Over half of employers would prefer not to hire somebody with mental health issues (Shaw Trust, 2018).
Unlike most Protected Characteristics, thoughts, which harbour prejudicial feelings about mental health, cannot be seen. So, leaders will not know which of their managers is prejudice and which is not. Of course, bias can be conscious or unconscious and nobody is going to admit to being a bigot.
So, what can leaders do to ensure mental health discrimination doesn’t prevent a good candidate being hired and doesn’t lead to a discrimination claim?
Leaders can do many things to minimise mental health prejudice.
For a start, leaders can ensure their recruitment processes are inclusive and take account of mental health conditions. Many mental health conditions can affect a candidate’s ability to attend and participate in a recruitment process. Employers should take steps to ensure candidates are given every opportunity to perform to their best, with the recruitment process being made inclusive, so that it allows candidates to do so.
‘Diversity and inclusion’ training is widespread. Clearly it must have a focus on mental health. From inclusive language to unconscious bias training, leaders can develop the understanding, attitudes and behaviours of hiring managers to ensure they are pro-mental health. Candidates who sense a pro-mental health culture may be more likely to be attracted to the employer, whether they have a mental health issue or not, as they will consider the employer’s culture to be open, inclusive and fair.
Permission to Hire
Leaders might consider giving express permission to hiring managers to take on somebody with poor mental health. Hiring managers may, to some extent, base their recruitment decisions on how their leaders will judge their hiring decisions. If a hiring manager feels their superiors will judge them harshly for hiring somebody with poor mental health, the hiring manager may be unlikely to do so. By authorising hiring managers to hire people with poor mental health, leaders are removing this consideration from the hiring managers thinking, so avoiding this cause of bias in the recruitment process.
Leaders should monitor, report on and review mental health performance in recruitment. If lower than expected levels of candidates with poor mental health are being hired, leaders will know there is an issue. Increasingly, employers are developing neurodiversity (ND) policies, not just to avoid discrimination, but to seek out ND people as some employers (eg. software companies) believe the skills of some ND people can be incredibly valuable. Of course, employers may wish to extend their social wellbeing ‘reach’ by bringing the most disadvantaged people with poor mental health into their organisation, giving them a role, professional status, social interaction, a wage and many of the other ‘normal’ things some people with poor mental health crave. Here, ‘Rethink Mental Illness’ does valuable work. Employers with a strong social conscience should enquire about their work.
Where external recruitment companies are utilised, employers should ensure they only use the services of recruiters that are mental health-friendly. Acid test questions will quickly flush out the pro-mental health status of these service providers:
· What % of candidates openly disclose a mental health condition?
· What % of candidates does the recruiter put forward that have declared a mental health issue?
Of course, the answers given by recruiters can quickly be compared with the profile of applicants to see if there is a match. The recruiter’s own policies and procedures as they relate to workplace mental health can also be assessed to determine how pro-mental health their culture is. If the recruiter cannot demonstrate they are pro-mental health, should they employer really consider using them?
So, if you’re a leader and you wish to ensure your organisation’s hiring managers are living by your organisation’s values of inclusivity and equality, give some thought to your hiring processes as they relate to mental health, to hiring manager attitudes and behaviours, to the permission you grant your hiring managers to hire people with mental health issues, and to the positive action you can take to make your organisation more socially responsible.