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Workplace Mental Health: Challenges and Solutions in Recruitment

‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’ is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day (October 10th 2023).  This theme might seem obvious to most of us, but in reality, it is something that is often forgotten about as we’re talking about something that can’t always be seen and is often considered ‘a weakness’ if spoken about.  This is particularly the case in small to medium-sized companies where there’s a lot going on, processes are still being developed and defined and there aren’t necessarily dedicated HR/People Departments.  An employee (or colleague) with a broken leg or fractured collar bone is hard to forget about and will get offers of support and encouragement.  However, an employee (or colleague) suffering from anxiety, depression or ADHD might not get the support they require to do their job effectively, and moreover, happily.

It is therefore crucial that as employers and/or colleagues we are aware of the role mental health plays in the workplace and how we can all create a supportive environment for our colleagues and employees who might be suffering from poor mental health.

Because let’s face it, most of us have all been there (or perhaps are there) at some point in our lives.


The Role of Work in Mental Health

Interestingly, work can act as both a protective factor for mental health as well as be a contributor to worsening mental health.

There are some wonderful positives, other than getting paid and the usual workplace benefits, that can come out of having a job.

  • Having a job gives you a sense of ‘belonging’ to a group or team, which can help with people who feel otherwise isolated.
  • Karen Jacob, PhD, worked with people who experience borderline personality disorder and found that working provided them with daily structure and meaningful experiences.
  • Working can also give people who have mental health challenges the opportunity to utilise their strengths, care for others and contribute to something giving them feelings of altruism.
  • Working provides people with an opportunity to gain self confidence and purpose and meaning in life.

Jacob encourages employers and employees to follow the model of ‘unconditional positive regard’ – coined by the Father of Person-Centred Therapy, Carl Rogers.  According to this, we should strive to have a supportive and non-judgemental attitude towards others.  Instead of trying to change others, we work together to create an environment of understanding where we are there for our co-workers, and in return we know we will be supported through the highs and lows.

“This awareness allows for understanding of themselves and of others that create an empathetic environment.  That environment has the potential to promote personal and professional growth.  Work expectations may not change but they can be reach in a more supportive way” says Jacob.

However, the flip side is that a job can be detrimental to our emotional and mental health.

  • Having a job that requires more than is expected of you than the requirements on the job description listed (or that you are trained/equipped for) can lead to stress, burnout and a feeling of failure.
  • Uncertainties at work e.g. irregular hours, inflexible hours, job insecurity, unclear job description, unclear career opportunities can lead to anxiety and other mental health issues.
  • Instances of violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination and exclusion are also reasons why someone may be unhappy at work and add to stress and severe emotional and mental health problems.

It is therefore imperative that employers and managers have a duty of care and legal responsibility regarding mental health at work. Prioritising mental well-being is not only a moral obligation but also makes good business sense.


Supporting Employee Mental Health

Studies have shown that companies that support their employee’s mental health:-

    • Increase Employee Engagement: Research indicates that many employers today are facing record-low employee engagement levels. Employees dealing with mental health challenges may struggle to motivate themselves, leading to low engagement, especially in companies that are indifferent to these challenges.
    • Reduce Employee Turnover: Workers facing mental health challenges are more likely to leave their jobs research has found. The Exeutive Development Network’s research found that 86% of employees would be more likely to leave a job if it didn’t support their wellbeing, and 83% of employees were more attracted to working for a company that demonstrates a ‘progressive company culture’.
    • Enhance Employee Safety: Poor mental health can lead to employees neglecting safety protocols, resulting in more work-related injuries. Prioritising mental health can contribute to a safer work environment.
    • Improve Cognitive Performance: Depression can hinder a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks approximately 20% of the time and reduce cognitive performance by about 35%
    • Increase Chances of Hiring Top Talent: In a job-seekers market like we have at the moment in recruitment, it is important you are offering candidates what they wan to increase your chances that they will choose you. According to Deloitte’s GenZ and Millennial
      Survey, 80% of GenZs say mental health support and policies are important when considering an employer.


Mental Health Challenges we Face in Recruitment

Each industry will have its own compounding factors to poor mental health to overcome.

In recruitment, the challenges that are faced when it comes to mental health, include:-

    • KPI Driven Culture: Many industries, including recruitment, place heavy emphasis on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Leaders often prioritise quantitative metrics like the number of calls, emails, or meetings over qualitative evidence such as outcomes and client satisfaction. This can create undue pressure and stress.
    • Competitive Culture: The relentless pressure to perform can be overwhelming. In industries like recruitment, there’s often an expectation to be “on” all the time, leading to mental and emotional exhaustion.
    • Lack of Control: In recruitment, a recruiter’s success relies not only on their own performance but also on candidates’ performance after placement. This lack of control over candidate outcomes can be anxiety-inducing, as recruiters must impress both clients and candidates.
    • Relationship Management: Managing relationships with candidates and clients can be challenging due to diverse personalities, expectations, and emotional factors. This complexity adds to the mental load recruiters bear.
    • Work-Life Balance: The nature of certain industries, like recruitment, may require long hours and irregular schedules. This can strain personal relationships and hinder work-life balance, with professionals often sacrificing personal appointments for work-related commitments.
    • Social Expectations: Some employers may expect staff to socialize and network outside of working hours. While team-building is essential, employees should also have sufficient personal time to unwind.


What can Recruitment Agencies do to Tackle These Challenges?

There are several steps that can be taken to improve employee mental health and support, which include:-

1. Raise Awareness and Create an Open Culture: HR and internal communications professionals should prioritise mental health. Creating an open culture around mental health can encourage employees to feel comfortable discussing it openly.  As mentioned previously, allowing employees to share their experiences of mental health issues can help, but this must be done in a safe way for everyone preferably with a mental health expert present.

2. Educate Your Leaders: Leadership plays a crucial role in fostering a healthy work atmosphere. Managers should be trained to support their teams in dealing with mental health challenges and share their own experiences to promote transparency.  Having an open door policy so employees feel free to speak to managers about issues with fear of judgement or retribution.

3. Offer Flexibility: Flexible work arrangements positively impact mental health. Employers should establish norms and boundaries to promote autonomy while maintaining effective communication.

4. Encourage Positive Workplace Relationships: Foster a culture of connection and belongingness, especially in remote work settings. Provide tools for employees to connect and collaborate effectively.

5. Reduce and Manage Competitiveness: whilst competitiveness can be a motivating factor amongst recruiters, agencies can often have a ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality to increase the competition between colleagues.  This this can add unnecessary stress to a person.

6. Implement an Employee Well-being Programme: Studies have shown that employees feel more comfortable talking about mental health issues with someone external to their organisation. Formal well-being programmes can significantly reduce the likelihood of employees reporting mental health symptoms.

7. Measure Employee Pulse: Regular employee surveys can provide valuable insights into mental health issues. Act on the results and create improvement strategies, but keep these short.

8. Follow DEI Best Practices: Prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion to create a more inclusive and supportive workplace.


In conclusion, World Mental Health Day 2023 reminds us that mental health is a universal right. It is a call to action—a call to break the silence, destigmatise mental health discussions, and create working environments where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. We hope this article has helped to explain the role of mental health in the work place, the benefits that can come with a good mental health well-being programme and culture, the challenges that those in the recruitment industry may face and lastly, what agencies everywhere can do to promote mental health well-being.