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Adapting to life after brain injury: Returning to work

Adapting to life after brain injury: Returning to work

This feature answers some common questions about returning to work after a brain injury.

For many people, the full impact of brain injury becomes most apparent when they have returned home from hospital or rehabilitation. Regular activities may suddenly pose unanticipated challenges, and support may be needed for tasks that were previously done independently.

In this new series, we look at everyday activities that brain injury survivors may need to adapt. We begin this series with a look at returning to work.

Returning to work

The prospect of returning to work after a brain injury can seem daunting. Many of the skills we rely on within the workplace can be affected by a brain injury, and common issues such as fatigue, headaches and memory problems can all majorly impact the skills needed for many roles and workplace environments.

Nevertheless, working is an integral part of many people’s lives. As well as giving financial security, many people enjoy socialising with colleagues and peers. Having a job that one enjoys can also offer a sense of fulfilment and purpose in life. Our sense of identity can partly come from our employment role, such as being the ‘breadwinner’ of the family, the manager of a company or a valuable team member.

This feature answers some common questions about returning to work after a brain injury.

When should I return to work?

Many people return to work as soon as possible after they have been treated for brain injury. There may be pressure from others to return, or there may be financial issues to consider. A survivor may also be keen to get back to work to regain a sense of ‘normality’ after the many changes that a brain injury can introduce.
Making a good physical recovery after a brain injury or successfully completing a programme of rehabilitation can also lead people to underestimate the full impact of their injury. It is important to remember that many of the skills commonly affected by brain injury in the longer term are frequently used within the workplace, such as processing information, memory, and multitasking.

It is important not to rush back to work until you feel ready. Give yourself time to settle and adjust to your new circumstances first. It may be possible to arrange for a phased return; this is where you return on fewer or more suitable hours so that you can assess how you feel. This way, you can also identify where you might need support.

What should I tell my colleagues about my brain injury?

It is up to you how much you choose to tell colleagues. Some people may prefer to keep this private, but it can be helpful to share something about your injury with others so that they can understand how best to support you. For example, if you find it challenging to remember project deadline dates, your colleagues can help you by providing reminders. Colleagues are also more likely to be understanding of your behaviour if they know it is caused by a brain injury. If they do not know about your injury, they may think you are neglectful or disorganised. Remember that a brain injury can be considered a ‘hidden disability’ – to your colleagues, you may ‘look normal’, and they may, therefore, fail to understand when you need support.

It is especially helpful to let employers know about your brain injury. Employers have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled employees. However, if they do not know about the injury in the first place, they cannot help. Therefore, you should have an honest and open conversation with your employer about anything you feel may help. It may be that your needs change over time, but having this conversation early on can be helpful.

What kind of adjustments can I ask for at work?

Adjustments can take many forms and will depend on things such as the effects of brain injury that you experience and the nature of your work.

There may be equipment that can help, such as adaptive technology or more straightforward tools, such as notepads, Dictaphones, wall charts and calendars. Adjustments can also be made to the environment, such as ramps being installed or relocating to be closer to fire exits or accessible toilets.

Adjustments can be considered for hours worked, such as allowing the brain-injured employee to work part-time or finish earlier to accommodate fatigue. Accommodating the effects of brain injury can include giving more extended deadlines or reminders for projects. It can be helpful to schedule regular meetings to assess performance and ensure everyone is satisfied with the adjustments made.

What if I can’t return to my job after my brain injury?

Some people may be unable to return to their previous jobs after brain injury and may also struggle with finding a new role that suits them. In these instances, advice can be sought from a Jobcentre Disability Employment Advisor for specialist guidance on searching for suitable roles. Alternatively, a survivor may choose to explore changing their career to something they have always been interested in but never had a chance to pursue, such as writing, photography, crafting or art.

For people who are unable to return to any form of work, there are welfare benefits available. Guidance for this should be sought from Citizens Advice or welfare benefits organisations. Sometimes, a person may be unable to commit to regular, paid work but still feel they want to work in society. In these instances, volunteering may be a good option to consider.

We hope that some of the tips in this feature have been helpful if you are about to return to work after your brain injury. Don’t forget that we have a webinar on this topic later in the year - find out more and register your interest here!


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