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Dr Charles Young

Transparency, accessibility, and control. When supporting job seekers back into the world of work through government schemes – especially in a time as volatile as now – these three imperatives are a good place to start.

From my own experience of applying for a job, the process can feel like a black box – you don’t know what’s inside and it all feels a little threatening. It’s the duty of those supporting job seekers, therefore, to shine a light inside the box, explain the process and the likely timeline, provide two-way dialogue, and give every individual as much control as possible.

This truth hit home during a recent conversation with Lisa Kramer, Business Psychologist at online digital mental health provider Kooth. Following the inaugural meeting of Capita’s Health & Welfare panel, I sought out Lisa’s views. The conversation felt timely as the government looks to enhance the support it offers Universal Credit claimants and create the post-Covid-19 conditions that will empower all job seekers.

Among other things, Lisa and I explored dealing with anxiety, tailoring support, the role of the advisor, and how to engage employers. Here are the key takeaways:

Encourage communication, collaboration and, yes, a sense of humour

The search for a job can feel daunting, often overwhelming. So how do you keep job seekers engaged? How do you help them avoid falling into moments of disillusionment? First, acknowledge that it is natural to be anxious, that it is part of being human. One of the ways of dealing with these feelings is to talk, especially with those going through something similar. Two people can develop a shared strategy – ‘this is how we are going to approach this challenge’ is always easier than ‘this is how I am going to approach it’. Talking at moments of low esteem can be hard but the rewards make it worth it. It provides mental energy, even if you spend much of your time whingeing. “You don’t always have to be jolly and perky,” Lisa told me. If you can make each other laugh, so much the better.

Success stories can inspire but handle with care

People want to feel they have something to aspire to. That’s why other people’s success stories can prove useful. But it’s probably best not to overdo the ‘A*’ stories. Not everybody has to become a chief executive, after all. Instead, find parts of a story that resonate, parts of the story where it makes sense to replicate actions or behaviours. The goal here is to provide that all important sense of hope; this requires raising expectations on the one hand but keeping it real at the same time - without the latter, the end result may be hopelessness, which can lead to despair and a potential deterioration in mental health.

How to find the right advisors: define what good looks like and recruit against that

To hire an advisor to best support job seekers, Lisa suggested, first identify the key attributes and characteristics that make up the job. “Next build the values you are looking for on top – and that becomes your job description, your job role. Then you can recruit against it.” Empathy is one of those core characteristics that all good advisors should be able to display. I know from experience that some people express empathy more naturally than others. But, as with other forms of communication, you can teach people to display it more readily.

Be sympathetic to the person in front of you

While you need to look at the macro context of unemployment – regional and demographic disparities, for example – it is essential you look at the individual and avoid making judgements. “Be sympathetic to the person in front of you,” Lisa told me. “They come with a past. By understanding them as a person you can better advise them.”

Sit with the ‘problem’ for long enough and encourage ownership of the ‘solution’

It’s intuitive to want to focus on the positives and normalise negative feelings to help inspire and motivate people who may be lacking in drive and confidence. Whilst helpful, it is important to get the timing and balance right. Too much normalising early on can leave people feeling silly or as if their difficulties are trivial, whereas too much focus on the negatives can leave people feeling hopeless. Shifting early questions away from ‘what’s wrong’ - which can make people feel and act defensive - to ‘what’s happening’ promotes a more open conversation which moves individuals towards the root of their barriers to progress. Once you have a shared sense of the difficulties, try not to jump too quickly to advice giving; if you sit with the problems for long enough, people usually start to come up with their own solutions which is much more valuable than being told what to do.

Look for signals but don’t try to manage mental illness

Some people struggle to find a way out of negativity due to underlying mental health issues. It is not the role of advisors and service providers to treat mental illness. Instead we should become very good at noticing when it might be an issue, and then directing people to the most appropriate resources of help. That’s a key part of our duty of care. 

Employers should be queuing up to be part of these schemes

There exists a degree of scepticism among organisations when it comes to government or third sector-run job placement schemes. An impediment to the day-to-day business is how some see it. Such scepticism is misplaced. “Employers should be jumping on the back of these schemes because what they are getting is a huge recruitment pool,” Lisa argued. “What they are getting is highly motivated staff, highly engaged staff. Job performance will be high and will ultimately lead to positive organisational performance benefits. If companies see it from that perspective, it suddenly it becomes a very enticing proposition.”

Written by

Dr Charles Young

Dr Charles Young

Senior Medical Officer, Capita

Charles is leading our clinical information strategy, so we can provide safe, proven clinical decision support. He trained in medicine in London and continues to practice as an emergency physician for one day a week at St Thomas’ Hospital. Previously, Charles held a range of editorial, evidence-based medicine, clinical decision support and strategic leadership roles.


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