How do employers best support ex-offenders’ resilience in the workplace? Aims and objectives

Resilience, transformative research, social justice, ex-offender, formerly incarcerated, employment, hiring practices


  • To understand how employers can support ex-offenders in the workplace
  • To evaluate the transferability of the findings to the wider population of employers

We are looking for ex-offenders aged 25-70 to take part in this study.


  • To demonstrate the positive contribution employing ex-offenders has in the workplace
  • To work with an advisory team of co-producers throughout the whole research process
  • To interview employers who employ, or have previously employed ex-offenders to understand their experiences
  • Use data analysis to influence employment policy positively towards employing ex-offenders
  • To develop recommendations for policy change in relation to organisational policies such as removing the box on the initial job application that indicates the applicant has a criminal record.

Research questions

  • How can employers promote and support resilience in ex-offenders in the workplace?
  • How can workplaces build on the positive implications of employment of ex-offenders for employers, ex-offenders, and the wider community.
  • How can the transformative approach influence employment policy, in relation to employment of ex-offenders?

This research will be co-produced with ex-offenders aged between 25 -70 who have been out of prison for a minimum of two years and have been in some employment during that time. Initially, there will be 30 interviews with employers who employ or have previously employed ex-offenders to explore their views on and feelings about what employers can do to promote resilience in the ex-offender in the workplace. Findings from these interviews will be analysed so the co-researchers can make decisions as a group on how to share this knowledge more widely. The group can decide on the research methods we will use to conduct research and narrow down specific research objectives.

The aim is to understand what some employers do well and what resilient moves they make that help the ex-offender in the workplace. This information can then be used to persuade other employers of the benefits of employing ex-offenders. Together with the co-researchers, we hope to develop a resilience framework for employers to use as a helpful tool when employing ex-offenders. The co-produced findings and materials will then be shared by the co-researchers to policy and decision-makers with the aim of influencing employment policy.

Background information:
Global research shows that incarceration rates have risen (Fletcher et al.,1998; Uggen and Staff, 2001) and have risen drastically in recent years (Varghese et al.,2010; Davis et al.,2012; Bhuller et al.,2019). In the United Kingdom (UK) the cost of keeping one prisoner in a public sector prison is £42,591 a year and slightly less for contracted or private prisons (Ministry of Justice [MOJ], 2019). Home Office statistics (2018) for the UK show 27,331 individuals entered the detention estate and 28,244 left. However, what policy makers and the wider public do not always consider is that most offenders are eventually released (Morenoff and Harding, 2014), leaving the profound challenge of reintegrating rising numbers of ex-offenders into the community (Maruna, 2011).

Previous research, using a critical interpretive literature review (Williams, 2020), suggests that employers need to create a workplace and organisational culture that empowers and values the ex-offender by giving them trust and autonomy. Hiring ex-offenders has positive implications and employers recognise them as assets to the business, who are strongly motivated to perform well and have a greater engagement with their work (Goodstein, 2019 b).  The positive implications are, greater loyalty and commitment; greater self-worth; gratitude; punctuality; reliability and a willingness to learn, leading to enhanced performance and career progression (Goodstein, 2019 a and b; Goodstein and Petrich, 2019; Jones-Young and Powell, 2015; Pandeli and O’Regan, 2019; Lutman et al,. 2015; Reich, 2017). The research further suggests that when employers give an ex-offender a sense of ownership and responsibility, the return is increased productivity, loyalty and commitment to the workplace (Goodstein, 2019 a and b; Goodstein and Petrich, 2019; Jones-Young and Powell, 2015; Pandeli and O’Regan, 2019; Lutman et al,. 2015; Reich, 2017).

Work has the power to both change ex-offenders’ lives and to have major positive effects on the wider fabric of society. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ, 2018) state that ex-offenders, in full time employment within a year of being released, were less likely to reoffend than those who did not. The Secretary of state for Justice (MOJ, 2018), claimed that coming out of prison into work reduces the financial burden on taxpayers and the welfare state, thus reducing reoffending. However, he reported only 17% of ex-offenders were in work a year after they were released. It is imperative that ex-offenders are supported in finding and keeping employment by addressing and tackling the issues that cause the offending behaviour. For example, the benefits of employment may not be understood by a family with a history of generations of unemployment (Seetec, 2020). Building, nurturing, and maintaining resilience are an intrinsic part of the role of the employer.

Resilience-based knowledge could influence the wider adversity context and the resilience evidence base could be used to challenge custom and practice in policy and organisations (Hart and Aumann, 2017). By understanding how to build resilience in ex-offenders, we reduce the social and financial impact caused by reoffending. The term resilience is often implicit in the workplace but positive interventions are described in other ways. However, there is no consistent, inequalities-based approach to how employers can implement such measures universally.

The research will use a transformative paradigm which provides a framework for addressing inequality and injustice in society (Mertens, 2007:212). This process complements the co-produced design and gives equal voice to the marginalised, the ex-offender, who would not normally be heard in academia. The transformative paradigm examines assumptions that explicitly address power issues, social justice, and cultural complexity throughout the research process (ibid 212-213), aiming to do research that contributes to sustainable change in the community.

Currently, there is no co-produced, transformative research conducted with both ex-offenders and employers. Such a study would give voice to the needs and concerns of both sides from a lived-experience point of view. I suspect this has not been attempted previously because it is a challenging and often unpopular subject. What needs to be properly understood is how best to support the resilience of ex-offenders once they are in the workplace and the lack of literature, particularly from the ex-offender’s point of view, identifies a gap in the research which this PhD hopes to address.

If you would like more information on this research, please contact the University-based researcher Justin Williams at [email protected] 


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Reich, S. (2017) ‘An exception to the rule: Belief in redeemability, desistance signals, and the employer’s decision to hire a job applicant with a criminal record’ Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 56(2): 110-136.

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Varghese, F., Hardin, E,. Bauer, R. and Morgan, R. (2010). ‘Attitudes Toward Hiring Ex-Offenders.’ International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 54(5): 769-782.

Williams, J. (2020) What do employers need to consider when employing ex-offenders, in order to support their resilience in the workplace? Dissertation as part of Master of Science Degree.

This project is funded by the ESRC South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership.

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