Returning to work after sickness absence

If staff take time off work because of work-related stress, getting them back to work as quickly as possible is important. A well managed early return to work will reduce the risk of the absence becoming long-term (long-term is defined is an absence period of longer than one month). In general, people find it more difficult to return to work after a long-term absence.

Good practice

Encouraging a speedy return to work is linked with a number of activities that are recognised as good practice in terms of early return to work. These actions include:

  • keeping in regular contact with the employee - regular contact helps to keep work on their agenda and offers good opportunities to plan the return to work, someone will need to keep in contact and have regular discussions about progress
  • reviewing the situation -  the employee needs to regularly review their situation with their GP
  • return to work discussions -  a return to work discussion with the person may help to identify what caused them to go off work and what adjustments their manager needs to make, the person may find it hard to talk about these issues, there may also be factors outside work that contributed to the person’s work-related stress, talking to the employee about these to see if any adjustments at work will help, no-one should assume that stress is only caused by factors outside work -  find out more about return to work discussions by downloading our return to work discussion question template
  • staged return - when the employee feels ready to return to work, a 'staged return' - for example, working part-time hours for the first few weeks, can help ease them back into their work

Reasonable adjustments

As stress at work is often linked to specific problems, (e.g. having too much to do in too short a time), it may be worth thinking about practical steps or adjustments that may help the employee when they return.

If workload is an issue, some temporary adjustments may need to be made to reduce the amount of work they will have to deal with. This may help to reduce the pressure of work over the short-term.

If the person has found it difficult to cope with particular tasks involved in their job, temporary adaptations and/or changes to the job may provide valuable breathing space by reducing immediate work pressures on return.

Is the person clear about what their job involves and what is expected of them? If not, a review may clarify the aims of the job and the tasks they are expected to complete.

People returning to work after being off with stress often prefer a period of stability. If changes are unavoidable, the employee needs to be fully involved and consulted.

For line managers

We have information and a checklist to help line managers deal with people experiencing stress-related ill health and help them return to work.

For more information please contact a mental well-being at work advisor.

More on this topic

About work-related stress

Find out more about:

HSE Management Standards

Find out more about:

HSENI and work-related stress

Find out more about:

Good Practice

Good practice guidance on:


HSENI run a number of different webinars on work-related stress. Details of these including dates and registration can be found on the events page:

Small businesses

The HSENI risk assessment tool, is designed for organisations with fifty or more staff. HSENI has provided additional advice for small businesses.