March 13, 2024

6 Steps To Assessing Your Readiness To Return To Work

Many people recovering from a disability encounter a turning-point moment where it seems time to make a move forward. It’s usually at the crossroads of significant recovery and adjustment along with a strong desire to get back into life and the world in general – or, a powerful frustration of having been out of it for a long time.

The focus is very often returning to work in any capacity. Feelings of “sitting around” and “not doing anything,” while not exactly accurate (recovery is a lot of work and effort!), are absolutely part of the psychological landscape when dealing with a disability. These thoughts are also a significant component of mental health wellbeing and cannot be ignored. The feelings and motivations to return to work are clear and they can build up enough energy to take action – yet in which direction?

The following are six areas to consider when determining whether you’re ready for a return to work or if it’s best to channel that energy in a different direction.

1. Be Realistic About Your Situation

We’ve all faced situations where we wanted something a great deal but it wasn’t going to happen for one reason or another. This is a good first-step reality check to make. Are your feelings greater than what you can really make happen? If a minute of thought on that yields a few immediate and major roadblocks, then there may be some problem-solving to do first – or a different direction to head for.

Another thing to consider is what support you may or may not have in place. Are there family or friends who are able to be on-hand during challenging times or are you likely to go it alone? There’s nothing wrong with making a solo attempt, however make sure it’s realistic to do so. With a few thoughtful adjustments, it often can be successful, yet it’s smart to sort those out ahead of time.

Finally, think down the road. What’s the long-term view of returning to work and how does it match up with other milestones you have up ahead? If you’re midway through your recovery journey and have some surgeries in your near future, it may not be the right time to launch a job search. Are there other serious events coming which will take your energy or redirect your focus? All best to consider before entering into commitments.

2. Think About Your Options

The good news is there’s options for returning to work. Doing so can take different forms, one of which may fit your situation best.

There’s a number of dimensions to consider.

  • Return to a previous workplace or go somewhere new?
  • Do you need or prefer remote or on-site?
  • How many hours per week and should you grow into it gradually?

If a previous workplace is still viable and of interest to you, then there’s potential advantages in going with what’s familiar. If you are no longer able to do your previous job, it may be possible to fill a different role at the same company, especially if you already have background which won’t require training. Even if your company knowledge is strong yet you need different skills to transition into a new role, the company’s HR team may be able to make retraining or education available to bridge the gap.

The question of remote vs on-site has pros and cons on both sides. If physical limitations are present then remote work may be more a necessity than a preference. Working at home can cause one to feel disconnected, isolated, and with time-management difficulties including overworking or maintaining a productive momentum. However, it can also save a great deal of money, create flexibility, remove a commute and even increase productivity. Working on-site carries the opposite challenges and advantages, and many consider a hybrid of the two to be ideal.

How many hours to work is crucial to weigh. Some benefits you may need to retain might also depend on whether you’re working a certain amount of hours or less. It’s also important to consider not overdoing it if a disability brings a lot of new challenges. Pushing too hard can cause a domino effect of problems which create stress and detract from your wellbeing, so finding a balance is critical. Ramping up gradually could also make a difference. If possible, start with a little and build up over time as you identify and solve problems along the way. This can help avoid hitting a sudden wall and having to retreat.

3. Talk It Over With Family And Friends

Your close family and friends have something nobody else has: your best interests at heart. If there was ever a time to leverage the insights which come from people who care, it’s when considering a life-changing step such as relaunching your work life.

Discuss your thoughts one-on-one with each of them in order to get their focused input. Describe your challenges, concerns, aspirations, and goals. Explore ideas as well as any potential issues as they may think of some things you haven’t. Their perspectives can build upon your own and also help avoid tunnel vision in your thinking and planning. Eliminating blind spots can go a long way toward success.

It’s also an opportunity to let them know what you’re intending to do. Alerting people who care about you regarding where you’re headed will help them invest in offering you support. Emotional support when returning to work will be invaluable as you encounter unexpected pitfalls and need a little encouragement along the way. We all need a little boost now and then.

4. Consult With Your Doctor

It’s time for a conversation with your doctor or medical team. Their input is not only invaluable but also likely necessary for documentation.

Some key questions to ask include whether returning to work could cause any setbacks or jeopardize your recovery. If it’s too soon to return then best to take the time and steps needed to make sure you’re whole before causing further issues. This not only involves physical safety but also stress. Taking on work also means adding some stress to your life which may also cause too many issues depending on what conditions of your disability exist. Your doctor or specialist can help make determinations on these factors.

As for limitation considerations, they need to be weighed against what kind of work to return to or pursue. A key way to preserve your wellbeing is to avoid attempting insurmountable tasks. Real limitations may dictate which direction to take.

Physical limitations could cause any previously labor-intensive position to no longer be viable, thus warranting a shift toward a different role with your previous organization or something new altogether (including re-training). Cognitive limitations may need to be understood as they might preclude you from certain types of work. Both types need to be fully explored with your doctor.

Either type of limitations may need to be mitigated with workplace accommodations. Your doctor should be able to advise on which are warranted, or refer to specialists who can help determine what’s best in your specific case. National organizations concerning specific illnesses, conditions, and disabilities will also have typical accommodation suggestions you might consider bringing along to discuss with your doctor.

