Employee responsibilities around return to work

Gina*, aged 40, Queensland

"I returned to work after suffering from chronic depression by working in a part-time role of fifteen hours per week and building hours as I continued to feel better.

Anna*, aged 47, Victoria

"The first few weeks after my return were the worst.

Jane*, aged 52, Queensland

"My supervisor told me that they believed I was the right person for the position.

Keeping in contact

"I try to keep in contact. My manager will call from time to time to inform me what’s been happening and what’s coming up.

Successful return to work involves a partnership between employers and employees. Your employer is likely to be trying to strike the right balance between supporting you and making sure the work gets done.

As an employee, your active participation in your return-to-work program will be critical to its success. Good communication with those involved in coordinating return to work is essential.

Keeping in contact with your employer

Although it may feel very difficult, try and stay in touch with your employer. As well as resolving any issues around sick leave and entitlements, it can help you to feel less isolated. Keeping in contact can also help make returning to work less difficult. There are many options for keeping in touch, including:

  • emails
  • phone calls
  • friends or colleagues from work who can keep in touch and let others know how you are
  • attending work social events
  • coming in for a cup of tea or coffee

Discussing your return to work

Talk to the person coordinating return to work and raise any concerns you might have. The discussion will probably need to cover:

  • what your tasks and responsibilities will be
  • any work activities that may trigger stress and what helps to reduce or manage this
  • the effects of any medications you are taking and how these might impact on your work
  • how much they can disclose to work colleagues
  • barriers to a safe and early return to work
  • any specific needs you have (e.g. time off to attend appointments, inability to do the job in the same way as before becoming unwell)

Managing an ongoing health problem

There are several things that can help you manage your mental health once you are back at work:

  • learn the symptoms and triggers of your mental health problem. You should understand that mental health problems are sometimes unpredictable, and that their impact on both cognitive and interpersonal functioning may make work a challenge.
  • learn techniques for stress management, such as exercise, relaxation, meditation
  • ask for support when you need it, whether from family, colleagues or supervisors
  • have an agreed plan with your supervisor to manage the possibility of relapse. The following template might be useful for this.

Liaising with your healthcare professional

  • have a discussion with your healthcare professional about how to approach your return to work and manage your mental health problem in the workplace
  • discuss any adjustments to your work that may be needed on a temporary or permanent basis
  • if you are taking medication, discuss how any side effects may affect your work
  • make sure you report any participation and activity limitations that are a result of your mental health problem and which may affect your work
  • keep your treating health professional well informed during the return-to-work process

Useful links

Ostara - Getting back to work after mental illness
Fair Work Australia