Where does work fit in my future?
Work is a very important part of our lives. Often, before people have a brain injury they were working, getting ready to commence work or participating in some kind of productive activity. Not being able to return to work can be very upsetting for some people. Often people worked five or six days a week and had little time for leisure before they had their brain injury Now, having a brain injury can mean you have a lot more spare time on your hands. For some people getting back to work is a milestone in their recovery. The secret to returning to work successfully is returning when you are ready - and not before!
How do I know if I am ready to go back to work?
Before you consider going back to work you need to answer YES to the following questions.
You are work-ready if you ask yourself the following questions and answer YES to all of them:
- Can I get myself up in the morning?
- Can I attend appointments on time?
- Can I accept direction and feedback from others?
- Can I travel independently?
- Am I fit enough to work a full/part day?
- Can I work for 1 hour without needing coffee or a smoke?
- Can I concentrate on a task for at least 30 minutes?
If you answered YES to the previous questions, you need to seek medical clearance. If you answer no to one of the above questions you can contact the occupational therapists at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program for retraining.
Sometimes, before your doctor provides medical clearance, you may need an assessment of your ability to return to work. This can be done at the Work Assessment Unit (WAD) or Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (CRS). Talk to your doctor or occupational therapist or case manager - you may need to participate in a program to develop your work readiness.
Once you have medical clearance the next step is to identify where you would like to work.
What area do I want to work in?
• It is good to have an idea of what area you want to work in. Think of what may interest you or what you may have worked in previously; Try and have 2 or 3 alternative options in case your first option does not work.
• It is also a good idea to be specific in the options you choose (eg. saying "I want to work outdoors" is too broad). Narrow this option down to ground keeping, maintenance, lawn mowing and so forth.
• If you are unsure of what area you want to work in, you can contact your case manager at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit (BIRU) who will refer you to an occupational therapist or a service which can assist in your getting back to work.
• Once you have identified an area you would like to try, think of what you will need to get this job. Some positions require experience, others require you to do a training course inside or outside of work hours.
Where can I find out about positions available?
- Shop windows
- Signs outside businesses
- Local paper
- Daily papers
- Friends or family
- Employment agencies
- Yellow pages
Prior to his accident Jackson was finishing up an apprenticeship as a car detailer. Jackson was keen to get back to work. He was aware that his memory limited his ability to remember everything he needed to do off the top of his head. Jackson liaised with the occupational therapist and the recreation officer at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit to see if there was anywhere he could have a go at getting back to work.
Jackson first of all participated in the work assessment car-detailing program. He demonstrated he remembered a lot of his previous abilities and was able to follow a checklist successfully. Participating in the program revealed he did have problems remembering every activity that needed to be done.
Jackson did a work trial with a local car-detailing company: He had to go through an interview process and work trial period. On this work trial Jackson found out how his memory disadvantaged him at work. Jackson trialed using checklists and found these enabled him to get everything done he needed to. Jackson was offered a permanent job because of the quality of work he did.
How do I know if I really would like that job?
Strategies for action
The best thing to do is to enquire about jobs before you decide to go for one. Some jobs may sound good or easy, but do you know what the job involves? If you are interested in a job, try the following:
1. Ring up a similar job and ask what is involved.
2. Talk to someone who works in that job to see what exactly is involved.
3. Call the person and ask the employer for details.
You need to find out what you need in order to get that job.
Some good questions to find out information include:
- What are the working hours?
- Do I need a resume?
- Do I need a medical certificate?
- Do I need to work around lots of people?
- What are the duties?
- Do I need a drivers' licence or specific qualifications?
- Does the position require you to work alone or with a team?
- Is there a uniform?
- How long before you can take a break?
- What are the physical skills required?
How long can I sit for?
How long can I stand for?
Do I have the skills to do this job?
Once you know exactly what is involved in a particular job, you need to determine if you fit that job or if it is really what you thought it would be. Ask yourself the following:
- Can I physically do this job?
- Have I done this work before?
- Am I prepared to learn a new job from the start?
NB: If you are not sure if you can do a job, you may need to be assessed for your work-skills first.
Do I want part-time or full-time work?
If you decide that you can work in the job you have chosen you then need to determine if you are capable of full or part-time work.
If you find you get physically or mentally tired, and that your behaviour changes as you get more tired, you may need to consider part-time work.
If you do not get tired and you are able to concentrate for long periods of time, then you may be able to work full-time.
Again, if you are not sure of how you will manage, you may need to be assessed in a work setting by an occupational therapist.
Do I want paid or unpaid work?
Everyone wants to work for money. Sometimes, however, you may need to start with volunteer work or work experience to see if you can cope with a job.
Work trials can be organised to see if you are able to work in the area you have chosen. Work trials are also good to see if you have made the right job choice or if you like the job.
Sometimes work experience or trials can move into paid employment.
Volunteers are always required at pet shelters, meals-on-wheels, hospital charities, and so forth.
Services which can help you find work trials, work experience or paid work include:
- The work assessment unit
- Breakthru Personnel
- Direct Personnel
- Occupational Therapist at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit
How can I apply for a position?
Now that you have decided what job you want, and that the job is suited to you, you must now prepare yourself to apply for that job.
The following is a checklist, which will allow you to successfully apply for a job:
1. Call the employer and ask for details of the job
Ask questions, for exmaple:
- Is it full-time, part-time or casual?
- What the job consists of?
- How many people will you be working with?
- When does it commence?
- Anything else you can think of.
2. Prepare your resume or CV
What is a resume?
A resume is a detailed list of your work history, educational background and personal interests. It is a means for the employer to learn more about you and your commitment to a job.
How do I make my own resume?
