Skip to content

Table of contents | PDF Library

Effective workplace communication with employees with acquired brain injury


Talking about changes

Change is an inevitable part of any workplace and can be uncomfortable. Talking about the changes before, during and after they happen is a key factor in how well people cope with the change.

Change can create difficulties for people with ABI because of the problems they may have in adjusting to the new circumstances. Whenever possible, prepare employees well for change and set up things to create the best conditions for learning how to deal with them. Every employee with ABI will react differently to change and the size or extent of the changes is not necessarily going to determine their impact on an individual.

A range of things commonly change in the workplace.

Personnel. Any new person in the work environment brings about a change to the group dynamic. Adding a new team member may mean individuals feel that their status has changed. Changes amongst people with high reference authority (authority through position) such as supervisors/support workers can lead to problems if they are not managed properly. Supported employees can become quite anxious if their supervisor changes – they experience a fear of the unknown. This can occur even if the relationship is not a particularly positive one – better the devil you know!

Status. This requires learning about how to cope with a different level of authority – either your own or someone else's. For example, an employee moving from one task where he was solely responsible for the whole job, to another task where he is just one of ten people doing the same thing, may grieve for the old situation.

Task. People with ABI can find it very hard to transfer skills from one situation to another because their thinking may have become very inflexible as a result of the injury.

Environment. People with ABI are often very sensitive to changes to timeframes, equipment, place etc, because of their reliance on routine, structure and familiarity. These structures and routines play a very important role in their ability to go about their own daily routines and tasks.


Cleo moved sections over a year ago, yet she still has trouble finding her locker key each morning. When she worked at Merri Clean, her key hung on a special hook in the supervisor's room. Now it's kept just inside a small cupboard in Em's office. Although she gets frequent prompts and reassurances, Cleo still cannot remember this and becomes agitated every day when she arrives.


After several safety incidents while he was driving the forklift, Malcolm has been moved to another job at Frame Up. Although this change and the reason for it was carefully explained to him, he has not so far been able to accept it. He is angry and seems very confused about the reasons for the change. If you ask him why he was moved, he tells you that Paul is victimising him.

Malcolm has contacted an advocate to represent him in trying to get his former role back. He refuses to acknowledge that his driving was unsafe.

From Em's notebook

I have taken some photos of the cupboard where we keep Cleo's locker key and put them in her diary. There's one of her key, one of the cupboard, and one of the door to this office with its sign on it. Now when she comes to the office each day saying she can't find her key, we just tell her to open her diary and look at the photo. She still doesn't seem to be quite getting it though because she's making no attempt to open her diary and look at the photo before she gets frustrated. I suppose there has been progress though. At least now she's coming to us rather than just standing there crying.


  1. Prepare people for change. It is especially important to prepare people with ABI for changes. They may depend a great deal on established routines and structures. Ensure that you:

Next Monday when you get to work your lockers will be in a different area. We are moving the lockers over the weekend to the room at the end of the corridor near the door to the courtyard. It is a bigger room so it will be easier to get to your locker at lunchtime or before you go home. We'll be putting the folding machine in the old locker room so its noise doesn't drive us all mad. What do you think about this?

Alex, now that you have finished that order how about we have a talk about the change to the locker room.

You look a bit worried Carmen. Do you have a question about the change to the locker room? …

Yes. Will my locker still be next to Lallie's?

Yes it will. Is that OK with you?

Yes. She always helps me with my coat when I finish work.

  1. Once change is implemented, monitor how people are reacting to it.
  1. Establish and train the person in the new routine.

Return to top