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Survivors Assessment of work abilities Test your readiness to return to work

Test your readiness to return to work

Here are strategies, support and resources that can help you to decide whether to stay at work, plan to return to your pre-cancer position or change jobs.

Work simulation

Before you start back at your job, it is helpful to try doing tasks that have similar physical, thinking and emotional demands as your job. This way you can find out if you are ready to go back to work and improve your work endurance at the same time. But first clear your tryout with a healthcare professional.

  • Examples:
    If you work in accounting, spend time at home doing your income tax or paying household bills.
  • If your job involves physical tasks, try some housekeeping or yard chores to see what you can do.

Tips for simulating work:

  • Keep track of how long you can do a task before you need to take a break. This will help you decide how many hours you can start with when you first return to work.
  • Do these tasks at the same time of the day you would do them at your job. Example: Start your work simulation at 9:00 a.m. if that is when you used to start work.
  • If this is too difficult to do right away, slowly shift your sleep patterns (1/2 hour per week) so you can get closer to waking up at the same time each workday.

If you find that it is too difficult to get up early, an accommodation idea is to come in later in the day and leave later. That way, you could work the same hours and just have longer in the morning to get ready for work. For other job accommodation ideas, read our section on Workplace Accommodations.


Some people find that volunteering is a safe way to assess their readiness to return to work. For example, if you are concerned about handling the multiple demands of a job, volunteering for a short time might help you see what you can handle and give you a chance to improve your skills. If your job requires standing, try volunteering at something that also requires standing. This will help you figure out your current energy levels and work abilities.

If you receive disability insurance benefits, check first with your insurance company whether they allow volunteering. If the company considers it an indication that you are ready to return to work, you could lose your benefits. Although most proactive insurance companies allow clients to try things out without financial risk, this is not always the case.

Do more of what you enjoy

If you have little energy for any work-type activities, one way to assess your work abilities and increase your endurance is to start by doing things you really enjoy. This will also help you cope with cancer and treatment.

When people do things that are pleasurable for them, they tend to lose themselves in the activity and forget the energy it takes. If you are able, try a little bit of an enjoyable activity each day. For example, if you love sketching or painting, you will probably find you are able to concentrate on these activities longer than you would on less appealing pastimes.