave process, particularly in the last half of your leave. Whether it is a two-day, two-week, or a three-month leave, your HR department or supervisor will be available to help you transition back confidently.
Begin setting yourself up for a “work routine” before actually going back to work. This includes:
- Setting a routine sleep schedule
- Setting a routine meal schedule
- Work up to a full day (if possible)
- Visit before your return
In order to transition back to work as smoothly as possible, it’s important to mirror your upcoming routine and work it into your daily life during leave, rather than jumping in fully on your first day back.
This tip is particularly important if your stress leave has lasted a substantial amount of time.
Another important, and often overlooked, aspect of returning to work is easing into your work schedule. You may be able to begin your return with half days and work up to a full day depending on the severity of the stress and the flexibility of your employer. This is a good way to gauge your readiness for returning to the workplace.
Visiting the office, dropping off lunch to coworkers, etc., before a full return is another way to ease yourself back into the workplace. You will start to slowly become reacquainted with the culture and faces you’ll soon be surrounded by daily.
Utilize Other Individuals in your Return Process
There are many members of your team who are available to ease your transition. Utilize these individuals when you are transitioning back into the workplace from your stress leave. Some of these individuals include:
- Your Human Resources Department
- Your supervisor
- Healthcare professionals
- Your coworkers
Leaning on others and your previously established relationships within the workplace will help to ease your transition out of stress leave.
Utilize Your Human Resources Department for Support in the Return Process
An important tool for a smooth transition back into the workplace Is your Human Resources Department. These individuals are available to assist you in filling out:
- Return paperwork
- Medical/insurance forms (FMLA)
- Reimbursement/salary negotiation
In the event that others in your company have donated their paid leave to you, a common process with many companies, the HR department may have resources available to put a plan in place to repay or thank these benevolent coworkers.
Often, FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) is used in cases where the stress is so severe that it amounts to the definition of a “serious health condition” where employees are unable to complete their job duties and responsibilities. For those who meet the requirements, FMLA comes through your HR department and provides:
- Up to 12 weeks unpaid leave in 12 months
- Continued health insurance coverage for yourself and other dependents
- Job protection
- Scheduled FMLA broken up into smaller, intermittent leave
Most companies don’t pay their employees while they are utilizing FMLA, so it’s important to continue conversations with your employer and HR before, during, and after leave to be sure that all of the correct documentation has been recorded and submitted.
Utilize Healthcare Professionals for Support in the Return Process
The guilt associated with taking an extended period off from work may seem like a high hurdle to clear in returning to the workplace. Many individuals feel shame for leaving and may even worry that their coworkers will resent them for their “vacation”.
It is important to note that mental health is equally as important as physical health. One would not necessarily have these same guilty feelings if taking leave for cancer treatment or a surgery.
Utilizing healthcare professionals may ease the burden of stress when transitioning back to work for a variety of reasons. These available professionals include:
- Medical professionals
Oftentimes, healthcare professionals will have been consulted prior to taking leave, as FMLA requires documentation from a healthcare provider.
Once an individual has taken leave, it’s important to maintain contact with these professionals (and others) to ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace and avoid the need for additional stress leave.
Counselors and therapists are a valuable resource in learning to implement coping skills for anxiety and stress and other advantageous skills for reintegrating into the workplace, whether it was a two-week absence or a twelve-week absence.
Medical professionals may provide antianxiety or antidepressant medication if the root cause of your stress leave is determined to be a hormonal/neurotransmitter imbalance or they are otherwise hopeful that it will alleviate some of your stress.
Utilize Your Coworkers for Support in the Return Process
While coworkers can be a source of stress for many, they are also a valuable network of support within the workplace. Maintaining contact with your favorite coworker throughout leave and towards the end may help ease the transition back into work. A familiar face and lunch plans can go a long way in returning some normalcy to your day.
It is important to be prepared for questions about your absence. While most are well-meaning and coming from a place of concern, it is beneficial to have practiced answers ready for your coworkers when the inevitable “Where have you been?” remarks start flowing.
Create a Sustainable Routine for Returning to Work
As mentioned above, creating a sleep and meal routine before the end of your leave is essential in experiencing a smooth transition back to the workplace. There are other facets of a routine that are equally as important. These include:
- Being aware of your stressors when returning to work
- Creating designated self-check-ins when returning to work
- Maintaining a consistent routine once back at work
- Creating boundaries at work
Below we will address these components in further detail.
Be Aware of Your Stressors When Returning to Work
It may not be clear what caused the immense level of stress in the first place, but by utilizing healthcare professionals and honest self-reflection, stressors can often be revealed. Common workplace stressors include:
- Excessive workload
- Excessive hours
- Interpersonal conflict
- Job uncertainty
- Lack of clarity
- Changes within the workplace
- Disorganization within management
It may very well be that it was outside, unrelated stress that caused the need for stress leave. In this case, recognizing and managing existing workplace stressors-no matter how small- will still be highly beneficial in reducing overall day-to-day stress.
Create Designated Check-ins Once Returning to Work
Creating a consistent self-check-in and self-assessment once returning to work is an important aspect of being able to reintegrate into the workplace successfully and confidently.
