Returning to work after stress leave

Returning from stress-related leave is tough, but fortunately the vast majority make a successful return with the right support and help. Find out how to get back to work after being on leave, so you can get back on track at the right pace.

How should I return to work after stress-related leave?

You should only return to work when you and your GP agree that you are ready. You may find that the symptoms of stress flare up again at the prospect of having to go back to work. This is perfectly natural and is caused by your body warning you about a situation that previously caused you stress. The important thing is that you have the tools to deal with them, because the symptoms will subside as your body learns that the situation is not dangerous.

Before you return to work, it's important to consider what triggered your stress. You should focus on avoiding these causes - not only during your return to work, but also in the longer term. Considerations you should make with your manager include:

  • Did your stress reaction occur after a period of exceptional workload, or do you experience a constant pressure at your workplace?
  • Have you experienced several organisational changes or other turmoil in your workplace lately?
  • Is there a clear framework and division of tasks at your workplace?
  • Have you had the opportunity to get support and help to prioritise your tasks from your manager and colleagues?

You should make a return plan with your manager, agreeing together what types of tasks you can do when you return. If you are mainly doing simple tasks with no tight deadlines and a low level of complexity, you may return sooner.

But if your work is fast-paced, complex and demanding, it's important to have a good chat with your GP and your employer. You may need to wait to fill in a return to work plan until you are able to see what tasks have been pressing you and what tasks you can imagine taking on.

The most important thing is that you don't return to the exact workload and type of tasks that caused your stress.

Are you stressed?

Contact IDA's Legal Department by creating a case on the IDA website. You will then be contacted by a legal advisor.

Contact IDA's Legal Department

How much do I have to work after being on sick leave with stress?

All recovery processes are individual, but you should always gradually increase your workload to avoid falling ill again. For most people, it makes sense to start working 2-4 hours a day, 2-4 days a week, so that you have at least one day off during the week. After that, the hours and number of tasks can be gradually increased as long as your symptoms don't get worse. This should be done in dialogue with your manager and, if necessary, your own GP or psychologist.

When restarting, be careful not to use more resources than you have. A pitfall for many people is that they are so eager to return that they quickly find themselves working as much as they did before they went on sick leave, forgetting that they need to be more careful. Remember that you don't have to devote all your resources to work when you also have a life to manage on the side.

What should I be aware of when starting work after being on sick leave with stress?

During the recovery phase, your working days should be as structured as possible. It is helpful if your tasks are planned in detail and you have an overview of them. If other tasks come in, you should not take them on, unless other tasks are dropped.

The occupational health clinic at the Regional Hospital in Herning has drawn up a number of principles that you and your manager can follow if you need to start up again after a period of sick leave due to stress:

  • Your working day should be structured and predictable.
  • You should have a defined task list.
  • You should avoid working at peak times with high workload.
  • Start with a few familiar and routine tasks.
  • Wait for meetings and stick to your own tasks at first. Avoid shifts in work tasks and hours.
  • Arrange a limited time interval during the day when your colleagues can approach you with work-related questions and requests.
  • You and your manager should regularly evaluate how you are doing.
  • Plan when and how long you take breaks during the working day.

What do I say to my manager and colleagues after returning from a period with stress?

If you are returning from stress-related sick leave, it is a good idea to ask your managers to inform your colleagues and business partners about your working hours, the tasks you are doing and who will take over other tasks during the recovery phase. It may be necessary to have a 'gatekeeper' at the beginning — such as your manager — as both you and your colleagues might quickly forget that you have been on leave with stress and that the reboarding process needs to happen slowly. The more your manager communicate openly about your situation, the more your colleagues will remember to care for you, and you won’t have to keep explaining why you can’t yet do the same tasks as before.

What do I do if I feel that my employer pushes me to work beyond my capacities?

You need to be very careful not to start too hard after a stress-related sick leave. It is not in your interest, nor that of your colleagues or your employer if you are affected by stress shortly after returning to work. So talk to your GP or a psychologist regularly about what you can manage without developing symptoms of stress again.

If your employer tries to push you to do more than you can handle in your condition, you should consult your doctor, IDA's Legal Department and possibly your union or health and safety representative for advice.