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Shelby Burns: Staying engaged in work despite her serious injury

Two people are sitting at a table. Daniel has his hands under his chin. Shelby has her hands on a purple folder

How does a person with a seemingly debilitating injury manage to turn it into a positive?

Unfortunately, we have a colleague in that position, and we were keen to understand what might motivate a person in this situation to put one foot in front of the other, come to work and spend the day supporting others.

In the beginning

Employment consultant Shelby Burns began at Forrest Personnel in May of 2019. At the time, she was a robust person with no apparent physical limitations.

As a short aside, you might recognise her from one of our television commercials. Feedback received on the on-air version of Shelby has included: “Shelby is just like herself and very appealing.”

Onset of injury

However, within a relatively short period of time, Shelby has been plagued by a debilitating back injury. She has a slipped disk and is now in the queue for neurosurgery. Although she didn’t begin her career at Forrest Personnel with an injury, it’s worth noting that 23 percent of our team members identify as having a health condition, injury or disability.

Despite her never-ending pain and limited ability to move forward with life, she perseveres and comes to the office whenever her body lets her. In addition to showing up, she presents with a warm and friendly persona and inviting smile (just like the person you see in the television commercial).

Flipping things around

As is her nature, she has turned her injury into a positive, and notes that she now has an even better understanding of the challenges and barriers job seekers face.

Prior to joining Forrest Personnel, Shelby was employed in sales in the private sector. In parallel with this and through family experience with disability, she developed the aspiration to work in the community.

A variety of roles

She began as an Employment Consultant – inspired by the possibility of career growth and development – and was assigned a caseload of job seekers. Shelby loves learning and she was soon asked to expand her role by supporting National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants who are transitioning from school to the world of work. The nature of this role could be physically demanding and include, for example, supporting people in hours-long hands-on gardening stints.

Shelby’s back injury eventually meant that she was no longer able to take on physically demanding assignments. She was also conscious that any time off work may set back her participants’ search for employment.

Offering alternatives

Fortunately, Forrest Personnel was able to adjust to Shelby’s changing circumstances. She was assigned an intake position that focuses on meeting job seekers for the first time. She can also work from home by interviewing them remotely.

The reasons why

We really wanted to know from Shelby – when she sometimes looks like she should be flat on her back – why she perseveres and continues working.

“I was told that I should not be walking around and that I should be bed-bound until surgery. But, I love my job. And, if you love your job, you don’t want to take any sick days. I don’t like letting people down.”

In fact, Shelby told us that one week in June was her first full time week of work this calendar year!

The learnings

What has she learnt from this experience we wondered? What has pushing forward despite the odds taught her? Shelby explained that: “I’ve learnt that I’m not a worker-from-home. I receive so much support here at Forrest that it helps my mental health.”

What she really wants

Shelby concluded by sharing her ultimate aim: “I just want to get better. Maintaining my fulltime job is my biggest goal so I can help more job seekers into work. I genuinely want to be here at Forrest and be in a physical state that will let me contribute my maximum.”


Feature photo: Daniel Bruce, participant, and Shelby Burns, Employment Consultant, December 2020 by Simon Westlake

Forrest Personnel is a local charity. We specialise in supporting people with health conditions, injuries and disabilities to find and keep jobs.

If you think we can help you find employment, or if you are an employer interested in giving someone an opportunity to work, please get in touch today.

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