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6 strategies for getting back to work after brain injury

Mon 08 Oct 2018

While not everyone can return to employment after brain injury, for many people it is a realistic and often essential goal. A long absence and the ongoing effects of a brain injury can make it seem overwhelming, but with the right support and planning, many people do successfully get back to work. 

We've put together a list of six strategies to help you get back to work after brain injury:

Seek support

It is important to choose a job that is right for you; even though you will likely know best about your personal skills, interests and experience, it can be very useful to seek advice and support from family, close friends and professional services. This can be particularly helpful if you experience memory issues, difficulties with making decisions or reduced self-awareness. Remember that accepting help from others is a sign of strength, not weakness, and the right support can make a successful return to work much easier.

Only return when you’re ready

One of the most common problems brain injury survivors face when returning to work is that they return too soon because they do not realise how the effects of their brain injury will impact on their work performance. This is a particular problem when a good physical recovery has been made, as people often assume that cognitive abilities have also recovered. Returning to work often reveals the full extent of difficulties and returning too soon can damage confidence if performance doesn’t meet expectations.

It is advisable to avoid making major decisions and becoming involved in stressful situations until you feel you are ready. This is especially the case in jobs with high levels of stress and pressure and where margins for error are small. Mistakes made because of the injury could damage your confidence and hinder recovery.

Be honest with yourself, prepare as much as possible and don’t try to rush your recovery. Remember, try not to take on overtime, shift work or new responsibilities until you feel ready.

Be positive, but realistic

The attitude you have towards returning to work is very important. Research has shown that the following factors are particularly influential:

Thinking positively does not just mean saying, “I will go back to work”, but rather it means carefully considering and planning the best options. It means asking yourself, “what can I do?”, “what am I going to have difficulty with?” and “how do I manage the problems?”

There is a balance to be found between positivity and realism. Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and loss of self-esteem, and it is very important to think carefully about the effects of the injury and their impact on your abilities. However, it is equally important to be positive and committed in the path you choose to follow.

Communicate with your employer

You do not have a legal duty to disclose your brain injury to an employer and they are not allowed to ask questions about your health unless it is directly related to the job requirements. However, you should always disclose information related to your health if it may put yourself or other people at risk. The following suggestions can help to ensure that you are keeping communication open with your employer:

Communicate with your colleagues

Again, it is up to you whether you tell colleagues about your brain injury and its effects. If you are returning to your previous job then they will know you have been away, so it can be better to tell them something about the situation. Don’t feel that you have to share anything you aren’t comfortable with, but it will help people to understand and make some allowances if you are as honest as possible. The following suggestions are worth considering:

Practice a structured home programme

It is important to be as prepared as possible before returning to work. An effective way of doing this is to follow a programme to assess and develop the skills that will be required.

The aim is to be able to mimic a working week, so try to follow your programme throughout regular working hours. Try to do this for at least two weeks before returning to work.

Some suggestions for a structured home programme are: 

Find out more

This information is taken from our factsheet Returning to work after brain injury (PDF). You can download this and the other factsheets in this series on our main returning to work page, or browse all of our brain injury factsheets and e-booklets on the information library.

Headway's network of groups and branches across the country offer a range of support to people with brain injury, their family and carers. You can find a Headway near you in the In your area section. 

To discuss any of the issues covered here, please contact our helpline on 0808 800 2244 or


My story

Steve's story

"For some people returning to work is possible after brain injury, but without doubt it will be a real struggle."

Steve Borland’s story of how he returned to working for a steel company following a brain haemorrhage in 2016, just shows what can be achieved if people are provided with the correct support.

Read story

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