Time and tasks

Learn about some of the new needs an employee with a brain injury may have in relation to time and task management.

On returning to work

Can the brain injured person do the same role or is another role more suitable?

There are many different manifestations of brain injury, and in the same way that our brains are all different, all brain injuries are unique and affect people in a variety of ways. It is important to consider the particular employee’s needs when assessing whether they can return to their previous role.

For example, an accountant who has suffered a stroke resulting in ongoing physical disability, but with their pre-injury intellect intact, may well be able to return to their pre-injury role provided they have the correct assistive equipment and support.

Conversely, a plumber suffering a similar injury may not be able to return to the same role because of the physical demands of the job. A truck driver who has suffers from epilepsy following a brain injury won’t be able to continue in the same role, given that they will most likely be unable to drive.

Employers are under a duty to consider alternative employment for employees who are unable to continue in their previous role. For example, if the truck driver in the above example works for a distributor that also runs warehouses, they may be able to work in the warehouse instead.

A full assessment of your employee’s abilities to carry out work by a qualified medical professional is essential prior to their return. Only then can you consider whether they will be able to return to their previous role. Employers should consider any capability procedure that they have in place, as this is likely to apply to the process of considering alternative employment for the employee.

It’s important that you are also aware of your legal obligations, and that you seek advice from a specialist in employment law.

Are they ready to return?

Even relatively minor brain injuries can be hugely traumatic for the injured employee and their family and friends.

The dynamics of their home life may change dramatically following their injury. The realisation that they may never get back to how they were before their injury can also be particularly difficult. The emotional and psychological consequences of suffering a brain injury can often be overlooked. However, they are of great importance when considering whether somebody may be ready to return to work or not.

People who have suffered a brain injury may feel under pressure to get back to work before they are ready for financial reasons. Or, they may feel that they want to prove to themselves and those around them that they are ‘better’, even though they are not ready to return.

This can be difficult to manage. You should ensure that your employee has undergone a full and independent medical or occupational health assessment of their current condition and ability to work.

If the conclusion is that they are not yet ready, despite them wanting to return, this should be discussed with them in a way that is supportive. Sadly, it may be that your employee will never be able to return to their previous role and alternative roles may not be available.

When considering the return of an employee with a brain injury, it is very important to take specialist advice on your obligations from an employment lawyer.

Do working hours need to change?

On their return to work, a brain injured employee may seek gradually increasing hours to ease their transition back into working life. This is known as a phased return to work.

They may also need their working hours to be reduced on a permanent basis. There are many reasons why an employee’s working hours may need to change following a brain injury.  For example, if your employee has mobility issues and uses public transport to get to work, it may assist them to alter their working hours so that they can avoid travelling during rush hour.

Fatigue is a common difficulty following a brain injury and it may be that your employee simply cannot work the number of hours that they used to. They may need to work shorter working days, or to split the working day into two with a long break for rest. They may need to work part time rather than full time.

Your employee may also require more flexibility in their working hours to allow them to attend medical appointments or deal with fluctuating symptoms.

You will need to consider whether it is reasonable and possible to make such changes in line with the needs of the business. When considering the return of an employee with a brain injury, it is very important to take specialist advice on your legal obligations from an employment lawyer.

Throughout employment

Will their workload need to change?

The amount of work an employee will be able to do will depend of the extent of their brain injury and how this has affected them. This may also change over time.

For most, it is likely that upon their return their workload will have to be reduced, even if this is just in the short term. You will need to consider whether extra cover can be provided so that everything required is done and how this may impact on other employees.

If possible, it may help to break down the employee’s workload to smaller, more manageable tasks.

You may find that an employee is reluctant to accept that they cannot work at the same pace as before. They may be convinced that they are working at the same pace when they are not. Or the opposite may be true; they are working so hard to try to prove that they are able to do so, they won’t appreciate that it is unsustainable. It is therefore important that an employee’s workload and how they are coping is closely monitored and discussed with the employee.

With the right support and changes to work practices, an employee will be able to reach their full potential at work.

Do they need extra breaks?

