An insight into the life of a WPL Team Leader working from home:

I worked from home in a previous role and found the experience to be quite isolating so when the world changed overnight and we packed up our desks to go home I was a little worried. It’s been my fellow team leaders who have made sure that the experience wasn’t of isolation but of togetherness. Oddly I now feel closer to my colleagues and to the wider WPL team. We have all shared a very unique experience and with us all being so passionate about mental health we’ve made sure we’re all looking after one another and are encouraging each other to look after ourselves.

Some of the challenges I found working from home have come from sitting in my kitchen with the fridge and ‘treat cupboard’ in clear eyeshot. I’ve discovered a new love (obsession) for babybell cheese and have to keep having a word with myself to stop mindlessly grabbing another one from the fridge. I could move my workspace elsewhere I suppose but I worry that if I ventured into the living room I’d be too tempted to stick on Love Island Australia and that would be me done.

Working from home is full of distractions – the cat, the dog, the husband (who was furloughed for 6 weeks of lockdown and every hour on the hour popped his head around the door asking ‘what you doing?’.) I found keeping a to do list really helpful to keep me on track and away from those distractions and on the whole I think I’ve been more productive at home.

I am missing my colleagues and team though. Zoom and Teams are great but there’s nothing quite like a face to face meeting over a cup of tea. I’m really looking forward to getting back to the office now…my home offices buddies Katniss and Dougie might have something to say about that though…… 

Written by: Charlie Smart – WPL Team Leader

Photos of Doug and Katniss included in the blog.

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Jeffrey Boakye on teaching and mental health

As a teacher, it feels like the most privileged kind of burden to spend so much time with other people, particularly young people who are making sense of the world and navigating contexts that they didn’t create. That’s just a wordy way of saying that teaching comes with the stresses and joys of intense relationships. And as with all relationships, these interactions are ones that you can learn from and build from.

There’s an emotional toll that is taken by the ups and downs of all this human activity. I once heard somewhere that teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there due to the level of human interaction required on a daily basis. But somehow, this can be its own remedy. In this year of lockdown and the creeping isolation that comes with social distancing, some of the biggest concerns have been surrounding wellbeing and mental health. This is why I called it a privilege up in the opening paragraph back there. I find solace in the company of others, sharing, talking, living, together. When I teach, I connect.

Writing is different, but similar, and I apologise if that’s an overly cryptic assertion with which to proceed. Writing is kind of selfish, and kind of inwards looking and kind of soul-searching you might even say. But then, you hit ‘send’, and out it goes into the world, into the heads of others, moments of intimacy that you instigate but don’t control.

A lot gets said about self-care. I find that in both my guises, as a teacher and a writer, the care for others is a central theme that helps me to take care of myself. As a father, husband, son, friend and colleague, I have always drawn strength from those closest to me, fortunate enough to have a support network of people who I care about, who care about me.

It’s a privilege to be writing now for WorkPlace Leeds as a nominated workplace hero. It’s an honour for my work and words to be acknowledged in this very humbling manner. If there’s one connecting factor between what I do when I teach and what I do when I write, it’s that I seek comfort through connections. And I hope I’ve managed to do some of that in this short piece.

Jeffrey Boakye

Jeffrey Boakye, photographed at his home near Hull, England. Boakye has written his second book, “Black Listed” Jeffrey Boakye is a writer and teacher originally from Brixton in south London, now living in Yorkshire with his wife and two sons. He has a particular interest in issues surrounding education, race and popular culture. Jeffrey has taught English in secondary schools and sixth form colleges since 2007. His first book, Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials, and the Meaning of Grime was published in 2017.

Blog arranged by Eden Owen-Jones – WPL Administrator

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Black history month Icons presented by WPL staff on inspiration, motivation and career advice:

KIRAN: 

Will Smith (Actor, Producer, Rapper and Songwriter) 

Will Smith has been on my TV screen since I was young from his well-known sit-com Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which people still sing and know all the words for the introduction song! The show covered and challenged many black representations from police brutality, racial profiling, racially biased hiring policies to interracial dating. At the time, it just seemed like another show, but it is not until you get older and you realise even after all these years these issues are still happening in our current time. Will Smith over the years has been in many movies such as Hitch, Bad Boys and others, he has continued to make me laugh and I always know if Will Smith is in it – it will be a movie worth watching! He continuously spreads joy, happiness and gives back to the community as well as being a co-founder of his own charity ‘The Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation’ (https://www.wjsff.org/) .

