How does trauma impact on adults’ ability to obtain and sustain employment?

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Howard, Nicola
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Master of Occupational Therapy
Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga
Tokolahi, Ema
Leadley, Simon
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
occupational therapy
New Zealand
Howard, N. (2023). How does trauma impact on adults’ ability to obtain and sustain employment? (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Occupational Therapy). Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga, New Zealand.
This research project focused on “How does trauma impact on adults’ ability to obtain and sustain employment?” Using an occupational therapy focused lens, this research project aimed to address the limitations of other studies, which do not explore understanding of the effects trauma has functionally on employment. It also sought to reflect the unique bi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand context to include Māori and their experiences in obtaining and sustaining employment, which is missing in other literature on this topic. An interpretive description methodology was used, and semi-structured interviews were completed with four participants. The data acquired was analysed using a reflexive thematic analysis to identify key themes. The varied way trauma impacts on participants ability to obtain and sustain employment was shown through the resultant themes of employment being the right fit; managing health and wellbeing; readiness to work; and being able to “work to live, not live to work”. The findings showed that obtaining employment was influenced by: employers’ attitudes; having choice over productive roles; flexibility of hours for accommodating needs; accessing support and applying strategies being offered by services; the ability to work; and developing skills through higher education or volunteering pathways. Functionally sustaining employment was most effective if: the workplace environment was conducive; employers and colleagues’ attitudes were supportive; adequately able to navigate trauma responses for managing wellbeing; contracted hours and task demands were achievable without exceeding these; and work-life balance was achieved through engagement with positive occupations outside of employment. The importance of working to support individuals in a trauma informed way was highlighted, and the results provided expected and unexpected insights into the experiences of four unemployed participants who had experienced trauma. Future research should expand on wider sampling to provide more diversity, as well as more evidence-based guidelines for supporting those who have experienced trauma to return to employment and applying these recommendations into employment settings.
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