This case study covers: Issues for former trainees – Issues for placement teams – Mental health support needs – Managing sickness – Unauthorised absence
Our team employed Abjinder, a GROW trainee who had presented as easily the best candidate for the job. Mental health support needs – unspecified – had been identified on the application form and investigated further at interview. Some members of the host team had personal and professional experience of working and living with people with similar mental health support needs, so the team felt they were well placed to take on this trainee.
During the traineeship, in addition to the normal supervision and managerial support that all Thames Reach workers receive, Abjinder was being supported by a life coach from Thames Reach as well as a support worker from an external organisation. Psychiatric treatment was being provided on an outpatient basis. The trainee married and moved house during this period, both commonly regarded as stressful events.
Circumstances – going off sick
The first 3 months went well on all fronts. In the fourth month the trainee developed bronchitis whilst living in poor, damp accommodation, and was off sick for 2 weeks. Physical health improved after the move to brand new accommodation, but after about a month there was a period of 4 days’ unexplained absence.
At the return to work interview it was agreed that the contracted hours of employment should be reduced to 3 days a week, effectively extending the length of the contract from 9 months to just under 1 year. This new regime worked for 3 weeks, followed by a 2-month period of absence with depression. A stable period of 5 weeks’ work followed, but the trainee was absent with depression for the final 2 months of the contract.
When Abjinder was able to work, his contribution to the team was much-valued and he took a full and active part in the team’s workload. Longer-term projects that were not deadline-critical or time-specific were successfully undertaken.
The erratic attendance record made forward planning for the traineeship almost impossible. Nearly all work had to be limited to things that did not need to happen on or by a particular date and time.
Abjinder’s illness occasionally made communication very difficult or even impossible. At one point it was necessary to contact his next of kin as we were unable to communicate directly with him for several days.
Because the level of supervision and management support provided involved several different people (the trainee, the GROW manager, the trainee’s supervisor, the life coach and the supervisor’s line manager) it was occasionally unclear as to who should take responsibility for particular decisions. As a result, all decisions were taken by the support and management team (without the life coach), and usually without – but in consultation with – Abjinder.
A large amount of time (much more than was originally envisaged) had to be devoted to the supervision and management of this traineeship.
Help required – HR and external agencies
HR support for the supervision and management of this traineeship was required to:
Ensure that sickness absence policies were followed correctly
Facilitate an external occupational health assessment to ensure that appropriate support and counselling were provided
Alter the contract of employment to reduce the weekly hours of work and extend the contract
Abjinder was hugely enthusiastic at the beginning of the traineeship and had very high expectations of what he would be able to accomplish. However, he gradually began to realise that having an illness that is officially classed as a disability meant that he would have to reassess his expectations. Abjinder was very appreciative of the help and support received throughout the traineeship.
Trainee moving into further employment
At the outset the aim of the traineeship was to enable Abjinder to apply successfully for jobs and obtain a contract of employment. During the traineeship it became clear that he would find his poor attendance record a challenging, and possibly insurmountable, obstacle to getting a job. The hope was that Abjinder would be able to demonstrate that, with appropriate support, a reduced working week was achievable.
We have recently received a reference request from a multi-national organisation for Abjinder. In many ways this is excellent news, but I am concerned that this may not be a long-term solution – even if he succeeds in the interview and takes up the post.
On the positive side, we successfully supported a trainee through getting married and finding decent accommodation. The fact that we have been asked for a reference shows that Abjinder has the confidence to apply for jobs. He is in a better place now than he was when he started the traineeship – and maybe that should be sufficient success for the programme.