Relationships

Understand some of the new ways a brain injured employee relates to others in the workplace.

On returning to work

Do they need a buddy system?

Returning to work after a brain injury will be a big milestone in the employee’s recovery. The employee may feel both excited and anxious to be going back to work. A lot may have changed during their time off, so it’s important that their return to work is carefully planned.

A buddy system is a great way of helping to reintroduce the employee to work. A buddy can act as a co-ordinator for the employee’s return. Whilst a buddy system is not compulsory, it does have many benefits for both you and the employee. They can ensure that the employee’s return is gradual and that they are not feeling overwhelmed.

They will also act as the main point of contact for the employee to ensure they are getting the support they need. For example, memory problems may make the employee more forgetful. A buddy system means that they only have to ask one person questions, which might make them feel less embarrassed.

When deciding who should be the buddy, you should select a colleague that you think is most appropriate given the employee’s needs and who they are comfortable with. It is probably best to pick someone from the same team as the employee and at a similar level where possible.

You should make sure that the buddy is trained on the effect of brain injuries and on how it has affected the employee in particular.

How much does the brain injured person want their colleagues to know about their injury?

Every brain injured person is affected differently. You might find that the employee experiences a range of physical, hormonal, sensory, cognitive, emotional or behavioural difficulties.

The benefit of colleagues knowing some information about the employee’s injury is that they will understand how they have changed and why they may behave in a different way. They will also be able to support the employee more effectively if they know something about what they are going through. This way, the transition back into work can be as easy as possible.

However, you shouldn’t discuss confidential information about the employee with their colleagues without their explicit permission. They may not want to share sensitive information with colleagues, at least not straight away. Employees may, in any event, be helped by training in awareness of the needs of those with brain injuries.

You will need to have a conversation with the employee to talk about what, if anything, they’d like to be shared.

Does the injured person have any difficulties with the way that they behave around others?

An employee’s behaviour and temperament may change because of a brain injury. They might be quite different from the person you knew before and it can take time to adjust to their new personality. This can be difficult for colleagues to get used to as well.

When the employee first returns to work, it may take a little while for them to adjust. They may have difficulties interacting with others and react badly to particular events. They may also have spontaneous outbursts.

You owe a duty to all of your employees to provide them with a safe working environment. If the employee is acting in a way to upset or cause distress to their colleagues, you will need to manage the situation carefully.

You will need to resolve any current concerns, which may be helped by sharing information about their injury, if the employee has authorised you to do so. You should also consider if anything could be changed to avoid the situation occurring again. It may be that even a temporary change can help.

Throughout employment

How do we manage other employees’ understanding of what has happened and how their colleague may have changed?

Personality changes can be difficult to accept, particularly for people who were close to the employee before their injury. In order to successfully integrate the employee back in to the workplace, it is important that their colleagues understand what support the employee might need.

You may want to provide a general training course on the effects of a brain injury. This will help other employees to understand why the employee may act differently and what they may need.

Of course, all brain injuries are different, so you may want to consider more specific training. This will help to increase awareness of the employee’s particular difficulties. However, you need to be respectful to the employee and not share any confidential information without their permission.

How is their interaction with colleagues affected?

Difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships are one of the most common long-term consequences of a brain injury.

A brain injury can cause emotional and behavioural changes, which vary depending on where the brain has been damaged and the extent of the injury. It may be that the employee shows little emotion, or alternatively they are emotionally volatile and experience mood swings. Changes can be triggered by certain events but can also be spontaneous. Over time, the employee may learn how to make these more manageable.

A brain injury can cause different types of communication problems, which can make it difficult for the employee to relate to their colleagues and explain their feelings. The employee may actually find it difficult to talk because of their injuries, or find it hard to understand what people are saying. It might be that the employee is self-conscious about their injury. They may worry about what their colleagues think of them. These can make them reluctant to interact as much with colleagues.

It is helpful to consider ways to make the employee feel more comfortable around their colleagues, to make communicating with them easier.

Has the way the person works within a team changed?

There are many qualities that help make someone a good team player. These include reliability, having good communication skills, being able to listen and share ideas, and being co-operative and flexible. Unfortunately, many of these qualities can be impaired by a brain injury.

This can make working in a team harder for the employee and also impacts on the colleagues they work with. You should talk openly with them so that you are aware of any difficulties and can take steps to make things easier for the employee.

