Traditionally we associate a stroke as a condition that affects older people, but in fact one in four now occur to people of working age or younger: that number is set to rise as the working population gets older. RedArc statistics show that 60 per cent of the stroke patients that the organisation supports are between the ages of 40 and 59 – well within the confines of what is considered traditional working age.
With many health conditions and disabilities more prevalent in older workers, employers will increasingly need to support employees to remain healthy in the workplace, and to have strategies in place to ensure a smooth return to work from serious illnesses.
The condition and the legalities
A stroke occurs when the blood supply is cut off to the brain which can cause some areas of the brain to be damaged or die. The individual can be left with serious physical and mental impairments, depending on where it happens in the brain.
Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer has a responsibility to ensure that a disabled employee has the same rights and access to opportunities as able-bodied staff. This may mean that the employer needs to make a number of reasonable adjustments to the individual’s working environment and working practices.
Christine Husbands, managing director, RedArc commented:
“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 lot of people 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.”
Dealing with a suspected stroke in the workplace
As well as dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, it is important to be aware that they can occur at any time, including at work.
This is not something that can be self-managed and if you suspect an employee is having a stroke, don’t wait for a first aider to arrive, call 999 immediately.
Depending on the severity of the stroke, symptoms may be subtle or severe. Before you can help, you need to know what to watch for. To check for warning signs of a stroke, use the FAST acronym, which stands for:
- Face: Is the face numb or does it droop on one side?
- Arms: Is one arm numb or weaker than the other? Does one arm stay lower than the other when trying to raise both arms?
- Speech: Is speech slurred or garbled?
- Time: If you answered yes to any of the above, call emergency services immediately.
Improving support for stroke survivors at work – advice from RedArc nurses:
Stroke survivors will face many personal challenges during their recovery, and there is much that employers can do to help:
• Put financial support in place such as group income protection – this is to ensure that employees return to work when they are really ready and not due to financial pressures.
• Look for protection insurances that provide independent third-party support from medical staff who can provide emotional and professional advice to staff during their recovery.
• Consider whether the individual’s current role will be suitable after the illness, and discuss other options if they are worried about coping with a demanding job.
• Keeping-in-touch days and a phased return to work may be necessary in order for the employee to build up their resilience to longer working hours.
• Make adjustments to employee’s equipment and desk space where necessary.
• Similarly, make adjustments to the individual’s working day – they may need to work fewer hours or from home, initially or permanently, and they may have difficulty with travelling to external meetings.
• Review whether the staff member may need training – either to refresh existing skills after a period of absence or to train for a new opportunity.
• 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.
• With the individual’s permission, discuss the changes that are being made with the employee’s close peers and line managers so that the employee has a network of understanding and supportive colleagues.
• Maintain open lines of communication and be flexible – what an employee thinks they can manage, may in fact not be suitable or perhaps they may gradually be able to take on more than they thought.
Christine Husbands, added:
“Unfortunately a stroke usually strikes out of the blue and even if employees haven’t suffered the stroke themselves, they may have a partner or other family member who has, immediately forcing the employee in to a role as carer. Much of this advice, such as offering flexible and home working and making adjustments to their new circumstances, may also apply to those employees caring for stroke survivors too.
“Finally, employers should monitor their health and wellbeing programmes to make sure they are used by all staff – not just those who might be expected to respond to gym vouchers, or boot-camp challenges. By encouraging better health behaviours, including supporting staff to stop smoking, maintain a healthy diet, exercise and drink less alcohol, the incidence of stroke could be reduced overall.”