Will Smith’s Father taught Will and his brother (Harry) a valuable lesson when they were younger and asked them to build a wall from scratch, by hand outside his shop.  They were both hesitant that it would not get done but each day after school they carried on until a year and half later the wall was built. 

After it was completed Will’s Father turned around and said, ‘don’t you all ever tell me that you can’t do something’. Will shares this story till this day and breaks it down on how this can help and inspire people.

Inspiration:

  • the bricks can be whatever aspect of your life you want to work on e.g. wanting a new job, better housing environment, improve your health etc.
  • Starting by picking an area of your life that you most want to improve and lay your first brick e.g. learning new skills, learning how to plan, going for a walk but make sure it is something small and attainable

Then tomorrow, lay another brick. And the next day another. If you do this day in and day out, over time you will become the greatest version of yourself.

“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, greatest wall that’s ever been built. ‘ You don’t start there. You say ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid,’ and you do that every single day, and soon you have a wall.”

DEBRA:

I remember the first time (about 15 years ago ) that I heard Nina Simone singing “Feeling Good” – I don’t know what it was exactly about it but something in the way she sang it was very moving. The words are really powerful in themselves anyway, but other artists’ performance of the song doesn’t quite hit the mark for me in a way that it does when I hear Nina sing it. I haven’t listened to my Nina CD for a while so I’m going to dig it out again…it’s a great driving song when out in the countryside.

Lyrics:

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze drifting’ on by you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
Ouh
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River running free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life

For me
And I’m feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all having’ fun, you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done, that’s what I mean
And this old world, is a new world
And a bold world for me

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life

For me

And I’m feeling good

And feeling good is how we all would like to feel. This can be however challenging at times in circumstances and situations when possibilities are limited, and hope is distant. And this is how often jobseekers perceive their circumstances before they land in a job. For those still in a process of sending job applications, please remember at the beginning of each day:

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life!

LISA:

I admire Oprah Winfrey for her resilience, determined, outgoing and kind hearted attitude. Oprah has shared her wisdom and knowledge on the subject of career on many forums but her classic career advice is:

“Your job is not always going to fulfil you. There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days, you may not feel like going to work at all—go anyway…The number one lesson I can offer you is…to become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.”

Blog written by: Kiran Soor – WPL IPS Employment Specialist, Debra Crompton -Powley – WPL Mental Health Job Retention Specialist, Lisa Fisher – WPL IPS Employment Specialist 

Edited by: Kate Balmforth – WPL Employment & Job Retention Specialist

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WPL Manager’s reflection: 6 MONTHS have passed, and we are still working from home. What have I learned from this experience?

I miss the quick chats, kindness and catch ups

I miss sharing coffee and biscuits, team treats and weekend stories

I miss the garden, the robin, and blue tits on the bird table.

I miss the printer – although there is no reason to use it

I’m happy to still feel close to colleagues

I’m happy that we’re still providing an essential service

I’m happy to cuddle with Archie the dog all day

I’m happy to still be part of a fantastic team

I struggle with Teams and Zoom for days on end

I struggle with the fluctuating anxiety and motivation

I struggle to see the next stage of the pandemic

I struggle not to nibble all day.

I love the team spirit and working in cooperation

I love to hear staff talking passionately about their work

I love the hope and support they continue to provide

……I love to get to eat a boiled egg for lunch.

 Written by Sandie Jones – WPL Team Leader

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WPL staff and their inspiring Black History Icons on issues relevant to the workplace.

NATALIE:

My Black History Icon would have to be Nelson Mandela, because he used his life to change the world forever. He was not afraid to be the catalyst for change in a world that needed change so critically. He continues to a be a symbol of the power that one individual has to make a difference.

Some of Mandela’s most famous quotes can inspire us to achieve more parity in the workplace:

  • “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
  • “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”
  • “It always seems impossible, until it is done.”

