Returning To Work After A Stroke

Look at going back to work as part of your recovery, rather than the end of your recovery.

When you feel you may be ready to return, your employer should work with you to identify what your needs are and what adjustments they can make to help you. 

Think about a phased return, this means a gradual return to work starting off part-time and building up to full time hours, to ease back into work gently.

Travel

Travelling to work can be tiring. You might need support with the journey if you have a physical disability or sight loss. You could try the journey on a non-workday to find out how you manage. You could also ask to work from home some of the time. This could be a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to help you back to work. 

Driving

After a stroke, by law you are not allowed to drive for a minimum of one month. After that, depending on the type of stroke you had, your type of disability and the kind of driving licence you hold, you may be able to start driving again. Some people might not be able to drive for a longer period or can lose their licence. 

What do I need to do?

If you have an occupational therapist, they can talk about the work you were doing before your stroke and help you to set realistic goals about returning.

They can advise on aids or equipment that you may need.

If you’re employed, your employer may have an occupational health service to help staff back to work after illness.

You may be able to get access to a specialist vocational rehabilitation professional through your employer or local authority. Speak to your occupational therapist, employer or GP to find out more. 

Create a return-to-work plan

Returning to work doesn’t necessarily mean returning to the same job with the same roles and responsibilities. Even if you can no longer do exactly the same role you did before, there may still be other options to explore. It’s important that you think about whether your expectations, skills and stamina match up to the work you want to do.

  • Information about the effects of your stroke: you don’t need to go into lots of medical detail, just a summary of the effects of the stroke. Look at each effect in turn and think about practical steps you can take to address each one.
     

Your tasks:

  • The focus should be on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Take a look at your job description with your line manager or human resources officer. Talk about the tasks you can do to start with, and what you feel you could work up to later. Try to think about practical solutions to things that might be difficult for you, such as using equipment or lifting objects. Share your ideas with your employer and try to work together to come up with solutions.
     

Hours of work:

  • You could look at the option of phasing your return. This means starting part-time and gradually increasing the number of hours and days you work. Think about what may work best for you, such as starting later if you need longer to get up and out of the house. You may need longer breaks to help you manage any fatigue.
     

Review:

  • Regular reviews are important to help you see how you’re managing your tasks. They also let your employer feedback about how they feel things are going.
  • Think about how this will take place and agree the time frame and expectations. It could be informal, such as 20 minutes every week with your line manager. Keep some brief notes of each meeting. 

Communicating the stroke to team members

You can help decide how to share information about your stroke with other members of staff.

You may choose not to tell them you’ve had a stroke, just that you’ll return part-time and that your tasks have changed. Another option is an email could be sent to your team from your line manager, with text that has been agreed by you.

Breaks

Many people will need to have more frequent breaks to help beat fatigue, such as five minutes after every hour worked. 

Time off for appointments

If you need time off for hospital appointments or therapy, bring this up early on and get it agreed with your employer. Some employers have a disability leave policy. This can allow you some time off to go to appointments connected to a disability. It’s one of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that employers can make to support people with disabilities. Visit ’Your rights at work’ page for more information about reasonable adjustments. 

Take a flexible approach

While you’re still recovering from a stroke, new effects can emerge over time. You might find that the support you need changes too. You might need less or more support with certain things.  If you’re having regular meetings with your manager, you can talk about these changes and how they’re affecting your work. 

You can talk about the things you find difficult, and also let them know if you’re feeling ready to take on more or different tasks. This doesn’t have to be a formal meeting, it can be over a cup of coffee for half an hour on a Friday to see how the week has gone. It can be a good idea to keep brief notes and summarise any actions. Either you or your manager can make the notes, but make sure you agree to them. 

Changes at work

There may have been changes within your organisation while you were away on sick leave. If possible, find out about any changes and their likely effects on you or your position before you go back to work, and talk to your manager if you are concerned. 

Keep a diary

This can be very simple: just a log of any key dates such as when you took on more or different tasks and how they went. This can help you to see how you’re progressing and re-build your confidence.

“I often wondered: ‘Am I doing ok?’ I think having a diary or keeping a note of when I took on additional tasks would have helped me to see the progress I was making.” Henry, stroke survivor. 

Talking to colleagues about your stroke

You may be understandably nervous about how colleagues will react to you and the fact you had a stroke.

Remember it’s your choice whether you discuss your stroke with colleagues. Sometimes being open and answering questions can help people to understand and be more supportive. 

Don’t be embarrassed or apologise for the effects of your stroke. It can help your colleagues if you explain what a stroke is and how it has affected you, particularly if the effects are ‘invisible’.

“I was often told I didn’t look like I’d had a stroke. I could tell my team were wondering why I was doing such reduced tasks. I think telling them would’ve helped them to understand my memory problems and educated them a bit about stroke.” Harvinder, stroke survivor. 

Top tips

  • ​It’s important to have open, regular communication with your employer.
     
  • Talk to your employer about having a designated person or “buddy” (not necessarily your line manager) who can support you on a day-to-day basis. 
     
  • Some stroke survivors struggle to talk about their difficulties or may not wish to. Remember it can be difficult for your employer to understand ‘hidden problems’ such as fatigue.
     
  • Try to remain open and encourage your employer to do the same.
     
  • Ask them to be as supportive and patient as they can.
     
  • Talk to other stroke survivors 

Examples of reasonable adjustments:

  • Getting more time to complete tasks.
  • Getting help from a support worker.
  • Changing the time you start and finish work to avoid rush hour travel.
  • Changing tasks to suit what a person can do.
  • Changing targets or getting support from other colleagues to meet targets.
  • Reducing working hours. You are only legally entitled to be paid for the hours you actually work, but your employer should discuss any changes in pay with you. If your terms of employment and pay have been changed you can seek individual advice from Acas. 
  • Being allowed to take time off to attend hospital appointments.
  • Regular meetings with your manager to see how the tasks set are going.
  • Working in a quieter office.
  • Having help from an occupational health team.

Be clear about your support needs