Tackling mental health issues in the workplace

The Word’s Maddest Job Interview aired on 25th July on Channel 4 which saw 8 candidates tested in a number of scenarios by 3 employers from varying backgrounds, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist were also observing the testing and behaviours to try and determine who out of the candidates had been previously been diagnosed with mental health issues. According to the program 1 in 5 employees who disclose a mental health issue to their bosses lose their job. The aim of the programme was to determine if having a mental health issue could a. be detected and b. determine if this would be detrimental to their employability.

The experiment was a really interesting insight into behaviours displayed by the candidates when placed into a number of tests – the first test being an interview setting where the 3 employers sat behind a desk and welcomed each candidate with one question. “What do you think about the Olympics?” The reasoning for one question to be asked was because common theories on interviewing candidates tends to indicate that interviewers make a decision within the first few minutes of an interview whether or not they like a candidate or not. This is an interesting theory as I believe this is not always the case – I have conducted a large volume of interviews and can honestly say that on occasions I have made a decision about the candidate in the initial first question or two but often once a candidate has relaxed a little and settled into an interview my perception of them has changed. But in the interest of the experiment I recognise that to give a fair and controlled decision; this format worked. I was also intrigued by the employers’ versus candidates’ perception of how the interview went. One candidate felt he came across confident and strong where as the general feedback from the 3 interviewers was that he came across nervous and dishevelled – clearly promoting that feedback from interviews, whether positive or negative is instrumental for candidates to understand how they appear to others in this type of setting to be able to hone their technique for future interviews.

As the candidates moved through various circumstances such as a lateral thinking task, memory and recall, group task, risk taking, socialising and a real life work challenge; the employers’ changed their views on employability for each candidate. The aim was to place 3 candidates in their “top 3” shortlist through observation and discussion but they were also issued with anonymous statements about each of the candidates who had been diagnosed with mental health issues. Some of the statements were describing the effects the illness had on individuals such as suicide attempts, being sectioned and being unable to leave the house for months at a time. When discussing the statements one of the employers said he would have to think long and hard about employing someone with a mental health issue and having it stated on their CV would make him likely to not employ that candidate.

The interesting part about the experiment came when the final top 3 candidates were informed of their short-listing and all of them had been diagnosed with varying degrees of mental health issues – a surprise to the employers’ who agreed that their perceptions had been changed and that due to spending time with each candidate over a 5 day period had really assisted with changing their initial choices and also opened their eyes to the fact that the candidates ability to demonstrate the right traits for a work environment such as leadership, demonstrating independent thinking and team work was very strong hence being chosen.

The tasks set were nothing new to testing I have come across for interviews and also internal management candidature testing – the only difference being that they were all set on a 5 day period which leads to the next question; are the interviews being held currently enough? Should there be more than a couple of one hour staged meetings? Some organisations stipulate an assessment day which is gruelling to say the least having been on a few in my past but maybe spreading the testing out over a number of days may be a more successful route to identifying the best person for the job, not just on first impressions.

The program provided an interesting insight into interviews and perceptions generally, not just for those diagnosed with mental health issues and as such I recommend watching it to hiring managers and candidates alike to gain an understanding of how behaviours are observed by employers for interviews.