15 Aug 2019

Mental Health and Interviews...

I thought long and hard about writing a blog about Mental Health.  I was prompted when a candidate who I was pitching a role to asked me what the organisation's mental health policy was.  The recruiter part of me instantly wanted to add the question to the list of 'things not to ask at first interview', however, I was struck with an uncomfortable sense of that not being a reasonable response.  We live in different times - enlightened times and of course one in four of us will have a mental health problem at some point in our lives.  Whilst mental health problems are common, most are mild, tend to be short term and are normally successfully treated.  So, on balance, it's certainly not an unreasonable question to ask, particularly if you know you are prone to suffering from mental health issues. 

It is a very tricky area to advise upon.  An employer at interview may clearly interpret this question in different ways. In an ideal world, the question would be answered as per any other question and the employer would outline their policy and how it is implemented.  80% of the roles at Perfect Marketing People are agency led and many of these agencies are independently managed.  When I first started looking into this, I thought it would be unlikely that the smaller agencies are as proactive in managing their mental health policies as perhaps the global networks are or large blue chip corporate businesses.  In a smaller business, one is less likely to find a HR team who can implement a mental health strategy.  It turns out that I've had to eat my words, I've been in touch with several clients this week to ask them about their policies for mental health and I'm pleased to report that they are there! 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set out a framework of actions called 'core standards'.  These have been designed to help employers improve the mental health of their workplace and to enable individuals with mental health conditions to thrive.  Employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees whether work is causing the mental health condition or aggravating it.   A happy employee is a productive employee and so the Core Standards encourage employers to:
  • Form a mental health at work plan
  • Promote communications and open conversations by raising awareness and reducing stigma
  • Provide a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes
By nature, I'm quite cynical and to date, this is not an area that I've been asked about previously. Are employers really doing all this?  I asked Mr PMP for some insight.  Working for a global financial services business, he had a very different perspective.  If he hadn't shown me some of the case studies, I wouldn't have believed him.   This organisation does A LOT for their employees. They proactively talk about mental health. Senior Board members have done internal awareness campaigns where they talk about their own issues with mental health and how they manage/overcome them.  They have what they call resilience roadshows  which form part of a 'it's OK to talk' campaign and they work very closely with the Andy's Man Club (look it up if you've not heard of it). They have found that this open and proactive approach is proving successful.

I mentioned that I'd had to eat my words previously when it came to smaller and independent agencies.  I've spoken to several this week and all do have policies in place. All of the big agencies have firm policies in place and they are very good at the implementation too.  As a client has said to me, most mental health issues are invisible so a major part of their programme is for employees to keep an eye on colleagues too.  All the agencies that I spoke to had individuals who were trained up to be mental health tsars and wellbeing officers.  Employees know who they can talk to and what is on offer to help them.  A few agencies have had 'mental health weeks' so that the policies are promoted properly internally.

So back to the original subject. If you went along to an interview with either a corporate or an agency, and asked the question 'what is your mental health policy' you'd get a very thorough response.  That's great.   The next part of this, however, is whether you might be judged because you'd asked the question (in the same way if you asked about how many holidays there are or what time can you go home each day).   And that's the thing I'm still not sure about.  I can't answer it.  Mental health awareness is still in a development stage, can we guarantee no judgement?  No.  Does this mean you shouldn't ask the question?  I don't think so.  One of my most trusted clients, said that if this was asked at first stage, he'd feel that he would need to respond, obviously first with the answer but then to follow up with a few questions of his own surrounding how that person responded to pressure at work or whether they'd found themselves in difficult situations. It's a minefield for employers too!  I think as long as you can justify you have the right skills and personality for the business and role, my research shows that employers have made huge in-roads in looking after their staff and putting people first.  I've been really impressed!