Getting back into the workforce
There are many practical steps you can take to make a start on getting back to work while looking after your health too.
Returning to a job
If you have a job and your employer is holding your position open while you recover, you may want to discuss with a counsellor, manager, or human resources staff about how to approach your return to work. Consider what support you may need – for example, working three days a week while you build up to full-time hours again.
You may also want help in deciding how you’ll discuss your absence with colleagues. Whether you choose to give a lot of detail or just say that you have an ongoing medical condition, discussing this issue beforehand will help you set boundaries about how much information you’re prepared to give.
If you do not have a job – or it’s not possible or helpful to return to a previous position – there are people who can help you clarify what you’re good at, what you enjoy doing, and how work fits in with how your symptoms affect you.
Centrelink can refer you to specialist advice and assistance, or you may choose to visit a private career counsellor in your local area. You can also look for work yourself by checking newspapers and employment websites.
How Centrelink can help
Centrelink has specially trained staff (disability officers) who provide help for people with disabilities.
After a consultation with a Centrelink officer, you may be referred to a service or program.
Disability Employment Services (DES)
If you are referred to DES, this service can provide help in:
- Preparing you for work.
- Finding suitable jobs.
- Writing applications.
- Practising for interviews.
They provide information about any subsidies or training opportunities and can provide on-the-job support in some cases.
DES may also provide a Personal Support Program, with individual support to help overcome barriers, which may stop you getting back to work.
JobAccess provides information and support to help people with a disability return to work or find a job. Advisors can provide expert advice on a range of topics for job seekers, people returning to work, managers and co-workers.
For more information, call 1800 464 800 or the Centrelink Disability, Sickness and Carers number below, to see if JobAccess services would be appropriate for you.
Jobs in Jeopardy
Disability Employment Services can assist people who are at risk of losing their employment in the immediate future as a result of their illness, injury or disability through Jobs in Jeopardy assistance.
This service is not designed to assist with finding a job, but to help people in keeping their current one.
For more information on any of the above services, contact Centrelink on the Disability, Sickness and Carers line on 13 2717 or the Centrelink Employment Services line on 13 2850.
What helps people affected by mental illness
Get back to work?
There are three main factors which help people get back to work:
1. Availability of meaningful part-time work, which makes realistic demands and contributes to recovery rather than making it more likely someone will become unwell again.
2. Rehabilitation, training, job placement and support once they are in the job to help face the challenge of keeping a job they consider worthwhile.
3. A supportive and understanding workplace.
It also helps, as with any job, to have clearly-defined position descriptions and expectations, and an understanding that everyone makes mistakes sometimes – whether they have a mental illness or not.
The Mindful Employer Program
Training and information on mental illness can help to build workplace support and understanding.
SANE Australia’s Mindful Employer program provides workplaces with helpful information and advice on how to support employees affected by mental illness.
With information on topics such as disclosure, workplace adjustments, flexible working arrangements and working while caring for someone with a mental illness, the program provides easy-to-understand advice and information for both managers and employees.
Find out more by visiting www.mindfulemployer.org.
Chris works for a tyre company and recently spent time in hospital while his medication was changed. He asked his doctor to speak with Rachel, his manager, to explain why he would be off work for a while.
Rachel and Chris agreed to keep in touch to review his return to work. When Chris returned to his job, he began working two days a week, gradually building up to four days. Chris and Rachel also agreed that he would explain his absence to workmates by saying he has an ongoing medical condition that required hospitalisation.
Being a volunteer carries similar responsibilities and obligations to having a paid job.
Voluntary work can be a good way to build up your skills in a meaningful way and help you get back into a routine – such as getting up early and travelling to work, for example – while also helping a good cause.
Organisations such as Volunteering Australia - www.volunteeringaustralia.org - may be able to help you find a position.
Once you have cleared the usual checks and identification process, you can be matched with a suitable organisation for an interview.
Registering with a recruitment agency for temporary work can be a good way to ease back into employment, especially with short-term contracts. The work is often project-based or covering for a staff member who is on leave.
If you feel you need a break at the end of a contract before working again, you can do so and seek more work when you feel ready.
It is especially helpful if you don’t want or need to disclose your illness to an employer, and know that you’ll need some flexibility in the amount of time you spend off work.
Some people may also want to consider being self-employed if they have experience or skills which can be used in this way.
If you decide that you’re ready to return to work, it’s important to maintain a positive and realistic outlook during your job search.
