Proud father celebrating daughters graduation

Unwavering support when a return to work simply isn’t possible

Around 100,000 people have strokes in the UK every year and 1 in 4 of them happen to people of working age.1 With the right support and guidance, many people can return to work after a stroke. Equally, some people require a period of rehabilitation to recover their former independence. But with the common effects of stroke including physical and cognitive problems, fatigue and aphasia — difficulty speaking or understanding language — many sufferers will find themselves unable to pick up the reins of their old life and possibly forced to give up their jobs as a result. We talk to one stroke sufferer whose career was cut short about how he coped, and how the financial and practical support he received from Unum has made all the difference to his life since.

1 Stroke statistics; A complete guide to stroke for employers 

Pints of beer

When life changes in a minute

Paul Marshall comes across as a ‘glass half full’ man — warm, convivial and with a self-deprecating sense of humour. A positivity of outlook which was to stand him in good stead when, in May 2005, he suffered a totally unexpected and severe stroke, rendering him unable to work at the age of just 48.

“It was a Tuesday and I’d been to the rugby club, enjoyed a couple of pints,” recalls Paul. “Then I headed home and the last thing I remember is going towards the bathroom. I woke up four days later in hospital with no idea what was going on.” Paul’s confusion was exacerbated further when, on his declaration that he was ‘jolly thirsty’, the assembled medics gave him a round of applause.

“Apparently they’d had no idea whether I would even come round, let alone have any useful functioning parts,” he says. “That I could recognise I had a personal need, and had the ability to frame and articulate it, was judged to be a positive signpost in what had been a pretty bleak landscape.”

Facing up to major changes

Far less positive were the long-term, and in some cases permanent, effects of the stroke and their knock-on consequences for his day-to-day life and work. Paul experienced crushing fatigue and found it impossible to concentrate on anything for longer than 20 minutes. He’d lost nearly 40% of his field of vision and was completely blind on the left hand side. With no peripheral vision on that side he hasn’t been able to drive since. 

“Ever tried handing back your driving licence?” he asks. “Well you can’t. The DVLA has to take it away from you. And you have to wait for them to decide you can’t drive any more. Until then, you’re OK to get behind the wheel!” He may make light of it now, but the loss of his driving licence was a huge blow. His faithfully restored classic 900cc motorbike remained in the garage. “Couldn’t even drive a mobility scooter like that,” he says.

More worryingly, without a driving licence, and with the damage to his eyesight affecting his spatial awareness, Paul was unable to return to work as a business development manager for an international coatings and adhesives manufacturer. “I was required to travel all around the country visiting client factories — driving was fundamental to what I did. And after the stroke I couldn’t drive, so I could never return to that job. Plus, even if I could have got there another way, I simply wasn’t safe to be on site without a permanent escort. I was a health & safety liability.”

After a prolonged period of sick leave, and now dealing with permanent, crushing fatigue and difficulties with his concentration, Paul reached the distressing conclusion that he would never be able to return to the job he had loved. He telephoned his managing director and broke the news. “He told me he’d already reached that conclusion,” says Paul. “But he didn’t want to railroad me into making a decision, so out of courtesy he waited for me to tell him.”

Ongoing, empathetic support

It was at this point that Paul’s company pushed the Go button on his Unum Income Protection policy. This gave him a monthly payment equivalent to 75% of his former salary, increasing by 5% every year, until he reached retirement age — a full 17 years. 

“I have nothing but praise for Unum over that time,” reflects Paul. “At the end of every annual case review I wrote to the company and highlighted the professional, consistent and accessible assistance of the people who looked after me. I always had a named contact — and I had quite a few over the years. Every one of them was so obviously capable and utterly professional and the quality of support was always to such a high standard.”

Flexibility proves key

Paul was also impressed with the flexibility shown to him in terms of completing paperwork and assessments. “I only ever had to tell Unum something once. Their record keeping was exemplary. This was so helpful, given my limited ability to concentrate on things like filling in forms. I once completed an 80-page form for the Department of Work & Pensions, only to have to complete a very similar 50-page form, simply because they’d changed their systems.

“At one point I was asked to visit Unum’s offices for an in-person review. Once I’d explained that it wouldn’t be physically possible, and that it could even be potentially detrimental to my health, my long-term contact agreed we could do as good a job over the phone, which was a real weight off my mind.”

The importance of the right approach

It’s easy to imagine that there were many things weighing on Paul’s mind during this period. At the time of his stroke his daughter was aged 14, and his son just 12. “My wife worked full-time but I’d always been the major breadwinner. That’s why this policy has been so valuable to us as a family, and to me personally. I’ve been able to contribute to the family finances, helping put the children through university and getting them on the property ladder. For me, having an ongoing income and being able to contribute like that was incredibly important for my self-respect.” 

Paul believes that his story is a perfect illustration of what a good employer can do for someone. “My employers were totally committed to supporting their workforce. Firstly, they had the Income Protection policy in place. Secondly, when the worst happened, they didn’t flinch, paying me my full salary until the end of the deferred period when I was able to make a claim on my policy. They stood by me through some very tough times. And lastly, when it became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to return to my job, they helped me access my benefits and handled my payments as though they were still paying my salary. Even after that company went into administration, the change to being paid direct by Unum was seamless. It was always a comfort for me to know that the payment of benefits to me was not an ongoing financial burden upon my employer.”

Push for valuable benefits

Paul also has an important message for anyone who is unsure of what employee benefits they have. “My income protection policy came as part of my salary package, but to be honest I wasn’t very interested in it when I was recruited. I was reasonably healthy, and I thought: ‘What do I want that for?’ I now know it’s something I couldn’t have coped without, and I’ve made a point of emphasising this to friends and family. I think anyone who isn’t offered it as part of their package should be asking why not, and pushing their employer, or prospective employer, to provide it.”

Paul’s final thoughts? “I think generally I’ve been pretty lucky throughout all this. I’ve been well taken care of by some wonderful people, I’ve continued to live very comfortably in my own home and I’ve always tried to keep my sense of humour. After my stroke, people often told me how well I looked. Which is odd, because they never seemed to feel the need to comment before I had one.”

"It’s been a privilege to be part of the team looking after Paul for this length of time, and so good to hear of his positive experience with Unum. We all wish him the very best for a long, happy and healthy retirement."
Paula Coffey
Unum’s Director of Claims, Rehabilitation and Medical Services

Paula comments

“I’m delighted to share Paul’s story on the importance of taking care of your employees and taking responsibility for safeguarding yourself against potential illness or injury — and I agree with him wholeheartedly that more employers should be offering Group Income Protection (GIP). 

“Good GIP is so much more than financial protection. Our GIP benefits both employers and employees, with associated early intervention services that monitor and prevent absences and offer rehabilitation support where it’s needed. This enables employees to remain at work for longer and return to work after an absence — where this is possible — in a supported, controlled way. GIP from Unum also helps employers better manage the disruption caused by absent staff, and the subsequent pressure on remaining workers.”

Woman with Unum lanyard arms folded looking proud

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