How to return to work after 2mo medical leave?
May 21, 2023 3:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some guideposts for how to return to work after a 2mo medical leave for mental health issues. I'm nervous about returning, and there are some details that are making this challenging. I'm in Spain.

I work for a very large company in Spain that has consistently been rated as one of their Top Employers. I was struggling at work due to a big re-organization and being completely unable to find my feet (they were calling 6h of meetings per day for over three months, with no discernible progress being made on *anything* and no work getting done). The company culture has also been struggling with their new 'hybrid remote work' model, devaluing the voices of people who work remote or in countries other than their 'preferred' center of power. Some other people have left over this, and some people who have worked there longer than me have said this is the worst they've ever seen.

I reached a very high level of frustration and anxiety with the working conditions after being brought to another country for a week long on-site meeting. I told my management and colleagues what I thought about what they were doing. (I didn't swear or throw a tantrum, but it was obvious that this was not so well received.)

I had some holidays after this and on my next day back I was only in the office for two hours before calling out sick, and seeing a doctor. Since then I have been on medical leave, diagnosed with ADHD, tapered off of diazepam, and started a new medication regimen.

All of the 'negative feedback' I have received on the job (too talkative, impulsive, dominating meetings) maps directly to ADHD symptoms, which is... heartening I suppose, but I'm *very* nervous to return to work.

I have no idea if I should disclose my ADHD diagnosis to my employer or whether that would benefit me in some way. I'd love to have fewer nonsense meetings, some time for myself to actually do the job in my job description, fewer distractions, and time set aside for therapy while I'm adjusting to this late-in-life diagnosis.

I have only been with the company for a year, and worry that my reputation there is ruined, that they will try to constructively dismiss me, that they think I am a terrible person in general. I am seeing a therapist whom I trust on Monday.

Have you been through something like this? What are the right steps to proceed? I need the money from this job, though I am actively looking for other work in the meantime. Mostly I feel like I don't know what to expect from whatever comes next, and I want to protect my job, protect my feelings, and be able to function while I try to get set up for my next steps. Hope me!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total)
I've been through something like this and managed to return to work so I really sympathise with what you've been going through. Things are going to vary a lot from company to company, but with a big company, especially in Europe, I would expect them to be very conscious of the liability of the company.

On the positive side, that may well mean that they will actively try to find ways to work with you to make it possible for you to return. Do you have something like occupational health they can refer you to? I found this very helpful as it meant I could talk about what I needed with someone who wasn't HR or management and it kind of brokered the discussion towards coming back. In the end I redefined my goals somewhat and I returned in a phased way that meant I couldn't take on too much work.

You're feelings about them thinking you are a terrible person etc are probably more of a symptom of the burnout you've experienced - you couldn't perform to the unreasonable expectations of the company but maybe you still feel like that's your fault in some way. Hopefully therapy and time off will give you a bit more mental separation from the company. In that sense, if you can get to the point where you don't care so much whether you stay and manage to get back to work there or leave and do something new, you will, slightly paradoxically, find it easier to go back and see how it goes.

Worst case, if they do want do dismiss you they will want to protect themselves so they will almost certainly offer you a settlement rather than risk you going to a tribunal.

Good luck and feel free to memail me if you'd find it helpful.
posted by crocomancer at 5:09 AM on May 21

Mental health is medical health, and don't act any different than you would of your been out for a major surgery.

When I was out for a mental health leave, I did a return slowly to half time work prior to a full time return of that's an option for you.

But mostly, ask for what you need, act like you belong there because you do, keep looking for another job if you need, and engage with coworkers and bosses. The rest will fall into place. It is a job, it can be hard but you will have a new look at your job.

Wishing you the best of luck!
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:14 AM on May 21

I would ask you to gently question yourself if a company so shitty that it tries to make you sit in meetings for 6 hours every day and expect you to do your job on top of that is worth caring about?

I think you and I both know the answer to this question, it's just a matter of accepting it.

You can try to address specific issues you got negative feedback on, but, like, this is just their opinion, man. It's what they don't want to see in a worker bee. It's not a judgement of your character or your worth as a person. To overextend my metaphor, you're there just to move pollen from the flowers to the hive, you're not there to prove your worth as a fully realized, erm, bee.

In short, don't bend yourself backwards, go in and do your thing, collect your paycheck. Prioritize things that matter to you. Leave tasks unfinished at the end of the day and report to your manager that the workload is not realistic. You'll get another job sooner or later. Later if this return to work thing goes well, sooner if it doesn't. Even if they fire you - so what? It won't be the end of the world. I presume there'll be some sort of severance/unemployment money (don't quit! let them fire you!). And if not, you can take on a temp job even if it's for less money - at least it'll give you some time to heal from the toxic workplace environment. And you'll have more time to focus on job searching, to put this shitty company behind you and go on to better things.
posted by gakiko at 1:08 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]

Also, I would not disclose any personal health information to any employer ever, beyond the basics needed for eg. getting accomodations or taking time off for doctor's appointments (even then, I'd just say I have regularly scheduled visits that I'll be putting into my calendar so everybody can work around them). The company is not your friend and you don't know how they'll use that info.
posted by gakiko at 1:11 AM on May 22

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