Prospective employers pick up on a positive attitude and are attracted to it, while negative thoughts often lead to negative results. The more positive you are about your own abilities, job prospects, and life in general, the more likely you are to get the right job. This is especially important when you experience the inevitable knock-backs.
Some tips on how to do this:
- Ask someone – such as a friend or support worker at an employment service or rehabilitation program – to support you in staying positive, and share your goals with them to help you stay on track.
- Be prepared for some applications to be unsuccessful and to remind yourself that every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes’ – this is something that everyone experiences when they are looking for a job and the trick is not to give up. A supporter is especially helpful for when you experience a knock-back.
- Be patient, and don’t take it personally when there’s no response to your phone call or application, you won’t always get immediate results.
- Looking for a job can be hard work and requires a lot of energy, so try to keep your life in balance by doing the things that keep you well:taking medication and other treatments such as psychotherapy, being physically active, getting enough sleep, making time to relax regularly and socialising with friends and family.
Effective job applications require time and effort, and are tailored to the job being applied for.
If you are a client of a specialised employment service, ask for help in preparing applications. There are also many books available from libraries on this subject as well as articles on the Internet, which can also be accessed via your local library.
The important thing for you to remember is to believe in yourself, and to sell your skills and experience in your applications.
Before you submit an application, get a trusted friend or family member to read your application for typing errors, to make sure it’s easy to understand and that you have fully addressed the selection criteria.
Accounting for gaps in your work history
There may be gaps in your work history when you have been unwell for some time. If you are a client of a specialised employment service, discuss with them how to account for this in the application.
Use a format that highlights your overall skills and accomplishments. Include any study, training, caring or volunteer work you performed while you were not working, to show that you were still active.
You may have gained additional experience while out of regular employment. Include this on your resume in a section called ‘Additional Experience’. Did you return to part-time or full-time study? Were you in a sports or social club or organise activities as a volunteer, for example? Were you also caring for someone else who was unwell during this period?
Think about people who can best talk about your skills and relevant work experience. Are they able to back this up with examples?
Don’t limit yourself to former managers, especially if you didn’t have a good relationship with them or you think they may speak unfairly. Former colleagues, clients and others may also be in a good position to give a more rounded account of your expertise, communication skills and ability to work with others.
It may not always be appropriate to use the same referee for each job application, or to use people you’ve not worked with for more than five years, especially if your skills have improved or changed in that time. They may be better giving a character reference.
It is important to remember, too, to check with people that they are willing to act as a referee and also that they will be available.
Practice for interviews
Ask a friend or former work colleague to help you by practising your answers with them. Your friend can play the role of interviewer and also give feedback about your responses, body language and overall presentation.
Prepare for interviews
When preparing for the interview, go through some likely scenarios in your mind. Think about the questions that are likely to be asked and visualise yourself as confident and self-assured, with the talents and skills you can bring to the employer. Think of some examples from your experience to demonstrate these. Play the part over and over again until you feel comfortable with it.
Imagine yourself preparing for the interview on the day it will take place. When you visualise arriving at the employer’s office, being greeted by the interviewer, notice that your emotions are calm and confident as you shake hands. As the interviewer begins to ask questions, imagine you answer them spontaneously and easily. With preparation, you will feel more confident and comfortable.
The more you use your imagination in this way to prepare for an interview, the more positive, relaxed and confident you’ll be when you take part in the real thing
Before your interview, make sure you get a good night’s rest. Your mind will function better in the interview if it’s not overloaded and tired from racing thoughts.
Decide what is most appropriate to wear, and get the clothes ready the night before. Leave plenty of time for travel as well. The last thing you want is to arrive at the interview flustered and panicked because you couldn’t find a parking space, didn’t have change, or missed a train.
You may want to travel the route you’re going to take beforehand, to familiarise yourself with it and to help reduce any stress you may feel on the day of the interview.
You can also help yourself to keep calm and focused by taking slow, deep breaths while your eyes are closed. Listen carefully to each breath as you do. It doesn’t matter if your mind starts racing again, just bring it back to focus on your breath. This technique is helpful in clearing your mind of all thoughts and reducing anxiety at any time
Lily is a 23–year–old shop assistant. Her anxiety disorder makes job interviews difficult, leaving her feeling rejected. She is plagued with unhelpful thoughts before an interview, so much so that she feels paralysed once the meeting is underway.
Through Centrelink, Lily is referred to a specialist employment agency to help her prepare for and find a job. Her doctor has referred her for psychological treatment so she can learn how to manage negative thoughts and feelings of panic. Lily’s mum has also offered to travel with her to interviews, to help her stay calm, and to keep her thoughts positive.