Photo of Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island Prison building and the cell from Kate B private collection:

FIAZ:

For me, Rosa Parks is an icon because she stood up for equality for African Americans. She wanted to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free, this brave act demonstrated her courage as a woman which resonates with me and has empowered me to never be afraid of doing what is right. The learning taken from this and one of the simple rules in life…“if you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place”.

This is a great lesson that we can use in the workplace, as people are often worried about stepping forward in the face of injustices. Let’s be inspire by Rosa and speak up for equality in the workplace!

ASTRID:

My black heroes are both from the world of creativity – firstly, Lemn Sissay, whom I only really discovered during lockdown after listening to his desert Island Discs podcast. A truly beautiful soul and his poetry is utterly sublime. His early life experiences in care were so traumatic and yet through his own self direction he found the power of language to find a way for himself that I find truly moving and astounding.  His capacity to forgive is something I greatly admire.   There’s also Ella Fitzgerald – her music says it all. I could drown in her voice but she wasn’t just a musician, she was also a Civil Rights Activist using her talent to break racial barriers across the nation.  She was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Pep[;e Equal Justice Award and the American Black Achievement Award.  A truly amazing woman!

Black music heroes can inspire us at work, both in their creativity and work ethic, but also in their music. If you’re having a stressful day at work, it can often help to pop some headphones in for five minutes and escape.

Blog devoted to the subject of Black History Icons on issues relevant to the workplace written by: Fiaz Amin – WPL Team Leader, Natalie Alden – WPL Mental Health Employment Specialist, Astrid Copeland – Job Retention Specialist

Edited and illustrated by Kate Balmforth – WPL Employment & Job Retention Specialist

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Do you have a colleague you feel is frustrating? Here are some top tips for managing the situation and maintaining your mental health:

Are you or have you ever been in a situation where you feel your colleagues are not pulling their weight or worse – not doing their job properly?  As a Job Retention Specialist, I often have conversations with clients who struggle with this issue and want to find helpful strategies to manage their feelings. After a recent conversation with a client I emailed them with the following tips.  I hope they may be of some use to you.

  1. Does the behaviour from your colleague have a direct impact on your ability to carry out your job?  If it has a direct impact on your workload or ability to carry out your job, or is a safeguarding issue, then that is valid to take to your manager. If it has no direct impact other than being frustrating or annoying, try to let these things go.
  2. Try to notice and focus on the positive aspects of your colleague so you avoid demonising them in your mind. Being forgiving can be a very helpful strategy when you are in conflict. 
  3. Could it be possible that your colleague may have some reasonable adjustments or hidden issues that you do not know, or should not know about? It is possible that they may have agreed adjustments with management that it would not be appropriate for them to share with you. Or perhaps they are struggling with an aspect of their role and need space away which could account for longer lunches etc? It does not really matter if you know for sure or not – it can be a useful strategy in helping you feel warmer towards them and therefore de–escalate the annoyance factor.
  4. Try to avoid going out of your way to notice things they are doing wrong. If you can’t see it, you are less likely to be annoyed by it.  Likewise try not to get too involved in conversations with colleagues about this person as it could exacerbate things in your own mind. Colleagues may be delighted to discuss everything that this individual is doing wrong but that may not help you with managing your feelings about the situation.
  5. Remember your colleague is being managed and their manager will have to follow policy, process, and protocol – don’t take responsibility for things that are not up to you.  This will help you to feel less responsible and could also help avoid any tension between you and your managers. You do not actually know what is going on behind the scenes, but you do know that they have a manager, and it is up to them to deal with it.
  6. Can you offer support to your colleague?  Perhaps you could ask them to help you with something you know they are good at or offer to show them how to do something if you think they are struggling. Avoid accusatory language like – “you’re doing it wrong/you need to improve” and use “is there anything I can help you with?”  or “would it help if I showed you that?” You could also say “you’re really good at this…can you help me…?” It might help improve your working relationship.
  7. Take some breathing space. Distract yourself as much as you can and try to breathe through any feelings you have before you act. Strike when the iron is cold. You are more likely to be objective and reasonable if you address things after some thinking and de-escalation time.
  8. Always use the proper procedures and stick to policy to avoid getting embroiled in further conflict or attempts to address the situation backfiring on you.
  9. Familiarise yourself with the work Capability and Whistleblowing policies so you know how they work at your organisation. This can help you rationalise that things are hopefully being handled effectively.
  10. Remember that processes take time – this can help with feeling like nothing is changing.

