Christine Husbands
   

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The Stroke Association’s report A New Era for Stroke says that the condition causes more disabilities than any other illness. Traditionally a stroke is associated with older people, but in fact, Different Strokes, a charity supporting young stroke survivors, is keen to promote the fact that it now affects one in four people of working age or younger – figures that are set to rise as the working population gets older.

Many stroke survivors want to return to work or gain new employment and become valued employees. However, evidence shows that most employers are un-prepared to support stroke survivors in the workplace. In fact, studies show that people of working age who have had a stroke are two to three times more likely to be unemployed 8 years after their stroke. This is despite employers having a responsibility to ensure that a disabled employee has the same rights and access to opportunities as able-bodied staff.

Duty of care
Employers should have a three-tier strategy to help employers deal with stroke: helping their employees to remain healthy and hopefully avoid having a stroke in the first place, ensuring a smooth return to work following a stroke and to actively support stroke victims in the workplace on an ongoing basis, as some people may never fully recover.

Under the Equality Act 2010, the employer needs to make a number of reasonable adjustments to the individual’s working environment and working practices. Depending on the type of stroke the employee experiences, and the speed and type of treatment received, they are likely to suffer from a number of effects, such as changes in their ability to communicate; their cognitive and physical abilities may be impaired; and they could be extremely fatigued.

A phased return to work may be necessary in order for the employee to build up their resilience to longer working hours. An employer should make adjustments to employee’s equipment and desk space where necessary.

Similarly, making adjustments to the individual’s working day – they may need to work fewer hours or from home, initially or permanently.

A lot of employers and employees don’t really understand what a stroke is, and ignorance can lead to managers and colleagues behaving in a way which leaves employees feeling vulnerable, exposed and isolated.

On the other hand, a well-managed return to work for a stroke survivor not only signals a return to normality and financial stability but it can boost their confidence and recovery too.

Employment is a very significant factor in life satisfaction following a stroke, not only from a financial perspective but it enables people to have the opportunity for social contacts and regain a valued status in society. Therefore for many, good work can be therapeutic in itself.

Health & wellbeing for all
A significant percentage of the workforce is over 55 and many mature employees are delaying retirement: some can simply not afford to retire but others choose to remain active and participate in the labour market. Although healthcare is taking great leaps forward all of the time, with all health conditions and disabilities more prevalent in this age group, employers will inevitably need to support employees to remain healthy in the workplace.

Employers should regularly review their health and wellbeing programmes to make sure they are used by all staff. Encouraging better, healthy behaviours, including supporting staff to stop smoking, maintain a heathy diet, exercise and drink less alcohol, could actually reduce the incidence of stroke overall.

Some employee health programmes do have a bias towards younger staff though and so care may need to be taken to ensure appropriateness for older staff too.

Group Income Protection can provide vital third party support
Employers will want to support the member of staff on a personal level but they will also need that individual to be productive within the workplace. Offering support via group income protection ensures that employees return to work when they are really ready and not due to financial pressures. Employers need to look for protection insurances that provide independent third-party support from medical staff that can provide emotional and professional advice to staff during their recovery. Employers should also ensure mental wellbeing support is available and that the individual knows how to access it – often victims of stroke become chronically tired which can lead to depression.

No set path to recovery
Stroke is an incredibly complicated condition and consequently there is no set way to recover – to work best, any support needs to be tailored to the individual and their specific circumstances.

That said, having a stroke is a life changing experience and people may find they develop empathy and additional skills, such as problem solving that can offer huge benefits to the employer.

Employers who support stroke survivors in the workplace demonstrate good practice which leads to good employee relations and promotes a positive image of the company.

Christine Husbands, Managing Director, RedArc Nurses

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