Advice: Returning to work after a brain injury

By Phil Warder

As an ABI Survivor, one of the most important and challenging aspects of your recovery is the process of returning to work. This can both be something that causes great frustration and yet can aid in your rehabilitation and increase your quality of life.

Sharing ideas at work
Sharing ideas at work.

Studies have shown that a return to work for ABI survivors improves overall quality of life and can offset some of the financial issues associated with an ABI. A return to work can give you focus and help you to feel productive. Possibly it is something that you have been thinking about as you go through the rehabilitation process. This post is written to provide some important things to think about as you make this decision and transition back to the workforce.

How do I know if I should return to work?

This is probably one of the hardest questions for someone else to answer for you. One of the best predictors of a successful return to work is your own motivation. Most people who feel they are capable of returning to work and are motivated will be able to in some capacity. That’s right, you are the person who will best determine if you can return to work! This also means that if you don’t want to return to work or don’t feel you are capable, it will be very unlikely that you can do it.

 

 

 

While your own motivation is a very important part of being able to return to work, this does not mean that your return to work will be easy, or that you will return to the same type of work you had before your ABI. Because people are affected differently based on the severity of their ABI, you may not be able to return to the same job, or even the same industry, as before you were injured. However, you are likely to have an easier time if you are able to return to a familiar environment. We’ll talk more about that in a little bit.

Besides evaluating your own desire, it is important for you to talk with different people in your life about returning to work. Talk to your family, treatment professionals, friends. These people will be able to give you feedback about how they see your readiness to work again. They live with you, rehabilitate you, and assess your medical condition. Ask for their honest feedback. Not only will they tell you if they think you are ready, they can provide you with specific feedback on challenges they think you will face upon your return.

How can I return to work with my employer?

If you were employed before your ABI, one of the best places that you can return to work is with your pre-injury employer. This is because you will be returning to a familiar job, familiar people, and previously established workplace relationships. You also have the advantage of having various laws protecting you as you return to the workplace. As a professional, I would always suggest that this would be your first goal for a return to work.

As I said before, returning to your pre-injury employer does not necessarily mean that you will be able to return to your old job. Because of the challenges created by your injury, you may have issues with your energy level, concentration and personal interaction that would make your old position difficult or impossible to do. However, by working with your employer, there may be other jobs  that you would be great at.

Your employer also has certain legal obligations to accommodate your disability. In fact they must do this up to the point of undo hardship, according to the Ontario Human Rights Code. For more information on your rights, click here. If you have concerns that your employer is not meeting these obligations you can talk to your lawyer, union representative, or contact the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal here.

The following are the steps to take in preparing to return to work with your employer:

Keep in touch with your employer, let them know how you are doing. Not only will they want to know how you are, it will also help prepare them for your return by letting them know approximately when you will return.

Prepare a list of your current abilities and restrictions. It is important that your employer has this in order to know how to adapt your job tasks to your abilities. If you cannot do your old job, this list will help your employer look for other jobs you can do. If you need help preparing this list, you can ask your treatment professionals for help.

Ask to return to work on a gradual basis. Trust me, even though you may want to get back to work as you were before your injury, your first few weeks to a month back will be tiring. This is because as you have been off work your body has become used to not working and needs to gradually build back endurance. You will also be better able to handle the emotions generated by returning to work if you are not there all the time in the beginning.

Talk to the people you work with. Tell them about your injury and some of the challenges you are facing. ABI is often called a hidden disability and some of your coworkers may not understand why some of your behaviours or work abilities have changed. If you talk with them, they will be better able to support you and even help you deal with some of your challenges.

If you encounter difficulties after returning to work, make sure you tell your employer. They will not be able to help you if they don’t understand where you are struggling. In the long run, open communication will make your return to work smoother for them and for you.

What happens if I can’t go back to work with my old employer or if I was not employed before my injury?

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, you may have to look for work in order to return to the workforce. If this is the case there are three important things you need to think about.

1. What type of work would be good for you to look for.

This can sometimes be a very difficult question to answer. One of the best ways to figure this out is to talk to your friends and family. Ask them about what they think your skills and strengths are. Ask them what types of jobs they think you would be best suited for. They can be a big source of help. They can also help match up your educational background and work experience to types of work that you can do. You can even ask your treatment professionals if they think you can return to some of the jobs that your friends and family have suggested. This is one of the areas where the more people you talk to, the better.

2. Where to look for work

The following are some job sites that you can use to look for work:

Job Bank

Workopolis

Wow Jobs

If you are using the services of an agency such as CHIRS or The Ontario March of Dimes, they have support services for finding employment.

3. What to tell people during a job interview

One of the most difficult things about looking for new work is deciding what to tell a potential employer about your ABI. This can cause you stress and worry. It doesn’t help that different professionals may have different opinions of what you should tell an employer.

By law, an employer is not allowed to ask potential job candidates about disabilities they have. They can only ask you about your ability to perform the duties of the job that you are applying for. This means that before you apply to a job you should have an understanding of the job duties of the position and whether or not you think you can do them. If you are wondering if you can, ask friends and family. If you think you have the abilities to do the duties of the job, my opinion is that you should not disclose your ABI. Just answer questions truthfully about your abilities to do the job. After you are hired, you should consider disclosing your injury in order to receive accommodation. But interviewing is not the best time for talking about your ABI.

I hope this has provided some useful information for you. When writing this blog I have tried to target the widest range of people and so may not have addressed your specific situation. If you have a specific question, feel free to post it in the comments section and I will try to answer a few.

Phil Warder is a certified vocational professional with nine years of experience in the vocational rehabilitation industry. He is also chair of BIST’s Membership Committee.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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