Returning to work after stroke: the highs and lows

roger outside his home

Roger shares his story of returning to work after a stroke, overcoming adversity and his determination to reclaim his professional life.

Getting back to work

I had gone to the hospital early that morning to get the details for my mum's death certificate, who died only days prior to my stroke. I assumed that a combination of the death of my mother and the stress of the situation contributed to me having a stroke. However, after seven months of therapy thanks to the excellent support of the Stroke Association and my speech therapists at St. George's Hospital and those supplied by the NHS in Croydon, I began to plan a path back into the world of work. This gave me a fighting chance to return to a career similar to what I had prior to my stroke.

I was able to secure a couple of interviews for policy officer roles within local government and while for the first interview, I was reluctant to tell them I had suffered a stroke, by the second interview I was more confident to be honest about my health situation and told the interviewers prior to the interview that I suffered from aphasia due to stroke. The heartening thing was that both the interviewers (one would become a close colleague and my manager) said that there was no indication in how I answered any of the questions that there was an issue with my speech or my thought processes. I was able to secure employment in July 2019 and started my new job as a Senior Policy Officer in September 2019.

After learning and preparing to go back to work, I shared the information from my speech therapists with my new employers. This was to they could support me in the future and help me perform well. The managers and colleagues I worked with were very helpful. My new manager talked with me to figure out what kind of support I needed when I started. They made sure my colleagues knew what to do, like checking my work and reviewing documents for the Committee and Policy function. This gave me confidence to do my job without being afraid to make mistakes or ask for help. As a result, my first two years back at work were really successful.

Difficulties at work

Unfortunately, the local authority I worked for underwent a restructure – resulting in other colleagues leaving to seek employment elsewhere – This led to significant changes in my work environment. My manager also left, resulting in new management for my team. Ideally, this transition should have been smooth, but it wasn't. I struggled to transfer the confidence I had in the previous management to the new one. I explained my specific needs to the new management, but they asked me to provide the information again. It seemed like they didn't fully grasp the non-physical effects of a stroke and the damage it caused.

If they had consulted HR, they would have received the necessary information. Unfortunately, the new management failed to ensure that the support I had previously received was continued in the new team. This initially created instability for me. Fortunately, I had a supportive colleague who joined me in the new team. He voluntarily offered to proofread and review my work without any extra compensation. My management, however, were unsupportive and seemed to believe that providing such support was not their responsibility when taking over the team.

Lessons learned

The first lesson of this story is to ensure that any accommodations you have arranged upon returning to work are properly documented in the system. Don't rely solely on the presence of a supportive manager or colleagues, as circumstances can change over time.

The second lesson is to not assume that all managers will be as supportive as your current one(s), especially if there are organisational changes. While some managers may be good, it's important to be prepared for the possibility of a less supportive manager in the future.

Fortunately, I was able to provide external evidence of my medical condition and the challenges I faced. I had been involved in a campaign with the Stroke Association, focusing on life after a stroke and the potential for recovery and a successful future. By showcasing my work in this area, I was able to advocate for the necessary support to be implemented for me.

I understand that not everyone may possess the same level of resilience as myself, but it's crucial to persist and not accept "no" as an answer. You deserve to have the tools and accommodations that enable you to perform your job at a high standard. These adjustments are important for all of us. For example, if you work in a field similar to mine, having a high-performance laptop could greatly impact your work. We must strive to educate employers about the specific needs of stroke survivors in the workplace and push for their full understanding and support.

For more information about returning to work after stroke for yourself and your employer, visit our page Going back to work after stroke.

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