Blog created using teamwork approach has been written and edited by Astrid Copeland – WPL Job Retention Specialist

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Changes and opportunities – WPL new employee perspective:

Searching and applying for a new role in COVID-19 brought both benefits and challenges. As someone who is usually incredibly busy working extra hours, volunteering for multiple organisations, playing sport and socialising (as a method of managing my own mental health), COVID-19 was a shock to the system (as it has been for most!). I began working from home in my previous role and found it incredibly challenging to structure my days and ensure that I exercised, ate well and socialised (virtually) to manage my wellbeing. Being in the same space repeatedly and not having social contact in a work environment was a challenge for me, especially due to increasing stress in my previous role.  

Before the lockdown I was actively searching for new roles in order to improve my wellbeing but was struggling to find enough time to devote to this. I would say the lockdown, however challenging it has been mentally, came at a good time for me as it allowed me lots of additional time to search and apply for new roles without the usual social and societal pressures of everyday hectic life! As life had slowed down everywhere, I found I felt less guilty and pressured to be doing other things and was able to reflect on what I wanted from a new role. I was also able to take the time to do small things for my wellbeing and to rebuild my confidence and motivation.

At the beginning of the lockdown, an initial challenge lay in the shift in the jobs market, especially with regards to the growth of temporary and emergency contracts which were less secure. While I was looking for something that would be positive for my wellbeing, I was also looking for a progression, and the kind of roles I was looking fo were not available. Knowing that the job market would start to open up again in the near future when the effects of COVID had begun to reduce, I took some time to look over previous job applications, CVs and at my LinkedIn Profile. I gathered the various examples I had used in applications in the past and started to create a bank of these categorised by skill which I could use to demonstrate competency in applications and interviews. When roles did begin to open up again, I found this incredibly helpful and looking back at what I had achieved so far in my career also gave me a significant confidence boost.

I applied for a number of roles over the course of lockdown, which were largely unsuccessful. This was challenging as although I had the security of my current role, my wellbeing was under severe strain from this job and I had been on and off sick for some time with stress. As is commonly found under normal circumstances, I faced a number of rejections without the opportunity for feedback as well as a number of situations where I received no reply. I persisted and was very excited when I heard that I had an interview for Leeds Mind!

The interview process was slightly more nerve-wracking as it was on Zoom and I much prefer speaking to people in person! However, the team at Leeds Mind made it very smooth and welcoming and so I had a very positive interview experience. A key thing I would say about doing a video interview is try not to keep looking at your own picture as this is very tempting and can make you feel self-conscious and not make eye contact with the interviewers. On some platforms there is the option to turn off self-view so this is potentially a good idea if you find you tend to look at your own video too much!

Now in week 3, I am finding the structure and support available to be a great help to my own mental health. Being eased into the role and having lots of positive encouragement and advice from colleagues has made the start thoroughly enjoyable and stress free! Basically my advice is its ok to find it tough, now even more so and rejections are extremely normal! I would say to use the additional time that the current circumstances provides to reflect on what you want and what you can offer. Keep going and there will be something out there perfect for you!

Blog written by Georgia Ellis – WPL IPS Employment Specialist

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One of our service users shares their experience of accessing support at WorkPlace Leeds and talks about how employment can impact on self-esteem and mental wellbeing:

I had a drug induced psychotic episode in 2017 and I have been struggling with the effects of this ever since. I have had issues with my substance use for many years, it does make me unwell, but I have a physical illness and it stops the pain. I have support from Forward Leeds and this has helped me abstain from most of the substances I used to take. 

I lost my job as a customer service assistant and this affected my self-esteem, I was dismissed for stealing an almost empty bottle of cleaning liquid that a fellow colleague gave to me to take home.  

My employment worker helped me find some volunteering work, he said that it could be difficult to explain if they asked for a job reference from my last job and that getting me back working would be good for my confidence.

