Employment and the road to recovery

Meaningful work is right up there among the activities known to help wellbeing, support successful maintenance of recovery and reintegration and to help people with lived experience of multiple complex needs (MCN) move forward with their lives.

Our work

Since 2014 the Fulfilling Lives South East Project has employed a total of 41 individuals with lived experience of MCN, through its employment programme.

Throughout the employment program we sought to learn what it takes to successfully recruit and employ people with lived experience of MCN. We have adapted systems and processes, tested things out, reflected continuously……got it wrong sometimes and after seven years, gathered a wealth of information and evidence of what works and how organisations and employers can effectively recruit, support and develop people who have experienced disadvantage.

This period of intense learning has led to 39% of former employees moving directly on to other employment opportunities and 17% who gained employment within six months of leaving Fulfilling Lives. A total of 56% of former project consultants have successfully moved on from the project into new employment. Five people are still working in the project and three of them have already secured jobs to move on to when the project finishes in June next year!

Let’s be honest though, we could quote statistics and numbers all day.

But it isn’t just about numbers and data.  For Fulfilling Lives South East it’s also been a journey of discovery about how employees with lived experience of MCN can be supported to grow, thrive and excel in their roles, being proactive in taking on new challenges, leading on projects and seeing within themselves potential that previously may have been hidden.

The numbers will only ever tell us so much. To really understand why meaningful employment in a trauma informed environment and organisation can truly change lives, we need to hear from the people who have experienced it. So, we asked some of our team….

How have you benefited from being employed in the Fulfilling Lives Project?

“Working at FL has been an important part of my recovery journey.  It’s a large slice of my life that contributes to something positive, personal, and meaningful.  The job is the foundation for me to start over, while allowing me to work in parallel on the deeper issues that led me here in the first place.  The support and flexibility make it possible to do the difficult personal work whilst being employed”

I worked as a volunteer for 7 months before being employed by Fulfilling Lives. Prior to that, I had been unemployed for 2 and a half years and had really low self-esteem as a result. I had lost all my confidence; I was scared about everything and I felt hopeless and worthless. But this time around, I was determined to turn my life around and I received the support and guidance I needed through FL. I started taking on pieces of work where I was able to build on my strengths, tap into the recovery networks that I was a part of and apply the skills I had learnt before I fell ill. My negative experiences with my illness and with services didn’t haunt me anymore because I was able to use my lived experiences constructively. I started feeling less lost and FL helped me regain a sense of purpose. Most of all, I benefitted from meeting like-minded individuals and working in a team where each one of us had a story to tell. We had all been through a lot in our lives and FL became a conduit for our transformations. Now I have a different story to tell …of what it feels like to be on the other side of a trauma, illness and isolation.”

How has being employed in a trauma informed environment helped you?

“Recovering from trauma is a journey, not a destination. Working in a trauma informed culture has helped me gain a deeper understanding of my journey and to sharpen the tools I have, to survive and thrive after trauma. I’ve been supported to apply my skills in new situations and take on new challenges.  Working in a trauma informed way can result in sense of empowerment for individuals and create a trauma informed culture within an organisation.  Having regular space for reflective practice, focusing on growth and learning has really accelerated my development. Learning from each other’s’ strengths and experiences, being honest in a group setting and problem-solving challenges has been really useful.”

“I think trauma is something that sometimes we are working on our whole lives. There’s not a before point and after point it’s like continuous building and healing and resilience and coping skills. That’s maybe part of why even at the point of being employment ready we can still benefit from trauma informed culture because we are continuously developing. Always some processing, realising, healing, learning and growing to do”

“Life can be very cruel and many of us carry some kind of trauma that is unaddressed. Additionally, it is not uncommon to hear of workplaces that are exploitative towards the people that work for them. Working in a trauma-informed environment feels like some sort of rebellion against a work culture that doesn’t value kindness towards or the well-being of their workers. Being employed in an organisation that is trauma informed is nourishing. It creates a fertile ground for creativity, imagination and innovation, where people can explore their strengths, heal from their negative experiences and grow in a place where people truly care about you”

Are there any examples of trauma informed practices that really stood out for you while at Fulfilling Lives?

“Person-centred and psychologically informed supervisions have allowed me to develop my confidence and relationships of trust with people supervising and managing me. When I was new my supervisions were really tailored to my needs in terms of negative self-concept and tendency to magnify real or perceived imperfections. I learned to evaluate my performance more objectively by doing this with my supervisor and now I am able to recognise and speak about highlights and achievements, as well as raise areas I’d like to develop or work on without fear of punishment/harsh judgement. I feel I can be 100 % open and honest “

“I’ve never been in a job where I’ve needed to be so organised, chopping and changing between different tasks, taking different trainings, absorbing so much information.  It was very overwhelming having not worked for three and a half years.  It was a world I’d never experienced.  The induction period was very helpful.  I was able to ease into a work routine at a pace that worked for me.  I didn’t have to hit the ground running and fill my calendar with meetings.  It gave me time to settle in and get used to just being at work. It was low pressure with some guidance to keep me on track and focused on the right things.  There were development sessions which kept me on target to learning or re-learning key skills, normal workplace skills that I’d forgotten.  Thinking back, the induction period served as a safe place to start from scratch.  It really did feel like starting again.  My manager and supervisor were like guides who helped me to function in the world.”

“Having an attitude of learning and development in our team really helped me too. The skills I found challenging were reframed from things “I’m just not good at” to something I can improve at, practice and were achievable.  If something was a challenge, there was support to work on it”

So, what do trauma Informed practice and psychologically informed principles look like at work?

Well, it looks like any good employment should!

In reality, what we are talking about isn’t the proverbial ‘rocket science’ but it does need to be thought about properly, valued across the organisation and embedded in everything.

It means creating supportive and accessible workplaces; in a nutshell, getting the culture right! 

The values of Trauma-Informed Practice, Psychologically Informed Environments and Co-production should underpin everything.  It’s also about recognising the undeniable link between wellbeing and performance and embedding activities and processes that promote and maintain wellness for all employees throughout the organisation.

These principles and values need to be part of all the policies and processes that an employee with lived experience of MCN (and in fact any employee) will have to navigate and be a part of: The recruitment process and application form; attending an interview and being recruited; going through Induction; succeeding at any probation period and participating actively in supervision and professional development throughout their role.

Really though, shouldn’t we be striving for this anyway? In all roles?

And it’s a two-way street too! Our project has benefitted enormously from employing people with lived experience of MCN.  Bringing their commitment and unique engagement qualities and skills, this team has been crucial in the development, implementation and success of our systems change, engagement and co-production objectives.

In a series of blogs around employing people with lived experience of MCN, we want to unpick some of the key elements and practices that make employment successful, both for the employee and for the employer. 

We are also currently creating a resource for employers around employing people with lived experience of MCN and how to do it well. If you would like a copy of this resource once it’s published, please contact andree.ralph@sefulfillinglives.org.uk or nelida.senoran-martin@sefulfillinglives.org.uk

Authors: Andree Ralph

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