A resume is usually typed up on 2-3 pages. If you cannot type or do not have access to a computer, you may need to find someone who can help you with this. The Work Assessment Unit or an occupational therapist who is part of the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit program can provide you with the structure and resources to complete your personal resume or you can pay a private company.
The following is a guide to what a resume should include:
EDUCATION: (eg. tertiary background)
- University / TAFE: Date: Results:
- Secondary School: Date: Results:
WORK EXPERIENCE: (eg. - start with most recent job & work backwards) include:
- Period of employment
- Position held
- Employer (name, suburb)
- Duties/skills you performed
VOLUNTEER WORK: (if any)
OTHER QUALIFICATIONS: (eg. - any courses, awards, club memberships etc)
REFEREES: - you need to list at least 2/3 people who an employer can contact to ask about your work performance. - you may want to include former employers; teachers or relevant people.
3. Prepare a cover letter to attach to the CV
When you apply for a job you usually have to apply in writing. This means you need to send in your resume and a short application letter BEFORE the dosing date specified in the advertisement.
4. What is a 'Letter of Application'?
A letter of application is a short letter that introduces yourself and explains that you are going for the advertised job (quote the name and number of the job if there is one).
The letter also gives a quick summary of your work history and how it relates to the job you are going for. It is important to write about all the qualities asked for in the advertisement.
Finish the letter by explaining that you are happy to go for an interview and leave a contact number.
Remember to always keep a copy of the letter and your resume with you.
5. What happens if I get an interview?
Every interview is different. They may be long or short. They may ask lots of questions or only 3 or 4 main questions. You may have between one and three people interviewing you.
6. Remember your body language and the message it is sending!
Whatever the structure of the interview the following helpful hints will always be vital for you to remember.
REMEMBER Do not be late. If anything, arrive 15 minutes before your interview so that you are not rushed and flustered.
When you are in the Interview - RELAX!
Dress neat and tidy.
Males should wear trousers, leather shoes, and a shirt with a collar and remember to shower beforehand.
Females should wear pants/knee length skirt, blouse, stockings, shoes, and shower beforehand.
Body language is very important
Your body language sends a very powerful message
Your posture, how you sit, and what you do with your hands convey messages.
It can be hard when you are nervous, but try and sit still with your hands in your lap or on the table.
Do not fidget or play with papers or your hands.
Remember to always make eye contact with the person who asked you the question and smile.
Answer questions clearly - Do not mumble or "um" and "ah" too much. Have an idea of answers you will give.
An employer will always ask what experience you have, so have your work history and experience memorised.
An employer wants to know if you are flexible and committed so be prepared to answer that you are willing to do extra work/hours if the need arises.
An employer wants to know if you can work with other people in a team environment.
Always have at least 1 or 2 questions ready to ask the employer. This shows you are eager and committed. You might ask about the work conditions of the job; days you are required to work; if you need your own equipment and so forth.
Practise what you are going to say. How you are going to sit. Imagine what might happen. Imagine it being a positive experience and you being relaxed.
James was an apprentice chef when he had his accident. James wanted to return to work and participated in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit's Cafe Program. James showed he was fast enough preparing the food, could remember instructions that were said to him and could follow the recipe. James main problem was the pain in his legs when he stood for a long time.
James participated in the job search club at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit. He prepared his personal resume and brushed up on his interviewing skills by role-playing with other group members and staff. James started looking through the papers for positions and started approaching local restaurants to see if they needed a chef.
Attached is a copy of a letter James wrote to apply for a position and his personal resume. James is now working with the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (CRS). They are supporting him in finding employment.
Who can I contact if I'm having difficulty at work or I lose my job?
Sometimes, even if you are trying your hardest to do the best job you can, things still aren't quite right. It can be difficult to believe that you can't do the job as well as you used to or that your performance isn't up to scratch.
Most times, if your employer thinks you could be working harder, he or she will talk with you. This may be an informal chat where your employer asks how things are going, or it could be a formal meeting where you are told you need to improve your performance or you will lose your job.
These can be fairly stressful for you and your employer. Nobody likes to get told they aren't doing something properly. Pride can be hurt. It is important to remember to stay calm when in these situations. Sometimes people can become emotional and say things, which later on they regret. For some people who have had a brain injury it can be difficult to control their emotions. If you have difficulty controlling your emotions, See Section 7 My behaviour's changed for some tips on managing behaviour such as aggression and anxiety.
Strategies for action
When you first get an idea that you are having difficulty at work, or you are spoken to by your employer, the best thing to do is to stay calm. Here are a few things you can do:
Ask your employer what areas you can improve in. Write these down and talk with your occupational therapist, case manager or a person who may be supporting you in returning to work. If you are not involved with anyone, call your local brain injury unit and ask to speak to an occupational therapist. They may be able to help you work out how you can improve these areas.
If you are having a formal meeting, ask your case manager or occupational therapist, or whoever is working with you to return you to work, to attend with you. It may be that the difficulties are related to your brain injury and some strategies might enable you to overcome these problems.
What do I do if I have lost my job?
If you have lost your job, don't be discouraged. Talk to someone. The occupational therapist at your local brain injury rehabilitation unit is a good person to start with. If you have been working with another service to get back to work, talk to the case manager or contact person.
With that person you can talk about what you think went wrong and why you lost your job. If you are not sure why you lost your job, you can work out some questions with your support person or occupational therapist to ask your employer. If you don't feel that you can contact them, the occupational therapist may speak to your employer and identify what the difficulties were. With this information you can be more aware of where you have to improve. You might then be able to participate in a program to increase your skills.
It might be that you have all the necessary skills and there was not enough work. In this case you can go to Centrelink to look for another position or go through a return to work agency, such as the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. Following are some ideas where you can find different work options.