The findings are structured according to the research question of the organizational features that enabled WISE to impact on health and well-being. The data analysis uncovered the following organizational features as being important in influencing health and well-being: structure and space; funding, finance and industry orientation; organisational culture; policy and process; and fostering local service networks.
Structure and space
There were a range of organisational structures through which psychosocial support and skill development occurred. The youth programs team in one of the cases provided an organisational structure for psychosocial support. In other cases where a team itself was not in place, this support was provided differently through policies and processes which will be covered later.
Participants across all of the case organizations reported a deliberate strategy of extending the skills of the young people and having them confront new situations – including developing new work skills, periodically changing work teams and venues, and engaging in diverse customer-facing roles – to increase their self-confidence. Being able to provide a range of different roles at different sites was considered important for their skill development and self-esteem. Young people and staff felt respected and valued within the workplace and training environment:
… I was very scared, so when I start with [WISE] they were very supportive, they were very helpful, so I feel secure, I feel like – how to say sometime when I need support … especially for something work here at first I didn’t know much how to do so if I did something wrong so they … explain to me clearly. So they show me not just explain to me, they show me how to do so that’s how I started to feel confident and so I start to improve other – like I know how to do other things and also after that when I apply for a job… so that’s how I start to build my confidence. (Case D, Young person 10)
I think the biggest thing is when we finish the first containers and I’m standing there, ‘We can do it actually! We have done all of this!’ So I was proud. I can do it! So it gives me confidence. (Case C, Young Person 4)
The constant recognition and praise for developing skills was seen as critical for the development of self-confidence and self-esteem.
The spatial design of the case WISEs impacted positively on young people’s sense of well-being. Each of the WISEs used space differently to cater for the different mental health needs of the young people. There was one case study that had a significant amount of green space which was noted as beneficial for well-being:
When I’m at home the environment is a lot different. It’s a lot more stressful, a lot more work. Everything’s “Go, go, go, go, go.” When I come here for volunteer work it was come here, chill, do work. It’s quiet. You hear birds. You’re always surrounded by nature sort of thing, so it’s just awesome. (Case D, Young Person 6)
All case organizations included a number of hidden areas and lesser-used rooms which can help to reduce stress levels by providing a place for quiet and solitude when needed. Designated areas, like break rooms or games rooms created a more informal space for young people to interact. There was a sense that socializing was a key element of the work and education environment and this was actively encouraged as a means to build self confidence in young people. The sense of belonging and having a community to connect with was seen as beneficial for autistic people or those with previous experience of social isolation; and also, for people experiencing depression, anxiety, and general loneliness. These quotes reflected a common sentiment across the different organizations and young people who were interviewed:
Something tragic happened back in 2013 and that kind of like I was going through depression and stuff over it, so that set me back a lot with career things … I went into a bad depression … some places I’ve worked I’ve had like the best boss ever, but then some places I've had like people I just don’t want to work for and help out. But here is like, it's definitely up there. I haven’t met a single person here that I've not liked or gotten along with yet. Everyone is great and nice. They’ll answer any question you have. They won’t make you feel bad for asking questions. Just really supportive and motivated to help you and learn. (Case B, Young person 9)
I suffer with severe anxiety, and I do get a little bit of deep depression. But since being here, that’s gone. I think it’s amazing. I’ve come here, and I’ve just got this role now where I want to be at work, I’m happy to be at work… I feel supported here. I can come here and I can have my little chats to people. (Case D, Young person 1)
Feeling that sense of connection with other people was one of the key factors that people felt was responsible for improving their mental health and reducing feelings of anxiety and depression.
Finance, Funding, and Industry Orientation
Providing these work and training opportunities within a flexible environment was made possible through a mix of revenue streams. This included commercial product offerings, internal investment through their parent organisation and/or grant funding through philanthropic and/or government partners. This was seen as constant challenge in operating this type of organizational model:
‘Access to finance is my ongoing challenge always. The challenges of trying to scale these things and getting access to the right type of capital… the market’s just too embryonic to have the things in place that you need to be able to access the capital at the right time’. (Leadership, Case A)
The sustainability of the organizations depended in large part on aligning within an industry supportive of this business type and being commercially competitive. One of the key focuses was aligning the social goals of the WISE with the chosen industry to ensure that there were employment opportunities in that industry in that region for young people. There were some concerns by staff though that the culture and gender norms of the industry in which two of the case studies operated may not be suitable for the young people involved in the WISE.
Interviewer: people write about hospitality as quite a male dominated industry. And this isn't specific for social enterprise but more hospitality in general. What's your take on that?
Participants: … I think this is definitely one of the main workplaces where I see a little bit more equal in gender but everywhere else I've worked is I would say 80% male dominated for sure. (Case A, Young Person 11)
It was also noted in one of the case studies that industry norms around smoking was a point of connection between young people and staff which was a concern from a health perspective. As one staff member told us:
… we don’t have an area that separates the students from the staff. So, we all smoke but the thing is, we’ve only got one smoking area so it means that you’re out there having a smoke and all the students are out there having a smoke. (Case D, Program Staff 2)
In addition to the negative impact of smoking, accessible healthy food choices were a challenge in some industries due the location of the workplace. In some industrial settings there were no healthy food options available.
