17 Feb

Returning to work after a brain injury

Recovering from a brain injury is a different process for different people. But, with the right support and resources, you can successfully transition back into the workforce after a brain injury. Here are some of the steps when returning to work and how they can be overcome with good communication with your employer and support strategies.

Know you’re ready to return to work

Returning to work is often the goal of many who suffer a brain injury. In this process it’s important to be mindful that you still may be experiencing a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms that you weren’t prior to your injury. You may feel ready but be aware returning to work too early can result in fatigue and being overwhelmed, which can be disappointing and feel like a step backwards.

Signs that you may be at a good point to return to work are:
• You’re better able to regulate your emotions,
• Feelings of headaches and dizziness are easing,
• Fatigue isn’t being felt as often,
• You’re able to stay concentrated on a task for a good amount of time.

A neuropsychological assessment will usually be provided in the early stages of recovery from a brain injury to ensure your rehabilitation can get your back participating in work.

Communicate with your employer

The first step in returning to work is to communicate with your employer about your injury and your expected recovery timeline. This means discussing the impact of your brain injury on day to day tasks, what you might find difficult or need to practice, modifications that may be needed to your workspace or environment, or what support you’ve got in place to help with the transition back to work.

Why it’s key to have a good open dialogue with your employer:
• It helps your employer understand what a brain injury is and its impact, as many may be unsure of the difference between brain injury and a cognitive disability.
• It gives your employer an understanding of your needs and any necessary adjustments.
• It ensures that your employer is aware of any potential limitations you may have upon returning to work.
• It can help to establish a supportive and understanding work environment, which can be crucial for a successful return to work.

Start slowly

Returning to work after a brain injury can be overwhelming, so it’s important to start slowly and gradually increase your workload as you become more comfortable. This may mean working part-time, starting with a reduced workload, or even working from home initially. Taking breaks throughout the workday can be helpful in managing fatigue and other symptoms. This can be as simple as taking a 10-minute break every hour or so to rest and recharge.

Work with a Disability Employment Service

Many Australians living with a disability can access Disability Employment Services (DES), which help people find work and keep a job. Speaking with advocates at DES providers can be helpful in receiving assistance to prepare for, find, and keep a job.

Think about managing fatigue & concentration

Fatigue is very common after brain injury, and it can be a significant barrier to returning to work particularly when intense concentration or fast-paced decision making is required. You may find it easier to manage a workload if you can approach one task at a time, work in a quiet environment without distractions, and have a flexible schedule for rest breaks when needed.

Some common recommendations to manage fatigue and other symptoms when returning to work include having:
• plenty of rest periods
• routine and structure to tasks
• flexibility
• reduced hours
• supervision and support.

Legal issues

After rehabilitation some people manage to return to their jobs, only to lose them soon after. There may be grounds for objecting to this on the basis of discrimination. Please reach out to our team to discuss advocacy options if you find yourself in this situation.

Read our Factsheet on returning to work for more information.