I am writing this blog about a typical day working with a majority ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) based caseload. Often these hardest to reach customers become the most successful, sustainable and definitely the most rewarding people to work with. Maybe I feel this way because of my own struggles with my health especially my mental health which is anxiety based. These are the people who have a long term health condition, which has been a persistent barrier to securing long term sustainable employment, and are no different from me a little over five and a half years ago.
Each day I wake up knowing that when it comes to leaving my home, my anxiety will kick in, my hands will shake and my eyes may form tears and then each day I manage this by thinking about who I can help today, what difference I can possibly make, even if it just to one person.
Today I am seeing all ESA customers. It’s now 9.15am, my first lady of the day arrives all smiles and so much more self assured than when she first came in. I could tell she was trying her hardest to appear her usual self but I knew she was just playing with me, this was confirmed when she suddenly delivered:
“I got a job working 9am to 2pm and it fits perfectly with my sons school hours, it’s exactly the hours I need so we can be secure and not worry about all the things we thought were a problem 18 months ago, Billie, and guess what… I start on Monday and I can’t wait, I am scared and nervous but I know I can do it”
She didn’t need confirmation of my shared excitement in her good news because she could see it. My happiness for her was genuine and she knew all I wanted was the best outcome for her and her family. I know how difficult her journey has been from beginning to end, as she is a long term customer who has had regular weekly meetings with me. We had worked through her health issues and learnt various coping mechanisms together, we have assessed all her needs both physically, financially and employability related and then realistically taken in to account all of her concerns, the things that were holding her back from taking that next step.
As she left my office for that day, I smiled to myself and was reminded again why it is that I love the job that I do and how I am motivated to help people who are furthest away from the job market, empowering people and helping them to realise that they can achieve their goals, helping them to overcome barriers which they can’t always see a way around.
My next three meetings follow a similar format. They are customers that were still working on their initial barriers so our meetings are focussed on confidence building, self esteem and slowly disarming their belief that this is their life, and this is just how it is and that things can’t change. During the meetings, there was a range of emotions, sometimes defensive, a few tears and lots of talking and listening to uncover what it will take to help them address their barriers. The art of actively listening to their perspective of the barriers and situation is key because they need to feel instrumental in their journey. It is after all their journey and I always make them aware of that. I find myself telling them some success stories of past and current customers, I share a little information about how I have my understanding of their situation and barriers, I watch as they relax and their guard goes down a little bit more each time.
My final customer of the day arrives for an in-work support meeting, she is slightly hyperactive and excitable about being bought her own pair of slippers by a client and fed cheesy wotsits every evening when she goes there to complete her domiciliary care job. This might seem like a small thing to some but to my lady this is a big deal. She recounts the number of times she was told she will never work because she has not worked for 30 years. She was beginning to believe it because when she tried her first part time job, it lasted only 3 days and when she finally got a second job, she did not seem to get on with the staff. She said that it confirmed what had been said to her. But today she said that I was right when I compared her search for the ‘right’ job for her with sampling new foods. We try various dishes and some we like, some we love, and some we don’t like. It is not compulsory to like everything and it can take more than one attempt to find the right job and the right employer but clearly that is what she has now done.
As I leave for the day I notice the shelf on the right by the door, which has my ERSA Employability Award on, and I stop to spend just a minute to appreciate the recognition given to me for the work I do. I recall how humble and appreciated I felt and the impact that I must have had on the customers that wrote with testimonials about me. I asked myself is this really a job or my vocation in life? Can a job be something you love with so much passion? The answer of course is… absolutely… after all that is exactly what I have had for the last five and a half years. The pride I felt when I was informed that I had been shortlisted for the ERSA Adviser of the Year award last year was beyond words. I was both excited and nervous about attending the presentation but the shock on hearing my name announced as the winner was something I have never forgotten. I felt so honoured and humble and that memory will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Billie Hunt, RBLI, Advisor of the Year 2015