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Returning to work after a stress-related absence

Tagged In:  Health

Nursing jobs can be stressful. If you've been forced to take a break from work because of anxiety or other mental health issues, it's important to make sure you can cope with the challenges when you return. The Mental Health Foundation says that nurses (along with teachers, police officers, the armed forces and doctors) have a higher incidence of work-related stress, depression and anxiety than other occupations.

Dealing with the day-to-day challenges of a nursing job can be daunting at the best of times. If you've suffered from harmful levels of stress and had to take a leave of absence to recuperate, getting back into the swing of things, while at the same time protecting your mental health and wellbeing, can be a particularly daunting prospect.

One important thing to remember is that you're not alone. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at any one time about 20% of working age people in developed countries suffer from a mental health problem, which has a major impact in terms of reduced productivity, sickness absence and work disability.

There are several things you can do to make the experience of returning to work easier and safer for you. Here are a few tips...

Are you really ready?

You may be missing your nursing job and feel you're letting colleagues down by staying away from work. But don't let that influence your decision about when to return. You must be ready to work and totally confident that you can carry out your duties effectively. Talk it over with you GP, who can supply you with a 'fit note', which will help you and your employer manage your return successfully.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) encourages nurses returning to work after long-term illness to seek advice from their occupational health department and read their employer's policy on sickness absence.

Know your rights

You're entitled to ask for a phased return to work ie building up gradually to your full duties and hours over a specified period. However, if your employer doesn't have a formal policy for this, it will be down to an agreement between you and them. You don't have a right to full pay during your phased return (unless it's stated in a formal policy). However, you may be able to use annual leave hours, which would be paid.

Have a designated safe place

Make sure there's somewhere quiet you can go for a break if you need it. Just taking a quick time out will help you clear your mind and stop the stress building up.

Talk to your colleagues

It's worth having a discussion with your fellow nurses and maybe other colleagues you interact with, for example occupational therapists and physiotherapists. As well as making them aware of how you will be managing your return, it will also encourage them to support you and help facilitate your return to full duties and hours.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules about returning to work after a stress-related break. It's about what's best for you as an individual. If you're in any doubt that you're ready for the challenge, why not think about doing some volunteering or consider a part-time or locum nursing position?
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