Where they are in a senior position, the employee may be responsible for managing others. Their management and leadership style may have changed. There are, of course, many different management styles which people adopt. There are, however, some key characteristics that help make someone a good manager, which may be affected by a brain injury.

You should speak with the injured person about how those that they supervise may respond to their new style. As long as this doesn’t cause difficulty, this may be something that can be adapted to. However, training may be required and some skills may need to be relearned. It may be that they need to make a graduated return to their management position.

You, of course, also need to ensure that their management style does not cause any serious difficulty with the people in their team. The employee’s team members should be given training on the way that brain injuries can affect people, and you should make it clear that they can raise any concerns they have about any issues that arise with an appropriate manager.

When considering the needs of an employee with a brain injury and those that they manage in relation to promotion, it is important to take specialist advice on your legal obligations from an employment lawyer.

Specific triggers

When new employees join, is extra training required so that they understand the needs of the employee who has suffered a brain injury?

If you have a brain injured employee working for you, then it is beneficial to provide some form of training on this to new employees. It’s unlikely that they will have worked with someone who has a brain injury before.

A brain injury is likely to affect the way that a person thinks and tackles their work. They are likely to be left with long-term effects which can have a physical, cognitive and emotional impact. The extent of training provided may depend upon how closely the new employee will be working with the brain injured person.

A good team involves people working together and providing support to achieve an objective. A good understanding of the needs of the people you work with is essential for a successful and happy team.

It can sometimes be difficult to understand the behaviour of someone who has sustained a brain injury, particularly if their behaviour appears to be inconsistent or unpredictable. A new employee may therefore benefit from training about brain injuries generally and on how their colleague has been affected. They can then learn what the employee finds difficult and the likely reasons for this.   You must, however, be careful not to share anything confidential without the employee’s permission.

If you have adapted some of your work practices because of the needs of your brain injured employee, then your new employees will also need to know about this. Information on this could be included as part of your induction process.

Has the way the brain injured person behaves at work social events changed?

It is common for someone with a brain injury to have particular difficulties with communication and social skills, so work parties and social events can be challenging for them.

Social skills allow people to understand and interact both verbally and non-verbally. It may have become more difficult for your brain injured employee to see and interpret the more subtle aspects of communication, such as a sense of urgency, or the signs of when a conversation has reached an end.

A brain injured employee may find it difficult to understand what is being said and express themselves in group conversations. This challenge can be even more significant when there are lots of different groups talking at an event, especially if some of the people attending are strangers.

A social setting, such as a work party, can therefore be quite a demanding situation for someone with a brain injury who has to work very hard to understand others and interact. This may make them feel anxious and may even be overwhelming to someone who has a brain injury.

It is common to suffer fatigue after a brain injury, which can also impact on how well a person can cope with events. This may mean that the employee leaves the party earlier than other employees.

Social communication skills can be relearned, so your employee may become more comfortable in these situations over time. However, they may still struggle and they may not always wish to participate in events.

If they do, you should help them by introducing them to others and guiding conversations. Other employees who are aware of the employee’s difficulties are also likely to adjust their communication style accordingly.

Has the way the brain injured person responds to alcohol changed?

For many, drinking alcohol is enjoyed at many social events. It is readily available and often forms a part of work social and networking events. Alcohol is actually a depressant and causes the brain to slow down. Following an injury, the brain is highly sensitive and this can make it more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.  Even a small amount of alcohol could affect the brain injured person’s judgment.

Alcohol can amplify a person’s emotional response. Given the far reaching and life changing effect of a brain injury, depression is common. Using alcohol whilst depressed can intensify the condition and can also lead to addiction and other problems, such as further injury suffered when excessive alcohol is used. It can also magnify some of the cognitive problems caused by brain injury, such as difficulty with memory and concentration.

Drinking alcohol can also interfere with a brain injured person’s medication. They may experience negative side effects, which may be a real danger to their health. It may also put them at a higher risk of having a seizure.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to drink alcohol is the brain injured person’s. However, if their use of alcohol is having a detrimental effect upon their work, you should discuss this with them and take appropriate action. You will need to follow your appropriate policies on this as you would any other employee. However, you may need to alter the policies to ensure that the employee is not placed at a substantial disadvantage when the policy or procedure is applied to them, compared to someone who has not suffered a brain injury (section 20 and 21 of the Equality Act 2010).

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