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A Page for Your HR Book: Supporting Consumers as Colleagues
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Fears and misperceptions can prevent employers from hiring consumers. Employers might worry about personal boundaries, relapses, or training needs. HRC’s Gloria Dickerson, Recovery Specialist, shares her thoughts on consumer integration and some helpful reminders for employers who are looking to hire.
A Page for Your HR Book: Supporting Consumers as Colleagues

Hiring consumers as colleagues is key to improving homeless services. Too often, consumer involvement is limited to volunteer roles or advisory board memberships. However, many agencies successfully support consumer involvement within the design, delivery and evaluation of services.

Potential employers might have fears about consumers’ abilities to function as competent workers. They may worry that consumer employees will experience re-traumatization or have difficulty maintaining personal boundaries. Employers in service settings encourage clients to engage in treatment and recovery. Yet when it comes to employment, a person’s treatment history can become a significant barrier to employment. Such barriers have less to do with an individual’s skills and abilities and more to do with stigma.

Other employers may feel ready to hire consumers, but limited dollars for recruitment, training, and support can be barriers. These challenges can leave well-intentioned employers hesitant to hire consumers.

It helps to remember that the marker of a successful hire is the goodness of fit. Employers should focus on matching the candidate to the job duties and the work environment. Agencies can benefit from the knowledge that comes with consumers’ lived experiences. Opportunities to talk with other employers in a supportive and welcoming environment can also improve employer confidence in managing difficulties.  

For many consumers who are working, these fears have yet to become a reality. In fact, consumers already work in many agencies and industries. An administrator, manager, and/or direct-care staff-person in your agency may be a consumer. The simple truth is that not everyone discloses life experiences.

Consumers need work opportunities, just like any of us. All employees can excel beyond expectations when they are supported and coached. By putting one foot in front of the other and meeting life’s challenges, consumers can reclaim rights and dignity through work.

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2009
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