Supporting someone with a brain injury in the workplace – How you can help make their return to work successful!
For many of us the Coronavirus Pandemic has forced us to swap the hustle and bustle of the workplace for a quieter kind of chaos, where we’ve had to adapt to a new kind of normal: a life lived mostly within the confines of our homes and with limited social interaction outside of our own household.
This is a strange time for everyone and just as this adjustment has been tricky, many of us will find it daunting to return to our busy routines after weeks or even months in near isolation.
This situation got me thinking about how we can provide support to people returning to work where suffering a serious injury such as a brain injury has meant they have had to take time off to focus on their recovery.
With approximately just 40% of people with an acquired brain injury returning to work on a permanent basis in the UK, it is so important that after being away from work due to a period of recovery, people receive enough emotional support upon their return to ensure the transition is not too overwhelming.
Although it is important to remember that not one brain injury is the same as another, below are some considerations to keep in mind when supporting someone back into the workplace after a brain injury.
If you are an employer
Returning to work is regarded as a primary indicator of a successful recovery, however, if the process were to go too fast and without adequate support in place, it could lead to a setback in the individual’s sucessful recovery and confidence. As an employer you should try to build on the familiarity of the role and the workplace while accommodating for any new needs.
Offering ongoing support
- Arrange an interview with your employee prior to their return to work to discuss the elements of their brain injury and what adaptations could be put in place to help them overcome the particular effects of their brain injury
- Continue to monitor whether your employee’s needs are being met with frequent meetings. Try to make these meetings casual and supportive so the employee feels comfortable enough to open up about any problems they are having.
- Simple things such as giving the individual more breaks throughout the day and time off to attend medical appointments will ensure that they can juggle their career with their ongoing recovery
- In the long term, consider that for some people who have suffered a brain injury, taking in and retaining new information can be very difficult. Therefore when introducing changes into the workplace such as a new process or way of doing things, be mindful that the individual may need longer to adapt and should be offered adequate support.
- Try to build up your employee’s confidence gradually by asking them to return to work with shorter hours on a temporary basis or with less workload
- Consider reallocating any tasks which you think will pose problems and working to the existing or highlighted strengths of the individual to help build confidence and motivation for work in the longer term
If your colleague is returning to work after a brain injury
The interaction between someone who has suffered a brain injury and his or her colleagues will, in the best case scenario, provide a feeling of acceptance, a sense of normality and increased self-esteem. If you feel anxious about how to best support your colleague upon their return to work, doing some brief research into the common effects of brain injury can be helpful.
- Be mindful that some elements of the job may now be much more difficult for your colleague and could be a source of frustration for them. Exercise understanding if faced with this situation and try to ask open ended questions so your colleague can choose whether to discuss the impact of their brain injury with you.
- People who have suffered a brain injury often experience slower information processing as well as impaired word retrieval which means your colleague could need a bit more time to think things through when communicating with you. Be patient and avoid looking for a quick response. Let your colleague set the pace when having a conversation and try to reflect this pace as much as necessary so you both feel comfortable.
- To avoid putting pressure on your colleague when considering important matters, try communicating via email. This gives the individual time to properly weigh up the information, consider the question and give a response they are happy with.
- Your colleague may experience some social anxiety or feelings of self-consciousness upon their return to work. It is likely they have gone through a period of recovery in hospital or at home and have not been as sociable as normal. If you work in a large team, it may be a good idea to elect one or two team members to act as buddies who can offer support and liaise, helping to engage the individual with the wider team.
Most importantly, remember that no two brain injuries are the same and therefore will affect individuals differently. Where one person may struggle when returning to work and require a lot of support, another may be able to, and want to, get on with their job as before the injury. Take their lead and don’t prejudge their particular circumstances.
If you would like more information on returning to work after a brain injury you can visit Headway – the brain injury charity dedicated to improving life after brain injury across the UK and Channel islands.