Surgery While Employed: 5 Things to Consider

Surgery While Employed: 5 Things to Consider

Surgery itself is stressful—but having surgery while employed can be especially so. From preparing your workstation to setting realistic expectations for when you can return, there are plenty of things to plan for when it comes to getting back to work after surgery. Today, then, we’re breaking down 5 things employees should consider when they have a procedure on the books. Read on for our top tips.

1. Figure out when you’ll actually be able to return to work. 

Before you speak to your boss, file paperwork with human resources or request paid time off or sick leave, it’s important you set realistic expectations for when you’ll actually be able to return to work. You also want to consider the type of surgery you’re having and the type of daily tasks you’re expected to perform at your job. If you’re having orthopedic surgery and your career involves manual labor, your timeline for returning might be longer than it would for a desk job (the same goes for those who are undergoing neurosurgery with jobs that involve cognitive tasks or a high level of communication with clients/customers).  Know that limited mobility, pain medication, and other factors can prevent you from being able to safely and effectively return to your job. Talk to your doctor about a realistic timeline and not a “perfect world” timeline. 

2. Plan your time off wisely. 

If you’re having surgery while employed, look for strategic opportunities to extend your time off if you’re able—like federal holidays. If your surgery is one you can safely plan far in advance for, consider scheduling it for the time of year your office is typically slow or for a time period during which your boss will be out of town and less likely to miss your presence. When it doubt, “pad” your PTO request with a few extra days—it’s always better to be safe than to have to call your boss last minute to let her know you can’t come back to work yet after all. 

PRO TIP: Don’t just look at the days you’ll need off to recover—consider events that will be on the calendar when you return as well (i.e. having an important sales pitch or company retreat slated for the day you’re set to return isn’t a great idea, as you may be experiencing grogginess or lack of mobility). Likewise, make sure important work events that take place before your surgery don’t overlap with any scheduled pre-op appointments. 

3. Understand your doctor’s follow-up expectations.

Recovery doesn’t end once your anesthesia wears off (even for minor surgeries). A physician’s follow-up requirements will vary for different surgeries—you might need several weeks of physical therapy sessions, or you may have to head to your doctor’s office weekly for incision-care check-ups. Schedule out any follow-up care you’ll need before your surgery—and then talk to your employer ahead of time and clearly communicate those appointments. The more proactive you are in your approach, the better for you, your employer, and any coworkers who may rely on you. 

4. Game-plan your return.

This is one so many patients forget to do when having surgery while employed—but it can make all of the difference in the world. Consider what your return to work will look like and then take proactive measures to “lessen the blow” of returning to your job after your procedure. Do you need to modify your desk or work area? What will you need to bring to work (ice packs, pillows, crutches, etc.)? Will you need special accommodations? (ie. If you work at a large campus, will you need to get a ride to-and-from your office from security or disability services?) If you’re on crutches or in a wheelchair, will you need to change where you park in order to have access to ramps instead of stairs?

PRO TIP: If your mobility will be limited and you work somewhere with a large or inconveniently located parking lot, talk to your local DMV about obtaining a temporary disabled person/handicapped parking placard.

5. Be patient with yourself.

Last, but certainly not least, having surgery while employed requires patience and self-care. Understand that your work performance may be affected at first—particularly if your job involves manual labor. Know that it’s normal to feel groggy weeks after anesthesia, so you might not want to dive right into fast-paced sales pitches or high-stakes presentations. Whether it’s because of limited mobility, fatigue, or a temporary change in mood (depression after surgery is fairly common), you might not be your usual self when you return to work. Don’t put unreasonably high expectations on yourself. Focus on controlling what you can control (clearly communicating expectations to your employer ahead of time, filing any necessary paperwork with human resources, preparing your work station, etc.)—and allow yourself to let go of the things you can’t control (your mental or physical state after surgery).


Overall, when it comes to having surgery while employed, the key lies in proactivity and patience. Have a realistic understanding of what your recovery period will look like—and give yourself a little leeway when you can.  

Want even more pre-surgery tips? Browse the rest of our blog for empowering pre-op information, helpful nutrition advice, and pro-medical tips for ensuring your recovery is the best it can be.