He also helped to write my CV and showed me how to search for jobs online. I was not very good on the computer, so he booked me onto a basic computer course at Leeds City College.

We met at my local library as I do not have access to a computer at home, he helped me search and to apply for jobs.

I went to a few interviews but there always seemed to be someone else with more experience, I did get despondent and sometimes wanted to give up but my worker always helped me get through these feelings and gave me hope to carry on.

One day he said that a new store nearby had an opening for a shop worker and the manager was very supportive. My employment specialist helped me complete the application form, and shortly after I got called in for an interview. I was successful and got the job as customer service worker at an outwards bounds store.

We negotiated with the manager that I could work 15 hours per week rather than the 16 advertised and my worker helped me to apply for permitted earnings. This was very important as I am a single parent and needed to be about for my daughter, I also wanted to stay on ESA for the security.

I am much happier and feel I have something to do during the day, I am not just an unemployed mum. I have always worked so it is important for me to have a job for my self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

I really enjoy working and have made friends, I have even met with someone who has also had support from my employment worker, I had no idea until we got to know each other.

I hope to work full time when my daughter is older.

Just because you have been unwell it does not stop you from working.

Blog written by WPL Employment Specialist Ed Tyler

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Job search and interview experience in challenging times – WPL new employee perspective:

Hi, my name is Kiran and I’ve just joined Leeds Mind at WorkPlace Leeds as an IPS employment specialist. I wanted to blog about my experience with my job search during the pandemic, since many of the people we’re working with at WorkPlace Leeds have faced similar challenges.

I think the job search was one of the hardest I’ve done due to most companies putting a freeze on employment due to Covid-19, or were advertising jobs where it was unclear when they would start. In addition, companies were trying to adapt to new ways of working, with some staff working from home or joining the furlough scheme. Employers were dealing with a new crisis, so it was hard to figure out what was going on, what was going to happen next and how long the situation might last.

Compared to my previous job search and being able to apply for at least 5-10 jobs daily to only applying for around 5 jobs in a week was difficult. The IPS employment job really stood out to me, especially with Leeds Mind being so well known to support individuals with mental health and their wellbeing.

The interview was a completely different experience as I got an email with a brief for a presentation topic which normally would have been given on the interview day itself. The interview was being held on Zoom and it made me feel nervous at the process being so different. Usually I would think about what time to set off and how to find the location, but this time I had to consider do I book a day off work or just take time out whilst at work? Where will I feel most comfortable conducting my virtual interview with all my family working from home?

A lot of things were running through my mind when it came to the interview due to it being online such as what do I wear when they won’t see your full outfit, where is the best place to sit, will they be able to hear me…so many different factors. I was familiar with using Zoom so that wasn’t a worry for me, but you can’t help panicking if the connection wouldn’t work on the day or if the sound wasn’t clear enough. The connection actually cut out twice during my interview which made me panic because when you’re in the same room as somebody you can explain the situation but when you in a different room you can’t explain what has happened.

Starting the job whilst working from home was a brand-new experience for me. The whole meeting the team when you first start and having that human interaction to catch up and find out more about the team and their roles hasn’t been possible. However, after settling in, working from home hasn’t been as daunting as I thought, as the team have been taking time out to have individual chat online. The team have really been a great during my induction time and I can’t thank them enough for being so welcoming. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my work helping others into employment!  

Blog written by Kiran Soor – WPL IPS Employment Specialist

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Getting back to a new normal – first holiday:

I was a little apprehensive about leaving my beloved Yorkshire and venturing to Norfolk for the first holiday I have had since Corona entered our lives. I have underlying health conditions and it’s the first time I have been out and about so much.

I packed hand sanitiser, face masks, anti bac wipes alongside shorts and jumpers. You never know in England.

Very pleasantly surprised that a majority of eateries, pubs and shops were adhering to social distancing, taking our contact details and the public toilets were the cleanest I have ever seen. The beach was deserted and apart from sand flies being a nuisance, we had a whale of a time.

Sometimes we just need to take a step forward into the unknown and you never know what you might find. I am back, refreshed and a suntan.

Blog written by WPL Employment Specialist Kay Jackson

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