Supporting employees returning to work after a stroke

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy, Advice and Research

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum, looking ahead at the audience

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum

This morning, Stroke Association released new research which showed 15 per cent of stroke survivors returning to the workplace feel unsupported by their employer.  In fact, 37 per cent people under the age of 65 who had a stroke gave up work, and another 9 per cent either missed out on promotion or were made redundant after having a stroke.

Business Disability Forum’s CEO, Diane Lightfoot, spoke on Sky News this morning about this new research. She emphasised how stroke happens unexpectedly, and it is therefore not something an employee or employer can readily plan for in their usual individual workplace adjustments planning.

Stroke survivors are often still recovering when they return to work. It can often take longer to recover than an employer’s average sick pay policy covers. This means employees may try to come back to work before they are ready, because they don’t want to experience personal financial hardship (43 per cent of stroke survivors said they experience financial hardship following their stroke). As stroke survivors’ bodies are often still healing when they come back to work, they might be physically slower, they might now have to complete tasks in different ways (using different keyboards, assistive technology, or carrying things differently, for example), or they might be using mobility aids; but this does not mean they are now unable to work or are intellectually less capable.

The usual ways of supporting any employee at work apply, such as ensuring they know they can talk to someone (a line manager or employee wellbeing support professional, for example); making adjustments specific to the employee’s situation; and regular, support meetings to review recovery, workload, and working conditions. There are however some specific things that managers supporting stroke survivors should also remember:

  • There are lots of medical appointments after a stroke – consultants, speech and language therapists, counsellors, nerve tests, physiotherapy, for example. Time off (ideally, paid) for appointments is often hugely appreciated. Check your absence and time off policies and advise the employee how they should discuss and request time off for these.
  • Redeployment as a reasonable adjustment and job carving are so under-utilised and poorly understood, but they can be the difference between a stroke survivor leaving and staying in work. Check that your HR teams and managers know how to discuss and arrange such new working patterns with employees where appropriate.
  • Ensure return to work procedures, approach to making workplace adjustments, and phased returns are available and supportively managed. If arranging phased returns or reduced working hours, ensure you also re-prioritise and re-consider the employee’s workload. Giving the employee the same workload on reduced hours does not make for a supportive return to work and will not help the employee recover as much as possible.
  • Stroke survivors may now move in a different way and their confidence in their own mobility might be reduced for a while. They may now need to use the lift instead of the stairs. Check if you need to discuss new Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) with employees where appropriate, and ensure there is an effective review period in place to manage this.
  • Be patient. Stroke survivors are often still getting used to how different their body now feels, learning to do things differently, and trying to re-gain mental and physical confidence after an unexpected, frightening, life-changing event when they come back to work. This is as new to them as it is for you as the employer or manager.

For more information, Members and Partners can contact us to get a copy of our briefing on supporting stroke survivors in the workplace.  

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