It is an unfortunate fact of life that you don’t always have complete control over the direction of your working life. Disruptions to your ability to go into work every day don’t just have the potential to send your career off course. There is a significant mental and emotional impact to being away from the work environment that you’ve dedicated so much of your life toward. Such turbulence can come from a variety of sources, from the results of a personal injury or medical condition to the wide-reaching impact of a public health crisis like our recent pandemic.
However, there comes a time when the immediate causes of the disruption pass, and you are looking toward returning to the workplace. It’s important to acknowledge that it’s perfectly natural for this to be a time of great anxiety. You can’t always be certain what the effect of your absence will be, or you may not be confident that your employer has taken sufficient steps to prevent further disruption or damage in the future. This doesn’t mean to say that you are completely out of control of the scenario.
With some planning and focus, you can give your return to work the best possible chance of success. Whether you’re coming back to the workplace after an injury or a pandemic-related furlough, a few steps can help you become mentally, emotionally, and practically prepared. As many people are looking at returning to work following the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, now is a great time to examine what areas of preparedness you can adopt to thrive.
Before returning to the workplace, it’s important to gain a thorough understanding of what might have changed. On one hand, the workplace itself may have been altered as a result of COVID-19 distancing requirements. Alternatively, the result of your injury or illness may now make it difficult to navigate the workplace as you had before. In either case, if the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) not only prevents your employer from discriminating against you but also requires they make reasonable accommodations to ensure you can continue working safely and comfortably.
These accommodations can come in a variety of forms and are very much dependent on the manner of your accessibility needs. It may include rearranging equipment or furniture, allowing a fully remote or blended home and office working schedule, or if necessary, to bring a service or support animal onto the premises. It is always best to discuss these accommodations with your employer before your first day back. Explain the extent of your needs, and be clear about how these empower you to continue being a productive member of staff. Approach this positively, and work together to make implementation and review of these accommodations part of any return-to-work plan that is produced.
While we would all like to think that our employers will be open to adjustments we may need, there may be some businesses or managers who are resistant to your reasonable requests. Wherever possible, make certain that your accommodation requests are made in writing — by email is fine. If your manager responds verbally, politely ask for their full response and any reasons for denial in writing. It can also be a good idea to copy human resources (HR) into your communications, too. This way, should you need to take the matter further through legal channels, you have a full and accurate account of events and supporting evidence to provide your lawyer.
Adopting New Routines
Review your routines. You can do this mentally or write them down so that you can better assess them. Go through each and consider which might now be unsafe, unproductive, or present hurdles. This doesn’t just mean from a physical standpoint, either. There may be types of tasks that give rise to feelings of anxiety or depression; these can be as disruptive to you as any physical hurdle. By reviewing these in advance of your return to work, you can plan for any adjustments to your routine you need to make to prevent further issues.
It’s also important to think not just about the routines you undertake inside the workplace. Your journey to work can present issues, too. If you haven’t commuted by car into the office for a long period of time, you may not be fully aware of how the results of an injury might affect your driving. While in-vehicle solutions, such as advanced driver assistance, are designed to help you avoid collisions, their effectiveness can be inconsistent, and over-dependence on them can result in your exposure to dangerous situations. Rather than rely on technology, speak to your doctor about how your injury, illness, or mindset may affect your ability to drive into work. If needed, it may be wise to reach out to engage in carpooling or enquire about whether your employer subsidizes public transportation costs.
Preparing Emotionally and Mentally
After a long-term absence or recovery from an injury, you might be under the impression that you are physically in the right shape to return to work. However, it’s just as important to consider whether you are mentally and emotionally prepared for your return. This can be particularly relevant if your time away from work was the result of workplace trauma — this could raise fears and painful memories that make it difficult for you to be in that environment.
Your perspective here is a good start. Be aware of how you are feeling in the days running up to your return. If you have concerns, reach out to your employer. Let them know what your issues are; they may be able to offer solutions or arrange for you to reintroduce yourself into the environment on a staggered basis. Of course, it’s not always possible to know that you’ll have problematic experiences in advance, so familiarizing yourself with coping mechanisms for anxiety and stress in case you are confronted by emotionally fraught circumstances can be key tools to keep yourself safe.
Whatever the reason that you’ve spent time away from work, the prospect of returning can be difficult. Take time to understand what assistance or accommodations you may need, and reach out to your employer in advance to arrange these. Importantly, acknowledge that your working environment or feelings surrounding it may have changed in the time you’ve been away. However, you should also understand that you have a reasonable expectation to receive the support that keeps you safe and productive.
Author Info: Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, and a graduate of the lessons of life (primary) and also the University of Idaho. These days, Noah teaches English as a second language in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and moonlights as a content strategist for an American-based marketing company.