Concussions, although often associated with sports, are also surprisingly prevalent in the workplace and can actually have significant implications for employee productivity, safety, and overall job satisfaction. It’s crucial that employers are able to understand the signs and impact of concussion on employees, as this is paramount to creating a supportive and inclusive workplace environment.

But why is this so key? Well, a brain injury of some description is sustained every 90 seconds in the UK (every 6 seconds in the US in fact) so it’s much more common than you might think. It is imperative that employers are aware of the impact that even milder injuries can have. It is more than likely with these statistics that employers will often need to implement policies and strategies to ensure the wellbeing of their staff.

Employers play a crucial role in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of their employees. Concussions, also referred to as mild traumatic brain injury are often associated with sports, falls or bicycle accidents, as well even innocuous events such as car boot closures, slips, or sadly as a result of domestic violence.  As an employer, understanding the signs and impact of concussion and other types of brain injuries in employees is paramount to creating a supportive and inclusive workplace environment.

Identifying Signs of Concussion in Employees

Recognising the signs of concussion in employees is a critical first step toward providing timely support and intervention, both for the short and long-term wellbeing of the employee. Often many of us are only educated to observe for signs of sleepiness, vomiting or nausea, but other physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and sensitivity to light or noise may also indicate a potential concussion.

However, other markers such as ringing in the ears, a sense of the world moving differently or balance problems/vertigo can be an indicator that not everything is well.  Additionally, cognitive challenges such as memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and slowed thinking processes are common post-concussion indicators. This may present as problems with word finding, muddled thoughts or confusion. It may indeed appear that an individual looks started and overwhelmed. Emotional changes, including mood swings, irritability, and anxiety, can also signal a concussion-related issue that requires attention.

Fatigue is a huge marker post-head injury, which will present as extreme tiredness or low tolerance of tasks, plus poor/subpar performance.

Impact of Concussion on Employee Well-being

Concussions can significantly impact an employee’s well-being and performance in the workplace. The physical implications of a concussion may restrict an employee’s ability to engage in certain tasks, resulting in decreased productivity and potential safety concerns. Cognitive challenges post-concussion can affect decision-making abilities, focus, and overall cognitive function, impacting job performance and efficiency.

Emotional struggles stemming from a concussion can lead to increased stress, reduced motivation, and challenges in interpersonal relationships at work. Sleep is often impacted, as well as the ability to maintain a healthy diet and exercise due to both physical and mental symptoms. This is not solely a psychological reaction to having hurt one’s head, the effects felt are very real and impact different people differently.

Often when an injury is sustained by what appears to be a rather minor event, a person can often hide the effects for fear of being perceived as problematic or attention seeking. This in itself can have a large impact on wellbeing, attendance and engagement in the workplace.

Creating a Supportive Workplace Environment

Employers can cultivate a supportive workplace environment by implementing accommodations tailored to meet the needs of employees recovering from a brain injury. This might include things like: Flexible work schedules; reduced screen time; modified duties, and a clear communication channel for employees to disclose their condition.Screen filters, overlays and quieter environments aid overstimulation as well as fostering an understanding to other colleagues.

Providing training to managers on how to effectively support concussed and brain injured employees and encouraging open dialogues about concussion awareness can foster a culture of understanding and empathy in the workplace, thus encouraging a further sense of support and psychological safety.

Strategies for Safe Return-to-Work

When helping employees return to work after a concussion or other brain injury, gradual return-to-work plans are essential to ensure a safe and successful transition. Monitoring progress through regular check-ins, assessments, and collaboration with anyone involved in the individual’s recovery can facilitate a smooth return-to-work process.

Screen time should be limited to 20 minutes with a 2-minute break, then at least a 10-minute break every hour. In the early stages return to work should be started at 2 hours per day where possible, in early stages, building up to 4 then 6, whilst still implementing the micro breaks and longer breaks. Lunch break should be a minimum of 45 minutes, with a 15-20 minute break in the morning and afternoon. Some may require rest days in between, or a move to work from home for a time.

Of course, every individual’s circumstances are different and this should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. By promoting recovery holistically and supporting employees beyond physical healing, employers can contribute to the overall well-being and resilience of their workforce. It is likely of course that financial implications of reduced hours make such graded returns prohibitive for many, with individuals pushing on through. Being aware of the signs to look for in terms of mood and productivity will enable employees to assess the impact of this. Generous and robust sickness pay policies can ensure that employees are afforded the right time to rest and recover.

Often a return to work too soon, or too quickly, without accommodations leads to recurrent sick days, long term absences and a greater impact on the organisation. Facilitating gradual returns that are tapered where required increases the likelihood of a positive recovery and long term return to work.

Preventative Measures and Education

Prioritising workplace safety to minimise the risk of head injuries and concussions is instrumental in creating a secure work environment. Educational workshops that increase awareness among employees about concussion and brain injury causes outside the workplace, symptoms, reporting procedures, and available resources can empower individuals to take proactive steps in safeguarding their health and wellbeing.

There are 1000s of injuries that are unreported due to dismissal of minor symptoms, but this can have complex consequences, both in the short and long term. If anyone notices a change in their behaviour, new physical symptoms, or a sense that something is not right in either themselves or another, they should seek medical attention. The majority of mild or moderate injuries are not detected on scanning equipment, but it does not mean there is not considerable damage on a cellular level, which causes a large host of symptoms listed. Repetitive and multiple concussions can also have different outcomes, potentially leading to early onset dementia and CTE.

Employers should encourage good measurements of cognitive health and skill baselines, and monitor overtime.  Establishing access and referral to rehabilitation services and support networks further reinforces the commitment to employee health and safety.

Natalie Mackenzie
Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist at The Brain Injury Therapist | Website | + posts

Natalie Mackenzie is a Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist with over 20 years experience providing support and education to those living with brain injury. As a certified brain injury specialist training she provides training and education to survivors, families, health professionals, employers and schools. Natalie also provides cognitive health assessments for those looking to understand and maintain their cognitive health, as well as programs to promote cognitive wellbeing.