We would like the knowledge our toolkit contains to travel far and wide, making its way into the hearts and minds of organisations across the country, and for employers to recognise the benefits of employing people who have been through hardship and continue to fight for themselves.
Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE) has been running for eight years. Eight years is a long time. Over the course of the project, a lot has changed. We have tried, tested, adapted, won some, and lost some. Through all this experimentation, we have learnt a lot about the ‘system’, and a lot about people. As the project draws to a close, we want to share what we have learned along the way
A major feature of the FLSE project was its employment program, the purpose of which was to employ people with lived experience of multiple and complex needs (MCN) and support them through their recovery from a work-centred perspective. Those employed were titled Project consultants (PC) and attached to the Service User Involvement (SUI) team. Their lived experiences varied in combinations and intensities across the spectrums of substance misuse, mental health, repeat offending and homelessness, while their duties were similar, their skillsets differed. Those occupying the role came from a variety of backgrounds, including but not limited to design, research, psychology, biological sciences. They were also tasked with mentoring lived experience volunteers whose experiences ranged from students to city workers.
In the eight years, the project has seen many lived experience team members come and go. The majority successfully moved on to other employment, either directly from FLSE, or within six months of leaving the project, while others were not quite at the right stage of their recovery to complete their contract. Throughout this time, the managers and supervisors have evolved their support practices as they’ve learned what helps (and what doesn’t help) staff with experiences of MCN. More than that, they’ve helped those staff members to harness their own skills to drive systems change forward.
Inclusive, supportive workplaces for all
In 2021, we decided to develop a toolkit aimed at employers to consolidate what we have learned about employing people with experience of MCN. The more we discussed the idea, the larger in scope it became. In essence, it is a guide to help organisations foster a culture where lived experience of MCN is not only supported but valued. It’s about creating an inclusive, supportive workplace culture that benefits employers and employees, regardless of whether they have experience of MCN or are just going through a difficult time. Our toolkit exists to support organisations in creating that culture by providing tools, approaches and practices that help them to help their employees thrive and be successful so that they, in turn, can give their best in their working roles.
So, what does that support look like? Having seen 41 Project consultants pass through FLSE, all with different life experience, we have a wealth of knowledge to share. Our toolkit distils down to the overarching support themes that – although written for people with lived experience of MCN – can be applied to all employees. Its foundation is three principles: Psychologically Informed Environments, Co-production, and Trauma-informed Practice. Together, these concepts underpin the way people work together, how they treat each other, and how the working environment respects and reflects the (sometimes) difficult life experiences of its employees. On the surface, they are simple to understand, but require consideration when put into practice. It is a culture-change, so that means staff need to be on board at all levels, and it takes time and diligence to overwrite old habits, thought processes, and ways of relating. These three principles should be applied throughout the recruitment process, supervisions, and day-to-day working practice.
The toolkit also highlights the benefits that people with these life experiences can bring to organisations and the people working within them. The chances are high that there are multiple people in any organisation who have personal experience or know someone close to them who has experienced addiction, mental ill-health, offending behaviour, or has either been homeless or close to being homeless. Having someone relate to these circumstances can help with feelings of isolation and shame. This alone can build stronger, more trusting relationships, while reducing stigma and improving wellbeing within organisations and teams.
The British Medical Association reported in their July 2016 publication (that alcohol use is prevalent among those who work, more so than those who are unemployed, and that it is a growing concern for employers. The Office for National Statistics reported on their website that in the UK in 2020, 11.6% of absences from work were due to mental ill-health. Criminal behaviour is not uncommon in wider society. Violence and substance use are daily occurrences. These intertwined issues are not confined to people with MCN histories; they apply to people from all walks of life in any profession. Although our toolkit is designed for supporting people who have combinations of adverse experiences, it can be just as useful for people who are struggling for a single reason.
Sharing our knowledge
We would like the knowledge it contains to travel far and wide, making its way into the hearts and minds of organisations across the country, and for employers to recognise the benefits of employing people who have been through hardship and continue to fight for themselves.
If you are an employer and would like to discuss this further or have some support around employing people with lived experience of MCN and how to do it well, then please get in touch at the contact email below by 1st June 2022. We’d be more than happy to help!
Ian Harrison, Engagement and Co-production Worker
For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:
Andree Ralph, Co-production and Engagement Lead:
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