11 tips to help to return to work after stress leave

Updated 25 May 2023

Employees may take stress leaves for various reasons, including recovering from family issues or a heavy workload. You may facilitate your return to work by taking particular measures before, during and after your return to work. Understanding how to implement a plan for returning to work after taking time off to deal with stress may allow for a more seamless and sustainable transition. In this article, we share tips you may use to return to work after stress leave.

What is a stress leave?

Stress leave is time off that you may take when you feel overwhelmed or experience stress in the workplace or your personal life, which might make it challenging for you to do your job. When taking stress leave, you have more time to process your emotions, recover from illnesses and injuries or find effective solutions to stressful situations you've experienced at work. To take stress leave, you may want to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare specialist and schedule a meeting with the organisation's HR representative.

Related: How to take time off work for stress reasons (plus tips)

11 tips to help return to work after stress leave

When you're about to return to work after stress leave, it's beneficial to spend some time preparing for your first day back at work. Here are some tips that may help you approach your first day with the right mindset:

Establish expectations with your colleagues

Before going on your leave, be clear about how the leave will work. Let your team know that you'll be unavailable and set up out-of-office messages to redirect your work while you're away. Discuss a plan for how you can return to work without having to spend an extensive amount of time catching up. This can involve having someone cover your duties or take notes on key items to discuss when you return.

Related: 7 ways to communicate effectively at work

Schedule time to start transitioning

Depending on your situation, you may spend from a few weeks to a few months off work. As your first day back is approaching, develop a plan and schedule time to start transitioning. To ease your transition, you may spend a few hours each week researching different tasks or analysing project updates. This way, it's easier for you to predict what you may expect during your first week back.

Related: 10 tips for getting back into work after a career break

Ask the HR department for guidance or help

In addition to interviewing, hiring and training people, HR representatives act as the go-to people who help employees return from stress or maternity leaves. If you're unsure how to approach the transition or prepare for your first day back, express your concern clearly when speaking with an HR specialist. Thanks to their help and support, you may better understand the changes through which the team or organisation underwent. They're also likely to equip you with useful resources for when you're back in the office.

Related: Core HR functions and different human resource specialities

Work with a healthcare professional

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Taking care of your feelings, thoughts and emotions allows you to maximise your potential as an employee and ease your return. Depending on how severe the issues you handled were, you may work with a counsellor, therapist or psychiatrist to develop a health improvement plan that suits your situation. Consider working with them for some time after returning to work, in case there are some aspects of your work that you want to discuss with a specialist.

Related: What is employee mental health support? (With tips)

Communicate your return date to your supervisor

As soon as you determine when you're returning, communicate the date to your supervisor. You may do this via email, phone call or video chat. If you decide to schedule a one-on-one meeting to discuss the details of your return, remember to communicate your needs and expectations with the manager. It's also beneficial if you're able to tell them how your transition is going, as they may use this information to start assigning you tasks one by one instead of requiring that you immediately start handling all your responsibilities.

Related: The manager's role in the manager-employee relationship

Learn solutions for handling your stressors

Identifying your stressors is a key step to a swift recovery. During your stress leave, dedicate some time to developing and learning solutions for handling those stressors. For example, if the main cause of your workplace stress were approaching deadlines, it's beneficial to implement some time-management and organisation strategies that help you better manage your workload. If you work from home, you may also optimise your space by dedicating one room or a separate desk for work. This way, you may avoid some distractions and concentrate on completing your tasks on time.

Related: How to practise self-regulation (with some examples)

Regularly assess your progress

As you're working on returning to work, regularly assess the progress you're making. You may work with your therapist or counsellor to develop a list of aspects you want to assess each week or month. For example, you may evaluate the following areas:

  • level of stress in the morning

  • level of stress when you're thinking about returning to work

  • quality of sleep

Related: How to write a self-assessment

Implement and maintain boundaries

As soon as you return to work, communicate your new boundaries to colleagues and your manager. For example, you may ask them to only expect you to answer calls and emails during work hours. Setting workplace boundaries contributes to your mental and physical health. It also makes it easier to maintain a work-life balance and avoid experiencing too much stress in the future.

Related: 18 people skills that can help you succeed in the workplace

Use self-care practices

To take care of your health and mindset, continue using self-care practices even when you're well. Practising yoga or maintaining a healthy diet are likely to contribute to your wellbeing and help you more effectively deal with stress. Here are some self-care ideas you may implement:

  • Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep helps improve your brain performance and allows you to relax after a long day. To improve the quality of your sleep, make sure your bedroom is dark and consider removing electronic devices from the room.

  • Start a gratitude journal. Journaling is a good exercise, which helps you notice how much you've accomplished in life or your career. It also allows you to identify new ways of maximising your potential or growth opportunities.

  • Take regular breaks. During workdays, take a few smaller breaks to eat something, meditate or talk to your colleagues. It's also beneficial to take breaks from electronics during weekends, during which you may read a book or spend quality time with your family.

Related: How to make time for self-care while working from home

Develop a new routine

Following a routine is helpful for feeling like you have more control over your work or stress. If you've never had a daily routine before, you may start by developing a morning routine that helps you go to work with a smile on your face. For example, you may wake up 15 minutes earlier than before to write in your journal or meditate. If you're more active during the evening, start by implementing a night routine that helps you relax after work, like taking a bath and meal-prepping for the next day.

Related: 13 daily routine examples to help you stay healthy and calm

Spread stress leave awareness within the team

Be open with your colleagues about the cause of your leave. Briefly mention why you've decided it's time to take a break. Once you return, share your experience with them and discuss the benefits of taking care of your mental and physical health. By openly talking about your experiences, you may help others be more aware of their emotions and feel less guilt when they're considering taking stress leave.

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