7 ways to support an employee after a heart attack

According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), around 1.4 million people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack, with many managing to successfully return to work.

The speed at which an employee can return to work varies and is dependent on both the physical state of their heart and the kind of work they do. The NHS suggests that an office worker whose job involves only light duties may be able to return in as little as two weeks, whereas a manual worker or somebody whose heart was extensively damaged, may need several months to recover.

Returning to work following a heart attack can be very daunting for anyone, regardless of the type of job they do. Here’s 7 ways you can offer your help and support to your employees:

1. Plan a phased return

Returning to work, even for just a few hours a week, can really help to boost an employee’s confidence and self-esteem. Reduced hours and duties will allow your employee to ease back into work without feeling too overwhelmed, while gradually building back up to their usual routine.

2. Be considerate 

It’s extremely common for someone who has suffered a heart attack to be feeling quite low and anxious. A British Heart Foundation survey found that over half of respondents with a heart condition had in fact experienced some form of anxiety or depression. This is definitely something to be aware and understanding of. Read more about how you can help manage your employees’ mental health.

3. Set manageable goals 

Come up with some realistic and achievable goals for your employee to work towards. Not only will this give them something different to focus on besides their recovery, it’ll also remind them that they are valued and worthwhile.

4. Be in the know

Some people could be at risk of having another heart attack. It's important to be able to spot the signs of a potential heart attack in the workplace. You can familiarise yourself with these 10 common heart attack symptoms. It’s also worth being aware of any heart-related medications your employee may now be required to take, in case of an emergency.

As well as heart attacks, awareness of cardiac arrest is important too. Statistics show that there are more than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year - with a survival rate of less than 1 in 10. Ensure your company first aiders are fully trained and qualified in CPR. 

5. Provide time off for health appointments

Although HR regulation states employers do not have to give employees paid time off for health appointments, they do have a duty under the Equality Act 2010, to make reasonable adjustments to prevent an employee being at a disadvantage because of their health condition. With this in mind, try to be as accommodating as possible to your returning employee, who may be required to attend regular check-up appointments.

6. Manage workplace stress

Previously the link between constant stress and heart and circulatory disease has focused on the lifestyle habits people adopt when feeling stressed, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating a poor diet. However, research published in The Lancet shows a direct link, caused by higher activity in the area of the brain that processes emotions.

Following a heart attack, your employee may be experiencing high anxiety, limiting their ability to cope with the pressure and demands of work. You can help to manage this by reducing workload, extending deadlines, offering recognition and working to your employee’s particular strengths and personality traits.

7. Promote a healthy workplace

With over 100,000 UK hospital admissions every year due to heart attacks - one every five minutes, the British Heart Foundation is urging employers to actively encourage healthier work lifestyles. By introducing initiatives like ‘walking meetings’, alcohol-free socials and flexible working, promoting a culture of healthy snacking and supporting your employees with a Health and Wellbeing package, you can really help to boost healthy hearts in your workplace.