Going back to work after a break of a few weeks or months can be difficult. You may feel that you’re able to go back to your old job but feel nervous about it. It’s common for people to feel awkward. They often wonder whether they’ll still be able to do the job and how people will react to them.

Before you go back to work, you and your manager could agree on a return-to-work plan. This is where you both discuss and agree on the best way forward.

The plan should be flexible, allowing for regular reviews and changes along the way. The possibility of flexible working and a gradual, phased return to work are potentially helpful ways of easing yourself back into the workplace. You should be fully involved in these conversations. If you’re still coping with some of the effects of cancer treatment, it’ll be particularly helpful to discuss any temporary or possibly longer-term changes that can be made to your work to help you.

If your workplace has an occupational health adviser, your manager can arrange for you to see them. The adviser can see you from time to time until you’re fully back at work. If you feel like things have moved on while you were away, for example, new systems or processes have been introduced, you may want to ask for time or training to catch up.

Phased return to work

If you can, plan to return gradually. This can be agreed with your manager and with assistance from occupational health and/or your GP. You and your manager can decide which parts of your role are most important, and which you should focus on until you feel stronger. It’s important to agree with your manager that you’ll have regular rest breaks. There may be a temptation to push yourself too far, too quickly, for example if you’re a manual worker such as a bricklayer or mechanic. If you’ve had treatment for a brain tumour then it’ll usually be at least a year before you’ll be allowed to drive again.

It also helps to remember that recovery may not always be straightforward. You may have some setbacks or a change in circumstances along the way, so try to remain flexible.

Job flexibility

If you feel that you can’t cope with your job, you might like to:

  • reduce your hours (go part-time)
  • change the times you work
  • change your duties.

You should discuss this with your manager or the human resources department as soon as you’re sure about this. However, it’s important to realise that things may change and what may not seem possible now may be possible in a few weeks or months. They should be willing to be as flexible as possible about your work arrangements to allow you to go on working as much as you can.