“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” ~ Hunter S. Thompson
Work trials can feel hard. Recently I met a senior manager of a large insurer who commented that Work Trial’s rarely get results. I was so disappointed by this comment. Disappointed but not surprised, I know this is a common understanding.
I personally think Work Trials are one of the most underutilized recovery and rehabilitation tools that we have available to us.
However, I understand why many funding bodies, client’s, treatment providers and host employers would think that a Work Trial is hard work and does not yield results.
What is a Work Trial?
Essentially, when done well, a Work Trial gives a person who is recovering and rehabilitating back into the workforce an opportunity to test out, practice and learn how to manage themselves after an injury, illness or disability.
It is an opportunity for a person recovering to focus on what they CAN do rather than on what they can’t.
It is an opportunity for a person recovering to gain the confidence to be able to go into new employment and say, “I know I can do this type of work because I’ve done it before”. The injury, the disability the chronic illness ceases to be a barrier to employment. Instead, the person recovering now has the knowledge, skills and experience to participate in work and work that is good for them.
A Work Trial when set up well, is an opportunity for a host employer to contribute to a person’s recovery in a real, tangible and rewarding way. It is NOT about free labour. That’s an added extra.
A Work Trial, when executed well, allows for the treating health professionals to work closely with the person recovering to make sure that symptoms, as they come up, are addressed; where a flare-up management plan can be developed and put into action and where everyone involved can breathe and go – right, this client has got this.
A Work Trial enables us as Rehabilitation Professionals to put our expertise where our mouth is and bring all the prices of treatment and recovery together and create an opportunity for the client to learn, AND functionally upgrade AND to address psychosocial barriers AND to help clients prepare for change all within the context of real work so that that the injury, the illness and disability ceases to be the barrier to employment.
However, everyone in the process starts with objections as to why a work trial can’t, won’t and shouldn’t work.
- The Rehabilitation Consultant – I don’t like asking for them.
- The client – I don’t want to work for free.
- The insurer or funding body – that’s a lot of time and money for a “maybe” result.
- The host employer – what do I get out of this?
The Rehabilitation Consultant – I don’t like asking for them.
Let’s face it, Rehabilitation Consultants securing a Work Trial for a client takes sales skills. And guess what we weren’t taught at university? None of us went into our professional discipline to learn to sell; we went to learn how to help people. That’s why we all want to run and hide and will find many other things to do rather than locate a Work Trial for a client. And this is OK there is no judgement here.
However, when we become sold on how beneficial these trials are, we will find a way to help all the parties who need to get involved, be involved. You will find creative and collaborative approaches to help host employers say yes, where clients will be helping you find a host employer and where a funding body will be asking you to find, set up and execute a Work Trial.
When we truly believe that work is an essential component to recovery and rehabilitation, then we will stop finding excuses for not locating Work Trials. #sorrynotsorry
The client – I don’t want to work for free.
In every recovery and RTW plan, program and journey we will get to the point where the rubber needs to hit the road for a client. This is the time where we often see the return of the psychosocial issues that we thought had been addressed already. OR we will find new concerns raised that we weren’t made aware of.
Having to attend for an interview and be judged on our capacity to perform is terrifying for most of us. Let alone the additional terror for someone who is learning how to live with a medical condition, or some limitations they didn’t have last time they were at work.
Dear recovering client’s, please know we are not asking you to work for free. We are asking you to test out your knowledge, skills and abilities in a safe environment so that you CAN KNOW without any doubt what it is you have to offer the world of work. Just think, if you knew that you could not fail in a job, wouldn’t you be applying for more roles, and requesting more interviews?
A Work Trial keeps you safe and allows you to apply your treatment and progress into a real work situation. No amount of work in the gym, the pool or at home will give you this opportunity.
If it is confidence and certainty that you are looking for, then a Work Trial is going to give that to you.
The insurer or funding body – that’s a lot of time and money for a “maybe” result.
Yes, Work Trial’s do take a lot of time to set up, execute, monitor and evaluate. They are not a babysitting service. They are not Year 10 high school work experience. If we are to consider work as a necessary part of “treatment” then wouldn’t funding a Work Trial be a no-brainer solution?
Work Trials do have a reputation for being expensive; this is because they are time and energy intensive. Every client who comes to us for a service is unique, we have never had two client’s the same. Therefore, when it gets to the application of knowledge and skills learned in recovery then chances are we won’t have the same injury/ disability with the same skills set, being able to turn up to the same role with an employer we have used before.
As each person is unique, so too will each person’s work trials.
If we want to ensure that our clients can take back control of their own lives and have all the knowledge, skills and confidence to navigate work post-injury, illness or disability, then don’t we have a responsibility to fund the appropriate intervention to help them achieve this?
The goal of a work trial should not be “to get paid employment” that would be an added extra. A bonus. The purpose of a Work Trial should be that the client has the confidence, the knowledge and the know how to get their own job without needing any other service providers. Now there are some clients who require a job placement brokerage service, I know that, and being independent in job search is not going to work for everyone. However, employment placement by a Provider for a client is not as empowering as we might like to think it is.
It is essential that we clarify the expectations of the Work Trial from the get-go. If we explain to clients that this is a resource that will pull together all of their treatment and recovery, we have a much better chance of them engaging in and making use of the trial to empower themselves to take back control of their lives through work.
If we explain to a host employer that the purpose is to help a person with their recovery, then we are not setting up any false or unnecessary expectations that this has to work. Otherwise, the host employer has wasted time, and the client ends up feeling rejected.
The pressure of the ‘paid employment’ result is unhelpful and contributes to the cycle of dependence and a lack of self-empowerment.
The host employer – what do I get out of this?
This might be one of the most challenging objections for Rehabilitation Professionals to handle. After all we are asking a LOT from a host employer, and at times it can feel like we don’t have much of value to offer them in return.
However, what I have found is that when I am seeking Work Trials, I present this as an opportunity for workplaces to engage in the recovery process for our clients. This is something that makes a host employer stick it out, and provides them with a sense of pride in their contribution. Simply put, host employers DO want to help.
Not every employer we ask offers a Work Trial. Often we are asked if the client is also attached to a job subsidy. I personally don’t like selling a client connected to a job subsidy. I do however like being able to demonstrate to an employer how Return to Work and Rehabilitation can assist people with their recovery. You would be amazed at the numbers of employers who have said “Yes, how can we help?” when we have asked for an opportunity.
I think it’s worth repeating here that Work Trials are one of the most underutilised recovery and rehabilitation tools we have available to us. They make good sense in terms of recovery when we remain focused on helping people who are recovering in order to be able to implement and practice knowledge and skills in a real work situation.
I hope this has been a useful insight into how Work Trials can be well utilised for both the employer and job-seeker after prolonged injury, illness or disability.
In the next post, I will share with you how a recent Work Trial interview phase resulted in a client with a severe disability being empowered to go and get herself her own paid role.
Who Is Jo Muirhead?
Jo is all about connecting people to purpose through inspiration and innovation. She is the Founder, Director and Principal Consultant of Purple Co (www.PurpleCo.com.au), a team of specialist allied health consultants dedicated to helping people who experience injury illness and trauma reclaim their lives through work. Jo is passionate about the health benefits of work and truly believes that everyone has the right to meaningful and rewarding employment. Purple Co grew out of this belief as a truncated form of PURpose for peoPLE.
The Purple Co team also provide a range of career development and coaching services to professionals who are ready to explore change in their career and find the map towards career fulfilment.