Returning to work? Ten tips to help you survive the system!

Gabrielle Lis

Getting back to work after illness or injury can be daunting. Stick to our top ten, however, and not only will you survive - you'll thrive.
Print and provide to employees with an injury
1. The system can be complex and challenging: be an active participant and you will do better

Active employees:

  • Stay in contact with their return to work coordinator;
  • Stay in contact with union reps;
  • Stay in contact with their claims manager; and
  • Meet regularly with their supervisor.

Maintaining contact with these key figures means that everyone in the workplace knows you’re serious about rehabilitation and return to work. In turn, this means that they’re more likely to offer support and assistance to help you navigate the complexities of the system.

2. Get good medical care.

Dealing with doctors can be daunting: if in doubt about your specialist or GP, ask around. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor about your needs, and ask questions. Remember, you can always seek a second opinion if you’re concerned about anything.

3. Return to work quickly.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be completely better before you return to work. The system is set up to have you back at work as soon as possible, for good reason. Returning to work quickly actually makes it more likely that you will make a fast, durable recovery. Too much time off work can mean that you lose motivation and become depressed. Your family will also be affected. In most cases, getting back to work is good for you and can be done safely.

4. Talk to people with conditions similar to yours.

Ask lots of questions:

  • What helped them recover?
  • What hindered their recovery?
  • What would they do differently?

By talking to people who’ve already been through the process, you can avoid the mistakes they made, and emulate their successes.

5. Have your say about modified duties and return to work.

Your doctor knows about your condition, and your supervisor knows about your job tasks – only you know about both. Think about what you can and can’t do at work and offer practical and productive options.  Your input is invaluable.

6. Get to know your insurance case manager.

Case managing return to work can be a difficult and demanding job. In order to ensure that you have the best outcomes, your case manager needs to know about your situation, so make an effort to stay in contact.  Be polite and proactive: if you call them and don’t hear back, call again. Your motivation will motivate those around you.

7. Keep the workplace informed about your condition.

Your workplace needs to know when there are substantial changes to your condition, for example updated medical restrictions, surgery and significant improvement or deterioration. This will help supervisors and other managers plan ahead. The more they know, the more accommodating they’re likely to be, so it’s in your interest to keep them in the loop.

8. Report problems early.

If you’re having difficulties with modified duties, or any aspect of return to work, let the relevant people know as soon as possible. Struggling away with inappropriate tasks can be detrimental to recovery and if you wait too long before saying something you might find it harder to make your case. Suffering in silence doesn’t help anybody. Take ownership of your return to work and you also take ownership of your recovery.

9. Follow your return to work plan.

Learn to say no to tasks outside the agreed plan.  Be polite but clear: your recovery is on the line, and supervisors and coworkers won’t respect that if you don’t. One effective way of dealing with inappropriate requests is to offer to help, but in ways that accommodate your restrictions. 

10. Ensure that restrictions are focused on a return to meaningful employment.

People with health problems are constantly assessing what they can and can’t do. Your doctor may be more focused on what you can’t do than what you are capable of.  Talk to your doctor about tasks you can perform in the workplace and encourage him or her to focus on a return to meaningful and productive work.