Following a brain injury, people often have difficulties that aren’t obvious but that have a real impact on their ability to work. Increased tiredness is very common after a brain injury. Even smaller tasks will require more energy and longer tasks can leave a brain injured employee exhausted.

Regular breaks can help to split up a working day and prevent an employee from becoming fatigued.  This can also help to improve concentration.

The frequency of breaks required will depend upon the employee’s injury. You may want to consider a flexible system of working that incorporates breaks and means that the employee can sometimes work from home, if this is possible.

It is important to keep your employee’s working pattern under review to ensure that this is working for both the employee and the business. You should speak regularly with them and have meetings about both of your needs at a frequency to suit the stage of their return.

How is their time management and ability to multi-task affected?

Your employee’s ability to manage their time and multi-task are likely to be impacted following a brain injury. A brain injury can cause physical and cognitive impairments, as well as having a psychological impact.

Each injury is different and the way that a person is affected is individual to them. The injury can affect their ability to understand and process information. This can make it harder for your employee to complete tasks as quickly as they used to.

Any memory problems or reduced ability to concentrate for a long period can make multi-tasking and time management difficult. If their injury affects them in this way, providing memory aids and minimising distractions in the workplace will help them to work to their full potential.

An employee may lack insight into their limitations. This can be a difficult situation to manage if they want to continue with the same workload and at the same pace as before.

To help you monitor an employee’s time management, you may wish to have ‘check-in meetings’ to see how they are getting on with a particular task. You may also want to agree a step-by-step plan with them, with target dates to help them meet deadlines.

Specific triggers

Does the person need extra days off on dates that they find particularly difficult, for example the anniversary of their injury?

A significant date, like the anniversary of your employee’s brain injury, can bring back distressing and upsetting memories for them. You may want to think about what can be done to make this as easy as possible for the employee.

It is common for a brain injured employee to find it difficult to manage important dates. The employee may have an emotional response, relating to how they acquired their brain injury. They may also experience physical symptoms, such as increased fatigue and headaches.

As an employer, it is important to talk with your employee to understand the impact of their brain injury so that you can know how they can do their best. By having regular and open communication with your employee, you should gain an insight into how significant dates will affect them.

To get the most out of your employee, you may want to consider adopting a more flexible working system on important dates. It might be that the employee is able and happy to work from home or on a different day instead. Alternatively, they may actually prefer to come into work to take their mind off the event, so it is important to ask what the employee would like.

Can hours be increased if some symptoms reduce over time?

When an employee first returns to work, they are likely to do so on reduced hours with a lower workload. This is likely to be needed to both prevent the employee from feeling overwhelmed and to help reduce the impact of fatigue, which is very common following a brain injury.

Their injury may also mean that they have difficulty staying focused. Over time, the employee’s stamina and ability should improve. However, they are likely to experience some setbacks.

As the employee continues their recovery and becomes reacquainted with being at work, you should be able to gradually increase their hours. You must be careful to ensure that the employee is ready and is happy for this to happen.

On the other hand, they may be pushing for their hours to increase and not be actually ready for a change. They may not recognise their limitations, which you should take in to account when discussing it with them.

It is a good idea to meet regularly with the employee so that you keep up to date with how they are. It’s important to continually review and discuss what the employee finds difficult, so that you can adapt your working practice. A supportive work environment will help them to achieve their full potential.

Does your brain injured employee need more time to adjust to new tasks?

A brain injury can affect the way that the brain learns and processes new information. Following a brain injury, it is common for an employee to find some tasks difficult, even though they may have done them many times before. The brain is not able to completely repair damaged cells, so instead they must relearn former skills.

A brain injury often makes learning harder and slower than before. You should therefore anticipate that introducing new tasks to the employee’s role will require an adjustment period.

How long the employee will need depends upon the nature of the task being introduced and how the employee has been affected by their brain injury. For example, if they have difficulties with their memory, even a small change may be difficult for them to implement. In that situation, it may be helpful to provide the employee with a checklist to follow.

How easy it is for the employee to adapt to the change will depend upon how much support they have.

People who have suffered a brain injury often respond well to a structured routine. If the new task is quite complex, you may want to consider how you can break this down and introduce this slowly into their routine.

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