Before your patient returns to work, consider asking them to simulate their work by doing tasks that have similar physical, cognitive and emotional demands. Work simulation will provide evidence of whether they are ready to go back to work and will also improve their work endurance.
- If someone works in accounting, they can spend time at home preparing income tax returns or paying household bills.
- If someone’s job involves physical tasks, they can try some housekeeping or yard chores.
Before starting work simulation, it is important to assess whether any activities will put the patient at risk of injury or setback.
Tips for simulating work:
- Ask the patient to keep track (on a calendar for example) of how long they can do a task before they need to take a break. This will help you and the patient decide how many hours they will start with in a graduated return to work.
- Suggest they do work simulation tasks at the same time of day that these tasks would be done at their job. This will help them adjust to their work schedule.
- Example: If the job’s usual start time is 9:00 a.m., start the work simulation at the same time.
- If it is too difficult for your patient to get up when they used to each work day, encourage them to slowly shift their sleep patterns half an hour per week.
Some people find that volunteering is a safe way to assess their readiness to return to work. For example, if your patient is concerned about handling the multiple demands of a job, volunteering for a short time might help you and the patient see what they can handle and give them a chance to improve their skills. If their job requires standing, encourage patients to volunteer at something that also requires standing. This will help you and the patient determine their current energy levels and work abilities.
If the patient receives disability insurance benefits, ensure first that the insurance company will allow volunteering without considering it an indication that the patient is ready to return to work. Although most proactive insurance companies allow benefits recipients to volunteer without financial risk, this is not always the case. If the company views volunteering as work, the patient could lose their benefits.
Suggest that patients do more of what they enjoy
If your patient has little energy for work-simulation activities, particularly if they have depression, consider recommending that they spend more time doing things they enjoy. Enjoyable activities after cancer diagnosis and during treatment can help patients cope and can improve their quality of life. People tend to lose themselves in enjoyable activity and naturally improve their conditioning. Consider encouraging patients to do a little more each day in a systematic way. Pleasurable activities can also help you and your patient assess physical, cognitive and emotional functioning.