A point of consistency across the case studies was an acknowledgment of diversity was important to the WISEs which maybe atypical of industry norms:
It [Organization] is like a community, because at the first time when we started, the classmate that we had is all from different ethnic groups, like from different communities, different people, like the people who came from - they kicked out of school or they were on drugs and stuff, they’re disabled or something like that. You’re getting involved in a lot sort of people, you know, different sort of people. (Case C, Young Person 8)
There was strong recognition of diversity and as detailed thematically, a strong desire to validate people’s differences. From field notes recorded this was observed through strong visual cues – including posters, staff profiles of visible diversity around the WISEs; use of iconic symbolism – such as pride colours – in workplace design; and purposeful integration of visual, textual and auditory organisational health and safety materials to support participants of all abilities and linguistic diversity. While this was undoubtedly seen as valuable from the perspective of both the staff and young people, a consistent concern was that it created an unrealistic expectation of the realities of ‘normal’ workplaces:
We provide an environment here that is really rare in that people are just supported no matter what their identity is, what their background history. It’s a very supportive environment which in turn has its own unintended consequences down the track when it comes to putting them back out in the real world. (Case A, Leadership)
This highlights the need for broader workplace reform and change to ensure that workplace inclusion becomes more common.
Organisational culture refers to the shared beliefs and values that influences the relationship interactions and practices within an organisation. It was made abundantly clear in the interviews that this sense of feeling comfortable and being able to be yourself was highly important to the staff and young people in the case organizations. There was a strong focus on people feeling safe to disclose any mental health conditions. In terms of authenticity, people felt comfortable being open about their mental health challenges and felt supported in doing so.
Yeah, and be safe, feel safe and supported and nurtured and know if there’s baggage and many times there are, that can be left at the gate and just come in and have that free open mind and not be judged or accountable for too much, that you would possibly spotlighted for in the community. (Case D, Program Staff 1)
Across the organizations there was a strong culture of mental health awareness and support. Staff challenged the stigma around mental health that many young people encountered in other workplaces and educational settings, with a focus on strengths-based approaches. In one of the WISEs there were specific tasks and workshops delivered on acceptance of differences and inclusivity, in all other cases these themes were observed in the operation and actions of staff. The message that young people encountered in all case studies is that everyone faces different mental health, family, background challenges and this is a place where you can be yourself. This creates a safe environment in which young people can feel supported to participate in group settings where different learning styles and ways of being are normalized. This level of acceptance was fostered throughout the organizations and was made explicit to new participants:
I bring them up and I introduce them to [Name], [Name] what do you do? Right, and particularly the young ladies on [our training program] … their ears prick up. Because they can see this young lady doing all this magnificent high precision soldering and component replacement, and you watch them and you see their eyes stare … I say [Name], what were you doing five, six years ago, and she tells them, she calls herself an alcoholic, whether she was or wasn’t, she had trouble with alcohol and stuff like that. Fought with her mother, didn’t see her father, no job, no prospects, and that’s when the penny drops. (Case B, Manager 2)
This authenticity was valued across the hierarchy of the case organizations. The senior staff were focused on providing a safe environment for young people where they could speak their mind and be open about any challenges they were facing. The most common approach employed was to ‘check in’ regularly:
There’s been times here before where people will say, ‘[Name], are you okay today?’ Like [Leadership staff], last week, she said to me, ‘Are you okay today?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, why’s that?’ And she’s like, ‘You’re not your happy, bubbly, like you want to be here - not saying you don’t want to be here, but are you sure you’re okay?’ … She definitely noticed [a difference]. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I seem okay. I’m just a little – [Staff member] is leaving, and I’m just thinking a lot.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re just not your bright, bubbly’ - and I’m like, ‘Sorry. I don’t mean to be like that.’ And it really got me out of it. (Case D, Young person 1)
The young people interviewed indicated they felt confident to express their mental health challenges and felt secure in the approach taken by staff. There was acknowledgement of the empathy being provided and the young people clearly felt a strong sense of connection and safety in the workplace. This level of collegiality and acceptance of the young people was something the young people really valued.
It keeps you involved – to get involved with a community or to get involved at work, teamwork or in visually working. (Case C, Young person 8)
Yeah, just for them to have our backs all the time, I feel really supported. (Case A, Young person 3)
Organisational culture was also reflected in organisational governance where on all boards there was a balance required between social goals and financial goals:
‘I think the beauty and one of the reasons I really enjoy being involved in [the Board] is I feel like that balance is pretty well managed. The harmony between ensuring that we are not leaving any stone unturned around the profitability of the businesses but remembering why we’re there in the first place and ensuring the effectiveness of the social programs as well’. (Director, Case A)
In none of the case WISEs were young people involved in governance processes given the transitional workplace model whereby most of the young people were not there as long-term employees. However, there was evidence of young people being given more authority and leadership roles in their organization, which enabled them to have some sort of influence among their peers, and for some a more direct supervisory role. This helped to build their self-efficacy and again contributed to an improved sense of well-being:
In terms of the skills, I’ve definitely found that I’ve become more assertive… All the liaising that you need to do. Also leadership, not just of other people, but of yourself. Self-leadership is definitely a real thing. It’s all part of the motivation, the initiative. And on top of leadership, it’s teamwork skills and communication skills. (Case D, Young Person 1)
It helped me with a lot of things. It helped me with work. It helped me with sort of social stuff. It helped me de-stress. Work with different people that have never worked before, sort of being more – how do I say it – more of a role model. (Case D, Young person 6)
The self-confidence and improvement in mental well-being through taking on a leadership and mentoring role was a common reflection of both staff and the young people interviewed. For continuing staff there was some opportunities provided for management type experience. Again, this was linked to an increased sense of confidence and self-esteem and reduced participants anxiety levels when confronted with new situations such as leadership opportunities.
