Workplace dilemmas: how do I settle back into work after my operation?

Each month, our resident agony uncle deals with your workplace concerns. This month, returning to work after a long sick leave

Dear Tim,

Today is my first day at work after an absence of five months. I had a major operation in November 2018, and was told to expect a six-month period of convalescence. That time has now come to a close, and I’m getting stuck back into my high-pressure role.

    ...I worry that colleagues who are less supportive may see my current predicament as a moment of weakness.  

Trouble is, I’m not sure how best to go about it. There’s the issue of my stamina for starters: I simply don’t have the energy that I used to. I’m in a fairly senior position in my company and am renowned for my energetic style. I also have an hour-long drive to and from work, which uses some of my energy even before I’ve arrived.

I’m anxious about seeming to be on top of everything. It’s a competitive environment, and I worry that colleagues who are less supportive may see my current predicament as a moment of weakness. Maybe they’ll use it to showcase my shortcomings and demonstrate why they’re more suited to my job.

Even without this frisson of fear, I worry that people will think I’ve lost my touch. During my sick leave, it was fine if I seemed a bit vague or rambling. I could disappear upstairs for a nap pretty much whenever I wanted, and no one would think anything of it. But I can’t tell my colleagues that I’m sloping off for a snooze. They’ll think I’ve well and truly lost the plot.

The other thing I’m struggling with is people’s reactions to me. My operation was life changing, and I have an ongoing health condition that requires treatment. But you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong just to look at me. I’m not covered in bandages or scars; I don’t look pale or wan. Indeed, people keep telling me how well I look.

Even so, I’m conscious that colleagues are treading carefully around me. Half a year is a long time to be out of a working environment. There are new faces and the unofficial hierarchies that appear in any workplace have shifted, as they do.

How do I relocate myself in this new order, knowing that I’m not the person I was, that my experience has changed me, but that there’s still a job to be done, and I remain the best person for it?

Reply:

The anxiety you’re experiencing is only to be expected, given what you’ve been through. Major surgery leaves a psychological and emotional mark as well as a physical one. It rocks your confidence, reshapes your sense of self, and gives you a changed perspective on life.

Add that to the effects of a long period in which you’ve not been at work, and it’s hardly surprising that you feel diffident about your return to normality.

The good news is that the vast majority of people who return to work in circumstances like yours are able to continue with their same duties and in the same role as before. So you should have every confidence that, with the right support, you’ll be as capable and competent as ever.

    ...you may need to adjust your style in order to work with the flow of your energy.  

That said, you may need to adjust your style in order to work with the flow of your energy. You say that you’re known for being a lively person. If you find your zest for life lagging at the moment, it may be worth seeking some training to adjust your leadership style. This may make you feel more comfortable about stepping back into your senior role, providing you with support and peace of mind as you re-assume your former responsibilities but execute them in a new way.

Your employer will also play a role in ensuring a smooth return. One option, which you may already have explored, is to make a phased return. Rather than stepping straight back into your full-time role, you take on some elements of it, gradually increasing what you do as the weeks go by.

The benefits of a phased return are that you can re-establish yourself in the workplace without worrying that you’ll run out of steam. It can improve your mental health in these precious months of recovery. It can also help colleagues reacquaint themselves with you, so that some of the awkwardness and competitiveness you describe is dispelled.

Another good practice is to work with your manager to produce a return to work plan. This identifies what’s expected of you, and your employer, during your comeback. It can help your employer make Reasonable Adjustments that ensure you’re not disadvantaged in your role. It also provides an opportunity for dialogue about your job: are there elements that you simply can’t do? Should your role description be revised?

I think the most important thing to say is this: be kind to yourself. It’s exhausting to put on a front for your colleagues, so cut yourself some slack. If you need to rest, slip out to your car and take a break. Have a snooze or read a magazine. No one will judge you for looking after yourself.

And remember: what you’ve been through is life changing, as you said. Take stock, draw breath, and enjoy the stimulation of being able to work again. I won’t pretend it’s easy to return, but I am confident you’ll manage the process with aplomb.

Published: 14 May 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

If you enjoyed this article, you may like: Workplace dilemmas: my colleague doesn’t respect my religious beliefs

You may also enjoy: The top 10 email mistakes to avoid

Jobs currently available

New job
Lettings Negotiator
Sector: Property and Construction
Salary: £20,000 - £30,000 per annum
Location: Wokingham
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 908926
About the role

Are you an experienced Letting Negotiator?

A company based in Wokingham is looking for you, an experienced Lettings Negotiator to join their growing team.

