Emotional wellbeing and work
Why understanding the link between emotional wellbeing and work will allow us to help more people out of homelessness
Word by Jack Ithel and illustration by Louise Coutinho
We have all felt the impact of rising energy bills and the increased cost of living this year. Prevailing economic uncertainty has forced some people to take on extra jobs, while others have faced the threat of redundancy. In this context, a secure and meaningful job can mean a great deal. If you have been impacted by homelessness it can be even more important, because finding one can be an important step towards building a sustained, independent life.
That’s why we do lots of employment-related work with people at our services. We help them decide what they want to do, find available jobs, and address barriers they may be facing to getting them. From tailoring their CV, to on-the-job training or finding a mentor, there are lots of practical steps people can take to find a new job or excel in their current one. However, there is one crucial issue related to this that is rarely discussed: psychological wellbeing.
Psychological wellbeing should be a central consideration when supporting people impacted by homelessness back into work. The process of seeking work can be stressful, exciting, depressing and traumatic all at once. Then, when people have actually found roles, unfulfilling ones can feel terrible while enjoyable ones can feel brilliant. Everybody experiences these feelings and thoughts, but when you factor in past traumas people may have experienced through becoming and being homeless, it can be overwhelming.
Helping people to manage their emotional wellbeing with regards to work is therefore crucial to helping them flourish in the long term. This can be especially true if they are re-entering employment after a break. If someone feels anxious or stressed, or is struggling to get out of bed, applying for vacancies is going to be very difficult. Similarly, if someone takes a job that is a bad fit, it may affect their ability to succeed. If you are trying to move on from homelessness, that can be a problem. This issue was recently summarised perfectly by Nathan, a former Evolve customer:
“The problem is that if you put someone in the wrong job, it can be very bad for their mental health. People need jobs they care about, and you can’t get that right unless you talk to them and understand them. I have met so many amazing people at Evolve, but often they stay under the radar. They’ll struggle to find work they care about, and their skills will be missed.”
Meaningful work and mental health are so closely linked that when it comes to supporting people who have been homeless, you can’t look at the former without the latter. If you do, your efforts to help with be less effective. As Nathan says, even if you help someone find a new job, if it isn’t right for them then the consequences can be more harmful than helpful.
So, how do you actually join up these two areas of support, and help people find new jobs in a psychologically informed way?
One step for us has been facilitating closer collaboration between our Health and Wellbeing and Work and Learning teams, to make sure their work links up. Another has been to create new roles at Evolve that aim specifically to address barriers to employment through psychologically-focused support. We have also built firm partnerships with businesses, external wellbeing services and the local community, to create wider networks of support for people.
We know that every organisation is different in terms of its structures and goals, so perhaps more important than the exact structural changes we have made is the shift in perspective we have engendered. We are consciously moving away from the idea that we provide distinct, separate strands of support to people, and towards the idea that everything we do is connected. In doing so we are seeing really encouraging results – the people at our services who have found new opportunities and moved in to independence are testament to this.