5. Consult With An Advocate

Returning to work with a disability and while receiving benefits calls for making an informed decision on not only what to do but how best to do it. This is where an experienced advocate specific to disability and work-related issues makes a critical difference.

The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Ticket to Work (TTW) Program is designed to assist those wishing to return to work by protecting existing SSDI benefits for a trial period. An SSA-authorized Employment Network (EN) is a great, cost-free resource that acts on your behalf and represents you along the way. Allsup Employment Services (AES) is such a resource. Our CEO and founder, Jim Allsup, played a role in the creation of the TTW Program. In more than decade of business, we’ve helped thousands of SSDI beneficiaries get back to work.

Other benefits such as long-term disability (LTD) or any other health insurance benefits need to be understood in terms of what is and isn’t allowed in order to protect them.

Your local vocational rehabilitation agency will also have return-to-work assistance of varying kinds, ranging from coaching and re-training to resume and interview preparation, and job search resources. This support is normally free to those receiving disability benefits.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) can assist with workplace accommodations.  JAN offers expert, confidential guidance on job accommodations, technical assistance and disability employment issues and is a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).

6. Consider A Plan B Ahead Of Time

If your return to work doesn't go as expected and you need to pull back, have an idea of how to do so gracefully (so as not to leave your employer or others in a bind), and also an idea of what to pivot to.

Considering such a move as a shift to the next thing instead of any sort of retreat, setback or failure will go a long way in preserving your mental wellbeing and your forward momentum. A good way to put it in proper perspective is to approach it as a learning experience for the future. Understand why it happened and how it could be avoided moving forward. This helps recast the event in a productive light while staying centered on keeping your momentum.

There are a multitude of options other than employment which are productive, fulfilling and will challenge the mind and spirit. Many alternatives are listed below in the section “What Should I Do If I Can’t Work?” Each of these provide an opportunity to grow or give back to your community. Peruse the list and think about what you’d gravitate to if regular employment wasn’t working out.

Asking your doctor or therapist what others have done in such a case can yield good information. They certainly see setbacks among their patients and can share ideas and resources they’ve come across through those experiences.

A little forethought can go a long way in helping you stay positive and moving forward. It’s another way to take charge of your path and not let obstacles take over.

What Should I Do If I Can’t Work?

After considering all the points, if timing or circumstances aren’t right for a return to work, there’s still options for seeking fulfilling engagement, community participation or personal growth.

Ultimately, the goal is to return to a life of engagement and accomplishment. The good news is there are many ways which lead to a fulfilling and meaningful life other than traditional employment.

Here are some alternatives. Try a few and feel free to explore.

  • Mentorship and coaching to share expertise and support others in their own ambitions.
  • Education and skill development through online courses, certificate programs, and workshops.
  • Peer support groups for connecting with and helping others by sharing your experience.
  • Creative expression through artistic pursuits like painting, photography, writing, crafts and more.
  • Volunteering with charities, community groups, museums, galleries and more.
  • Activism through organizations advocating for important causes which resonate with you.
  • Civic engagement through local politics and community groups.
  • Sports and fitness activities tailored to your abilities.
  • Entrepreneurship which leverages your own skills, allowing you to work on your own terms.
  • Personal development such as journaling, meditation or therapy to build resilience, confidence and self-awareness.

Next Steps: Moving Forward On A Return To Work

If returning to work seems like the right move, there are a number of actions which will take you where you want to go as successfully as possible.

Here’s some next steps to take:

  • Connect with an Employment Network (EN) or State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (SVR). An EN or SVR will provide specific, valuable support and guidance on the Ticket to Work Program. Consider going with industry leader Allsup Employment Services.
  • Update your resume. An EN can help, and there’s a lot of online resources.
  • Reach out to colleagues. Ask what's happening at your former workplace (or wherever they may have moved to). Check if any new projects or contracts are needing help moving forward, or departments that could use the expertise you have.
  • Speak with your previous supervisor. Leverage your relationship with them before you go straight to HR. They may be an effective go-between or facilitator and help explore options and requirements for your return.
  • Talk to HR. Definitely speak directly with your Human Resources department, in particular about your own and the company’s needs and expectations as well as workplace accommodations if any are recommended by your doctor or advocate resources.
  • Career counseling/coaching: If it’s time to re-train, seek local and national resources which can help you gain new skills. Also ask your HR department about this.
  • Interview practice. Get those hard answers figured out ahead time. Practice also helps reduce anxiety and builds confidence. Your EN or SVR can provide guidance, and there’s more resources online.
  • Job listings/websites: There’s plenty of them, however there’s also resources focused specifically on jobs for people with disabilities.

The decision to return to work after experiencing a disability is a significant step that requires careful consideration and planning. It often marks a turning point in the recovery journey when experiencing a strong desire to reintegrate with the world and regain a sense of purpose and productivity.

By carefully considering all factors and resources available, you can embark on this journey with confidence and determination, knowing you have the support and tools needed to thrive in your professional and personal lives.


As a Social Security-authorized Employment Network, Allsup Employment Services helps SSDI beneficiaries return to work if they are medically able to do so through Social Security’s TTW Program. Our team of experts will help you transition back to a former job or begin a new career while keeping your important financial and Medicare benefits.

Contact Allsup Employment Services today at (866) 540-5105 or request a call to learn more.