There are several popular and recommended questions to ask yourself (and to answer honestly) to make a note of your current feelings. These include:
- How am I feeling both mentally and physically today?
- What thought/s are taking up the most headspace today?
- How am I eating/sleeping as compared to normal?
- What will I do today that I enjoy?
Answering these questions honestly and on a consistent basis can help you in recognizing and managing stressors in your everyday life. You may notice a common theme in what is taking up your headspace or notice the repeated lack of an answer for what you will do that you enjoy.
Checking in with yourself can illuminate problem areas that may have been hidden before and provide the opportunity to address these issues before they become overwhelming again.
Maintain Your Return Routine Consistently
Consistency is critical in maintaining a proactive and effective routine. Whether you choose to check in with yourself daily or monthly, finding a frequency that works for you is important. These can be check-ins at the following times:
- Beginning of every day
- Lunch break
- End of every day
- Monday morning
- Friday afternoon
- First of the month
- Last of the month
The consistency with which you survey your mental state will provide clarity and ideas for better managing your stress once you’ve returned to work.
Implement and Maintain Boundaries at Work
Firm boundaries at work can help to stave off the overwhelming sense of stress that some jobs can acquire over time. It’s important to set boundaries in a variety of areas when you return, including:
- Work hour limits
- Learn to say “no”
- Learn to delegate tasks
In today’s ever-connected society, it is common for many employees to continue to check emails, voicemails, and work-related social media accounts long after the workday is done. In some professions this may be unavoidable but eliminating it where possible can be highly effective in limiting workplace stress.
Limit your work hours. Do not check your emails from home after hours if at all possible. Address this issue with HR or your boss if there is resistance and explain the need for separation of work and personal time. In this day and age, many employers are great advocates for self-care and mental health awareness, but some may need a reminder.
Learn to delegate tasks. Now, this doesn’t mean neglecting your responsibilities or pushing your assignments onto other coworkers. It may simply be a case of trying to avoid being the “yes man” to everyone in the office. Maybe another coworker can make the morning coffee run, or your assistant may be able to type and send the weekly memo to the rest of the department.
Small, everyday tasks that add up can become a heavy burden and may hinder your return to work.
These issues should be at the forefront of your mind when returning to work from stress leave. A healthy work environment is a balance that requires maintenance, compromise, and consistency.
Identify Self Care Tips and Tricks That Work for You
There are countless self-help and self-care books on the market. Unfortunately, there is no one right answer or one-size-fits-all routine that helps everyone.
Individuals have specific and different needs, and what works for one may not work for another. One tactic may help for months and then suddenly stop making a difference, resulting in a need for a change-up. Below are some common self-care habits that may meet your needs once returning to work. These include:
- Regular exercise
- Meditation or breathing exercises
- Consistent and sufficient sleep
- Eating well
- Maintaining connection with meaningful people in your life
- Practicing gratitude
- Spending more time off of social media
- Learning to ask for and accept help as needed
These strategies and techniques are not only effective for returning to the workplace but working them into a consistent and permanent routine will ensure awareness and likely reduce the need for further stress leave down the line.
Any one (or combination of) these techniques may ease your return to the workplace and make maintaining your mental health just a little easier. Remember to be flexible with yourself in finding and creating an effective self-care routine.
Professionals may also be useful in helping you create a routine; remember, you do not have to do it alone.
Adjust Your Self Care Routine to Become Permanent
Your self-care routine will quickly become an important and effective tool to manage your stress. It is extremely important to begin to incorporate this routine into your everyday lifestyle as you return to work.
Don’t Eliminate Your Self-care Routine When You Feel Better
One mistake that many people make is the feeling that everything has been “cured” after taking stress leave. Yes, you may be feeling increasingly:
But the truth is, sometimes that feeling is fleeting. To avoid engaging in a rollercoaster of stress, anxiety, and mental health struggles, it’s important to maintain an effective and consistent routine for mental health long after your stress leave has ended.
In some instances, mental health and stress struggles can lead to physical illnesses and a weakened immune system that are more difficult to treat and may not be reversible. These include:
- Low energy
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Heart attack
- Sexual dysfunction
- Hair loss
In order to avoid lasting ramifications, be sure to maintain your mental health after your stress leave has ended. If the stressors do not change, or if you are unable to find healthy ways to cope with your stressors, it is likely that there could be need for another stress leave down the road.
What Kinds of Leave Can I Take?
There are many reasons for taking a leave of absence from your job. These include:
- Bereavement leave
- Parental leave
- Caretaker duty
- Adoption leave
- Medical leave
- FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)
However, these tips are effective and useful for all types of transitions back into the workplace, whether you’ve welcomed a new member to the family or are caring for an aging parent.
The Importance of Stress Leave
As with all aspects of life, self-awareness and maintenance is vital to a healthy and a well-balanced life. Recognizing when your body and mind need a break is important. Taking a leave of absence due to stress may be the best option for you.
When this occurs, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the “what if’s” of returning to your workplace. Hopefully, these tips will assist in making the transition as smooth and uncomplicated as possible.
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