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Making your comeback: Four ways to get back into the workforce

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Magazines often contain stories about people who have made inspiring comebacks after illness or injury. These stories reflect the real world, and fortunately, every year hundreds of thousands of Americans merge successfully back into the workforce.1 While it can take hard work to begin working again after an injury or illness, the benefits go beyond regaining a reliable income. Being part of the work force can boost self-esteem, and there is even some evidence to suggest that people who get back to work can make a quicker recovery.2

If you have been away from your job due to an illness or injury, here are some tips that can help to make it smoother to rejoin the workforce.

  • Stay in touch with work during recovery
    Many people who are out of work while recovering are impacted by reduced income and are understandably eager to get back to work. If your workplace isn’t in touch with you, they may be unaware of your pace of recovery. Let them know how you’re doing, especially when you’re close to feeling you can work again. Employee rosters can change, so an up-to-date relationship with your employer will cut down on surprises – for you and for them.

  • If you’re in doubt, consider starting work part time or volunteering
    Many employers are happy to consider a part time working arrangement.3 Before accepting, find out what you would be paid, and what impact it would have on accepting your old job when you’re fully recovered. Consider consulting a lawyer if you’re in doubt.  Many state legal agencies can provide you with names for independent free legal advice.

    Consider testing the waters as a volunteer for a public agency or charity if you’re uncertain that you’re ready for a fulltime or part time role. For a sample listing of volunteer opportunities, visit https://www.volunteer.gov/results.cfm?states=NY. Note that if you’re out of work due to a bad back or some other form of physical disability, be careful not to violate terms that would impact your medical or legal status. 

  • Listen to your doctor
    It might be tempting both for you and your employer to have you back into your job again as soon as possible. However, get a medical opinion first, and check with your workplace to find out whether or not you’ll need to provide them with a medical release. It pays to be cautious. Rushing things to the point where you can’t fulfill the realities of your job requirements isn’t desirable for you or your employer. If health plans or disability income insurance plans provide access to physical rehabilitation, occupational therapy, or counseling services to help in the transition, take maximum advantage of them.   

  • Consider getting help if you need to change your career duties
    Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may have new realities to contend with in taking up your former job duties. Many health plans will cover physical rehabilitation. Some disability income insurance policies provide occupational therapy, which might include career counseling and treatments aimed at restoring your ability to perform job related tasks. For instance, you might need a new chair or a brighter computer screen, and most workplaces will provide these willingly. Work with your employer to tweak your responsibilities to fit your current situation.

Immediately after suffering a serious illness or accident, the concept of getting back to work may seem hard to imagine. Just remember that joining the working universe again can be achieved. Ask your employer, your insurance company and state agencies to see where they can help and in the meantime, keep your eye on the end goal – getting your life back and moving forward.

1,3 U.S. Dep’t of Labor, “Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Return-to-Work Programs,” March 2015 
Andrea Kay, “At Work: Job, Self-esteem Tied Tightly Together,” USA Today.com, Aug.31, 2013