The role would cover all duties from submitting properties to let, to enquiries, viewings and all admin alongside. They have a thorough system in place up to when the tenant moves in and everything is handed to the Property Manager.

A lively, lovely and fast paced team, this is the company to join for the next step in your career!

They work on a two week rota and offer a competitive salary!

Don’t delay. apply today!

Read more
New job
Design and Research Assistant
Sector: Media and Internet
Salary: £18,000 - £20,000 per annum
Location: Colchester
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 908924
About the role

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Design and Research Assistant on behalf of a company based in Colchester.

The successful applicant will need to be self-motivated, highly organised, proactive, creative and resolutive.

Ideally you will have a design, art or photography background and knows your way around a Mac and wish to put your skills to work and get involved with a fast-paced creative company.

If you enjoy a challenge and are self-motivated, organised, focused and wish to be part of a busy and energetic team then this bespoke, friendly company could be just what you’re looking for.

Experience in the following:

Intermediate to advanced knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite, including retouching and an understanding of digital images, resolution and the print process.

Graphic Design skills, and ability to produce design ideas and illustrations to brief.

Highly organised and thorough with good library and resource management.

Independent initiative in researching a variety of subjects.

The role includes:

Development of ideas and creating visual mood boards and brochures.

Design of graphic art, wallpapers, wall murals etc.

Picture research, photographic and graphic.

Scanning, printing and reproduction.

Internet based research.

*** Due to location you will need to drive ***

Read more
New job
Workshop Technician
Sector: Engineering and Manufacturing
Salary: discussed on application
Location: Braintree
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 908845
About the role

Due to expansion Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Slide (workshop) Technician on behalf of a company based in Braintree, Essex.

The role is workshop based and will involve the complete tear-down, cleaning, inspection, repair, overhaul, functional testing and troubleshooting of aircraft components.

Electro Mechanical experience preferred.

You will be required to work on a variety of aircraft safety equipment and evacuation systems such as evacuation slides, life rafts, helicopter floats, oxygen cylinders, masks and escape slide inflation systems and general survival equipment for both commercial and military aircraft.

General workshop skills required. Someone who is able to follow technical diagrams, strip down, overhaul, repair and re-build.

The position would suit you if you have experience of repairing electro mechanical equipment.

Read more
New job
Transport Co-Ordinator
Sector: Transport, Logistics and Shipping
Salary: £10.50 - £10.75 per hour
Location: Witham
Role: Part Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 908915
About the role

Do you have transport experience and seeking a new challenge?

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Transport Co-Ordinator to join their client’s team in Witham.

Duties include:

  • Maintain all company vehicles in line with legal requirements and schedules, inspections, MOT, Insurance, tax etc; utilising the Fleetcheck software to show vehicle and driver status to facilitate the smooth operation of the fleet.
  • Maintain a vehicle file for all company vehicle documentation, including V5, contract hire agreements and any other relevant documentation.
  • Monitory and manage driver utilisation of the Fleetchecker vehicle inspection app and reporting functionality. Organise defect rectification in a timely manner.
  • Download and monitor all drivers’ tachographs, the vehicle download data, send to external agency for checking and monitory all drivers hours in line with the legal requirements, EU driving legislation, Great British driving rules and working time directive to ensure that the business and driving staff operate within the legal framework.
  • Ensure all dart charges, congestion charges and other tolls are promptly settled to negate any ongoing unforeseen charges.

Skills required:

  • Experience and knowledge of fleet management, logistics planning in accordance with legislative constraints.
  • Solid computer skills including Word, Excel and Outlook, along with good background IT knowledge to learn bespoke software programs.
  • Excellent communications skills, telephone manner and written word.

Hours Mon - Fri, 7.30am - 12.30pm.

Free parking.

 

Read more
Packing Supervisor
Sector: Engineering and Manufacturing
Salary: £9.00 - £9.73 per hour
Location: Halstead
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 908914
About the role

Just Recruitment is looking for a Packing Supervisor on behalf of a company based on the outskirts of Sudbury.

Duties:

  • To make sure all new staff are aware of what is required of them, coach, encourage and support them
  • To oversee the day to day operation of the packing area
  • Participating in the operation of machinery in your area
  • Participating in all work positions within your area
  • Provide support to the shift manager as and when required

Working hours – Normal working hours are from 7:30am – 16:30pm Monday – Friday.

Overtime may be required depending on production needs.

You may be required to work 15 Saturdays/shifts during the working year to suit the requirements of the company.

Read more