Jun 21, 2023
Three candidates in a row with mental health problems and recruiting fees in the tens of thousands of dollars. Am I just unlucky or is this a trend? Our first instinct as leaders will be to not recruit people who are broken and to avoid those who are suffering with mental health issues. We will worry they will just disappear into a prolonged medical leave absence and we will be footing the bills for the duration. The issue though is these candidates are often ninja level masters of illusion and obfuscation. The hidden mental health problems don’t reveal themselves until after they have passed probation. Some recruiting companies have nifty little clauses in their contracts that state if the person isn’t fired or resigns before the end of the first three months’ probation period, then there will be no contractual obligation to replace them and you are out of pocket. Everyone, go back and read this clause in your existing contract with your recruiters and agitate to change it. I think 60 days should be the period, rather than thirty, because you can’t tell anything much about the potential problems in such a short span.
On the other hand, is this going to be the new reality? I have written before about leaders having to brace themselves to deal with under-performance and low levels of ability on the part of their new hires. This is another level up in the degree of difficulty we will potentially be facing. The core reasons are the same - we just cannot get people. Will we have to make some severe choices here? Will we have to say to ourselves, “am I better off having someone with mental health problems and then try and deal with that problem, rather than have no one on board and have the other issues associated with a lack of resources?”.
Do we have to learn how to accommodate the needs of new hires with mental health problems and accept that they may disappear for extended periods of time? There is a lot of talk today about having Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) inside companies. This is seen as a way to invigorate the organisation, by enabling it to tap into creativity and innovation through promoting diverse thinking and ideas. Does this approach extend to people with mental health issues? Part of DEI is providing a psychologically safe environment where people can feel safe to contribute in their own way. Is the logical extension of this idea, creating an environment where staff with mental health issues can feel safe and able to perform their roles, without having to retreat to sick leave to recover?
There is a lot of attention now on harassment of various types in the workplace. Bosses scolding staff, yelling at them in public, pressuring people for results etc., are getting flagged as potential harassment. For a lot of bosses dragged up in business in the “tough love” school of hard knocks, this is almost like a joke. Increasingly, companies are not treating it as a joke. HR will be making the rounds to talk to bosses who are having claims of power harassment etc., made against them by their staff. The pressure on bosses for results doesn't diminish by the way, so the navigation of this issue is getting increasingly more difficult.
Okay, where were the psychologically safe environments for me, when I was being pressured by my bosses for results, as I was growing up in business? There were none. So the issue is how do I adjust my expectations for this current reality? I am sure many bosses recall their own experiences and tough times and think young people are weak and indulgent. What do these bosses make of people with mental health issues wanting to work in their companies? I am asking for a friend!
Many of us are adjusting our expectations, communication and manner to accommodate these young people, who come to us with quite different ideas to what we knew as our reality. We do this because we have few choices about who we can hire these days and this generation all seem to have a similar need, which is quite different from our own experiences.
Do we now have to make another adjustment and accommodate people with mental health issues? We still cannot get people, so we are making hard choices. Are we trained for this type of thing? Are we flexible enough to make the necessary changes. Let me tell a joke I made up to illustrate the point. I tell people that Japanese staff love change. The listeners look at me like I am totally nuts. I then tell them that the Japanese staff want the boss, colleagues, clients, markets and organisation to change and they will stay just the same. Is this us, the bosses? Do we want everyone else to change, but we want to stay the exact same and keep leading as we always have, as if nothing has changed in society?