Return to work following stress, anxiety and depression: Six Steps to a Successful Return

One Page Quick View: The points in bold are legal requirements. All other points have been found to significantly increase the likelihood of a successful return.




Step 1

(Days 1-7)

Dealing with initial absence


  • Tell your employer/ manager you will be absent – telling people you are struggling with your mental ill-health can be difficult. Here is an example template letter/email for you to edit.
  • Agree how you will communicate during your absence. Having a conversation about your absence can be difficult when you are experiencing mental ill-health, but it is a vital step towards recovery

Focus on getting better – see the employee guide for examples of how.


  • Contact the employee – Send them a note/text/flowers, something meaningful to them.
  • Recognise the need for recuperation during absence to the employee – give them permission to do what they need to get better.
  • Reinforce the benefits of supporting returning to work.
  • Consult your absence policy.
  • Share the employee guide.

Record the employee’s absence.

Step 2

(Day 1-onwards)

Developing knowledge and skill


  • Structure your day so that you are doing things to support your health and so that you do not feel lost.
  • Take active steps to identify your health needs and which activities work for you e.g. mindfulness, seeing friends, eating better.
  • Make use of support groups and support services.

Find further information and support in the employee guide.


  • Re-distribute the employee’s work, if possible.
  • Consider the impact of the absence on the rest of the team – redistribute work carefully.
  • If the absence is work-related, consider whether others may be under undue pressure. You could use the Management Standards approach to manage stress.
  • Consider manager behaviours that lead to a successful return to work.
  • Put yourself in your employee’s shoes.
  • Check you are prepared to have a sensitive conversation.

Remember to look after yourself.

Step 3:

(Day 7 onwards)

Maintaining communication throughout absence


  • Obtain a Fit Note from the GP for any absence over 7 consecutive days. You must do this to get Statutory Sick Pay.
  • Send the Fit Note to your employer.
  • Keep work informed of your work intentions. See some examples of how to do this.
  • Meet up with a trusted colleague if you consider it would be helpful and you feel it may be possible, it can help to make returning to work feel less daunting.


  • Record the employee’s absence.
  • Consider carefully the content of the Fit Note and ensure that it is safely filed.
  • Maintain communication via agreed strategy (email, phone; line manager or colleague). See some examples of how to do this.
  • Send employee a reminder of your sickness absence policy, including ability to return to work with a combination of SSP and salary.

Options available to employers/managers:

Contact GP with employee’s consent.

Step 4:

(Day 7 onwards)

Preparing for return to work


  • Consider your health: Identifying your signs symptoms and triggers
  • Consider your role: What can you do now to see if you are ready to return to work? What might you need support with? What are the priorities for returning to work?
  • Consider asking a friend, family member or colleague to help you think through your options.

Plan your return to work.


  • Consider the priorities: What are the most important aspects of the job that need to be completed?
  • Can any simple changes be made to enable a quicker return?
  • Consider the support that could be made available in the workplace, including potential work adjustments.

Plan the employee’s return to work.

Step 5:

Having a Return to Work conversation


  • Meet with your manager/ employer to discuss your return to work needs. Having a conversation about work and health can sometimes be difficult. See guide with prompts.

Agree a plan of action and a review period.


  • Meet with the employee to discuss return to work needs. Consider possible interim changes to role. Having a conversation about work and health can sometimes be difficult. See guide with prompts.
  • Agree a plan of action and a review period.

If the absence was work-related, consider using the Management Standards approach to see how these issues have affected the team/organisation.

Step 6:

Keeping healthy and productive at work


  • Regular check-ins and structured review in line with agreed plan.
  • Be aware of stress triggers to prevent relapse.

Agree to have ‘mental health days’ absence if possible.


  • Regular check-ins to ask the employee how they are.
  • Review work and health in line with agreed plan.

Watch out for possible relapse – trigger signs.