A woman with long blonde hair, wearing glasses and a white t-shirt sits at her home desk

We’re a community-based service so since the lockdown 50% of our work has changed.

“We’re a community-based service so since the lockdown 50% of our work has changed”

I’m Becky and I manage a team of Employment Specialists for the West Sussex Employment Service. We support people with severe and enduring mental health challenges back into work.

We work alongside the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SPFT) and follow the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model and principles.

We’re a community-based service so since the lockdown 50% of our work has changed. We usually work with clients face-to-face so my team now support them by email, text, and calls.

Communicating with someone through a screen is not the same. We can’t see facial expressions and body language as clearly and a lot of our clients don’t want to be seen online. A lot of clients are very scared. There’s the fear of the unknown and the fear of change. Anxiety is quite high and so are worries about finance. We have a lot of clients who don’t want to answer the phone or communicate which adds to our concerns.

Many clients are missing getting out of their house and meeting our Employment Specialists in the community – just chatting with someone on a bench can make a difference for them. But some clients are enjoying it. This time gives them the opportunity to prepare their CV and practice interview skills.

We’re finding that a lot of job interviews right now are over the phone or by video call and my team are helping clients get used to these new ways of working and interviewing.

As a service, it is important that we maintain contact with mental health teams in the SPFT. We can still do this but we have had some technological challenges. For example, we all use different video calling services in our organisations so we are having to find new ways to communicate.

Within my team we are all very autonomous and before the pandemic we worked differently. This job was made for me. I love being out and about and now that I’m stuck in one place I can feel like a trapped animal! I’m not used to sitting still in one place. I fidget. It is quite difficult getting up in the morning and knowing that I’ll be working in the same place all day.

I’m working from home in the corner of my front room. I put a desk there and my husband put a light there. I use a pin-board because I use post-it notes all over the place. I’ve done home working before so I’ve always had my laptop, keyboard, and mouse. I’ve got four cats and they keep me company – they’re like my team!

During this period, I have divided my team of Employment Specialists in two based on where they are located. Having their names on the pin-board helps me visualise them. When I have online meetings I put everything on the wall including the 5 Ways of Wellbeing, our priorities during the pandemic, and a graphic showing us what we can and can’t control.

The benefit of home working is the flexibility. We have more access to creating our own space and working pattern. And if you don’t feel like getting dressed, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to brush your hair, you don’t have to. You also get to miss the hassle of other people’s busy cafes in the community because your own home café isn’t going to be busy! I’ve been having lunch breaks with the family and a walk round the block every day. It’s quite nice really.

My husband’s been furloughed and he’s upstairs decorating! That’s one of the challenges actually – he’s here all the time! My youngest son is 15 and he keeps himself to himself. I’ve got two other children but they both have to go to work so that’s freaking me out at the moment. My son is an NHS worker and he’s in contact with people every day and my daughter works in a care home.

I switch off and stop at 5pm so I can maintain my work/life balance. I will then do the dinner with my husband and we’ll watch a bit of telly – that’s the only time I’ll watch the news. Then I’ll either do some Lego or play games like Minecraft. I collect Sylvanian Families as well. I’ve been doing things that take me out of this world and into another world. It helps me switch off because I can focus on something else.

Our specialist Employment Support service helps people access and retain paid work, complete education and training and get involved in volunteering. Employment Specialists work in partnership with Mental Health Recovery Teams in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove to provide support tailored to individual needs, goals and aspirations.