Policy and process
All the case study WISEs had in place processes and policies to support business operations and staff and participant wellbeing. Some of the key policies related to accommodating flexible work arrangements to suit employees and providing opportunities for learning through mistakes within certain expectation boundaries as captured in the following field notes:
The rules of work apply… But if you cannot get transport to work there are alternatives to help you (youth support worker); if you conflict with someone there are people who can help you work this out (Trainers Assistant); if you do something wrong with the equipment you will be cautioned, but this will not be held against you (Trainer). In each of these cases the staff response secures the engagement of the student. This is the internal network that exists to support student participation in the program. (Researcher field notes)
Providing flexible working conditions was one of the key processes identified in the organisations. This young person reflected on how they were offered the opportunity to take some time off after a ‘check in’ chat with a staff member:
For example, on Monday, knowing that another staff member was leaving that week, and I was like, I don’t want them to go. I was a little up in my head too much. And I was like, great, it’s just like [previous organization name] all over again. And I just started getting a little bit of anxiety. And my manager said, ‘You’re really anxious today. I haven’t seen this in you since [previous organization name].’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s just everything happening at the moment.’ She’s like, ‘Do you need to go home?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m fine.’ And I think being here, it really helps me. (Case D, Young person 1)
Again, this relates to feeling safe within the workplace to share feelings and concerns and feeling validated to do so. For other young people a strong sense of structure was helpful for their mental health and well-being:
Getting yourself in to a routine, can also help you get in to a routine of improving your physical health as well. (Case A, Young Person 6)
Before I came to this course I was like pretty depressed... Because I just kept getting knocked back, I was sort of like giving up. I definitely feel like healthier mentally just coming here every day and being punctual, having a routine. (Case B, Young person, 9)
Another common reflection was the high degree of tolerance for making mistakes evident across all of the case WISEs which was a feature of the Culture and Policies and Processes of the organisations. Because of this, participants reported that they felt safe trying new approaches and expressing different ideas. This was particularly important for those participants who identified as neurodiverse, as inherent in their neurodiversity was that they saw the world differently and, thus, had different ideas and support requirements. Therefore, feeling safe to express their ideas and learn from mistakes was an important factor for them to feel a state of positive well-being and reduce their anxiety and depression:
[The WISE] has been very lenient with my anxiety provoked mistakes. I do make pretty consistent mistakes. It’s good to have a sort of practice run. (Case A, Young person 2)
A high degree of tolerance for mistakes also provided the young people with confidence that they could try and develop new skills. Some participants expressed that they felt valued for their contribution, despite their mental health challenges and their self-doubt. One participant expressed how staff were able to respond to changes in his mental health needs by providing support and encouragement and this impacted positively on his self-confidence:
… The end of my first trial shift… [Name], who was supervising me at the time - I was worried I wasn’t doing too well, that I was kind of slower than everybody else and couldn’t get my bearings. He came and reassured me and he told me that everyone had actually told him that I was doing great. That was really good to hear and I walked out of there feeling pretty proud of myself. (Case A, Young Person 1)
Fostering local service networks
One of the important roles that the WISE managers and staff performed to support the young people was to develop relationships with local services and employers, and at times acting as the intermediating within those networks to help young people transition to open employment opportunities:
‘I’ve got constant phone calls with [WISE Manager], so that’s been interesting and challenging and to be honest time consuming. But I think we’ve got a good working relationship . . . we can communicate and . . . tell each other . . . what’s working well, what’s not working so well’. (Local employer and WISE partner organisation, Case D)
All of the WISEs performed some role in facilitating referrals to education, housing and welfare support providers on a case-by-case basis. Two of the case WISEs had a structured support program to help young people find work and in one WISE, they had staff attend the induction at the new workplace with young people which was a source of social and emotional support. Conversely, one of the case studies had spent considerable time and effort to establish industry relationships to support employment pathways but at this stage was struggling to see results for these efforts:
Getting them through the Cert II is not the outcome. It's just an output and it's another pillar to help them move on and achieve further things … Therefore, what are the other support networks you need around it? … It's not something we can do on our own. We need commercial partnerships to be able to achieve it and it's getting that narration out there and that communication out there to get that support from commercial partners. That's when we'll really be able to really achieve what we're seeking. (Case D, Leadership)