Hey Able-Minded people.
I have been in a season of busyness lately (you too?). The good news is that I'm feeling mighty fresh after a week of holidays in the gorgeous hunter valley... and I got to channel my inner amateur photographer for a few days:
Back on topic... preparing for holidays was one of the most stressful things I've had to do this year (a first-world problem if there ever was one, but stay with me here).
It was probably the first time I've been important enough to worry about what will happen while I'm gone, and much to my team's amusement/frustration I was definitely not on my A-Game as I tried to get things in order before my leave.
But here's what happened:
- I had a meeting with my boss where she gave me the time I needed to talk through what I was working on, what I could delegate and what could wait until I got back.
- She gave me permission to be a bit stressed out, helped me make sense of why I was feeling the way I did and reassured me that everything would be fine while I was gone as long as I prioritised the important things before I left.
- My teammate called me to ask, "What can I help you with so that you can leave on time today?" (and I immediately collapsed into a puddle of gratitude).
- My entire team wished me a safe and happy week off. I know I will be missed but I also know that my team will look after things while I'm gone.
This past week, I felt so connected to my team. I had permission to be human (while still being held accountable to the stuff that matters), I felt important and I felt like a valued part of a community of people who really care about me.
So what I'm really trying to say is...
I feel safe at work.
Many of our clients aren't as fortunate.
Often, they're unwell as a result of the stress they've dealt with at work, and for those who aren't, many are reluctant to return to workplace where they don't feel valued, supported, understood.... and safe.
Layer on top of that a heaping of suspicion towards third-parties (including us) and fear around loss of benefits... and you've got a client who is suddenly feeling very threatened and very unsafe.
So what does this mean for us?
We need to take Rehabilitation out of the vacuum. We simply cannot do this alone.
Talking about capacity and medical certificates just isn't going to cut it.
People are not inspired to return to work because a piece of paper tells them that it's okay to start working again.
People go back to work because they feel safe, that they belong and that they matter.
From Simon Sinek:
This is what I mean by feeling safe: "I love the people I work with, I love where I work, I enjoy going there". [The imbalance happens when]: "I feel safe at home, but I don't feel safe at work".
It's time for us to have bigger conversations about going back to work.
Workplaces, employers, insurers and treating health professionals all have a crucial role to play in recovery and return to work.
The most troubling thing about our current processes is that they often exacerbate the uncertainty and lack of control that a person experiences after they become unwell or injured.
And even if we're doing everything in our power to help our clients feel empowered to make choices and decisions, to regain some sense of safety in their lives, rehab is still bigger than us.
It's not just our actions that matter.
I've been in so many situations where I've been too scared to speak up and say that pushing a "return to work" with a certain employer just isn't going to work because my client and their employer have a poor relationship and a lack of trust.
Then there are other times where a client is so suspicious of their insurer's motives (and mine, too) that they become paralysed and completely stuck.
I was afraid that this would signal my failure as a rehabilitation consultant - because I couldn't make things work out.
Rehab is bigger than just our clients.
If we want our clients to take personal responsibility, then we need to do the same. And we need to ask that everyone else involved take responsibility for their role in this process as well.
Please just keep in mind...
Rehab Counsellors Aren't Wizards!
If you're in a situation like the one I've described - feeling like you're stuck between a rock and hard place, and feeling like you're failing because you just can't seem to make things stick - I want to let you know that you can't do this alone. And you're not a failure because it didn't work out.
Even the world's best Rehabilitation Counsellor, with master-level persuasion and negotiation skills, can't make a "return to work" happen if everyone else doesn't want to come to the party.
With that said, please don't go hide under a rock and assume that you're powerless.
Because we need you.
We need you to speak up and help us change the conversation about what recovery and return to work look like and the role that everyone can play in this process.
We need you to speak about what we can offer as Rehabilitation Counsellors, as well as what we can't fix on our own.
We need you to clarify expectations with everyone up front and be clear on who is responsible for what, as well as the type of outcome that is realistic given the timeframe and resources you've been given.
Sometimes, I think that people mistake us for wizards dressed up as normal people.
(It's because most people don't really know what a Rehab Counsellor does in the first place.)
You can be the quiet voice of disruption that helps people understand that they, too, have a role to play in recovery and return to work.
You don't have to do this alone, but you can be part of the conversation that makes things better.
Take this idea out for a spin...
Try out this diagnostic next time you feel like you're stalling - does your client feel safe?
We all seek out safety... so what is your client currently doing to create a feeling of safety for themselves?
Have you had a similar experience to the one I've described above? Connect with me in the comments below - I'd love to hear from you.
Feature image by Steve Rotman is licensed under CC by 2.0.
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