Fifty-nine year old Graham’s journey back into the workplace after a period of ill health has not been easy, but it is one that many people will relate to and it raises awareness of the role we can all play in supporting others. It sounds simple but asking a fellow colleague or an employee how they are after a crisis and what you can do to help, could make all the difference.
Graham has over 35 years’ retail experience. What he doesn't know about customer service and shop work, probably isn't worth knowing. But after a number of health-related knock backs and a serious incident on the job, that still haunts him, he has found it hard to get back into the workplace. Recently, Graham has been accessing support with the aim of finding a job that he can be proud of again. When we met Graham to talk about his career history to date, it was obvious that he was still processing what had happened to him whilst managing a shop in Rotherham town centre five years prior.
“It was like any other day when I opened up the shop that morning. I could have done it with my eyes closed by then. I’d been doing it for over a year. But this day was different. It was a life changing moment for me and one that I’ll never forget.
“When the chap first came into the store, I didn't think anything of it. He had an old watch that he needed repairing, so I took it, cleaned it, changed the battery and it was as good as new. His behaviour changed then. He hung around the store, he hadn't paid for the work and he started bothering the other customers. I tried to placate the situation at first, but it escalated as he became more aggressive with me and other people that were coming into the shop.
“Things got physical, and before I knew it, I was inside the small shop trying to prevent the man from hurting me or anyone else, whilst waiting for the police to arrive. Neighbouring store owners came out to support me but there was a long wait for back-up and I was being assaulted and threatened the whole time. I’ll never forget it. When it was finally over, I rang my boss to tell him what had happened, he said, cash up and go home. I remember clearly that my whole body was shaking from the adrenaline. I couldn't hold the phone properly."
That night, the reality of what had happened to Graham really hit home. He was in shock and was fearful about the repercussions. This was the moment that his relationship with his employer took a downward turn. A training manager called to ask him if he was ok, but that was the beginning and the end of the support he received from his workplace. Some months later, when Graham was back working at another store, he raised this with his area manager, explaining that he had felt let down and left to deal with the aftermath alone. The response? “You should have asked for help”.
Graham's story is not uncommon. Many people who experience a traumatic situation in the workplace, and who do not receive the appropriate level of support, suffer long term effects. It can lead to a breakdown in relationships between employers and employees and aggravate mental health conditions, which impact on a person’s ability to seek out and stay in work. Graham is finally talking about and dealing with the emotions that have haunted him since that day. With support and guidance from trained health professionals Graham has been able to look to the future, rebuilding his self-worth and applying for jobs again.
“When you have always worked, and you stop working, it takes a toll. You stop valuing yourself. You stop feeling motivated. When you feel let down by an employer, you stop trusting in people. It hasn't been easy, but I have been working hard to remember the positives again. I know what I am good at and I can vocalise it. I am excellent at customer service. I am good with people. I am honest and hardworking. I always stand up for what is right. These are all qualities that had somehow become buried underneath the depression I was experiencing, and now I’ve managed to grab back hold of them and pull them up to the surface. It has meant that I have the confidence to apply for jobs again and speak to employers. This is worlds apart from where I was two years ago.”
Graham is now actively seeking employment, he has started writing a book and is volunteering as a storyteller at a children’s workshop.
Graham signed up to Working Win earlier this year. Supported by NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Work and Pensions; Working Win is a free trial testing a new type of support for people with mental or physical health conditions that are affecting their work or their ability to find a job. If you live in South Yorkshire or Bassetlaw, you can learn more and refer yourself to the trial here.