Mental Health Issues At Work

A lot of people don’t get it do they? They may be sympathetic alright, but their sympathy doesn’t translate into fully appreciating or understanding why you falter. When they see you running late, having to leave early, missing days entirely, they wonder how much you really want it in the first place. To be fair, they only see you when you’re experiencing days that are good enough for you to get out in public. If they could see you on your worst days; the ones where you can’t even get out of bed, they’d have a different point of view – perhaps – and maybe their sympathy would turn to empathy.

These mental health issues aren’t what you want in life. It’s not like you go out of your way to take time off. When the anxiety and panic sends you running for the security of your home surroundings; one of the few places you can actually breathe and feel somewhat safe and protected against what assails you, you’re not bolting because you want to, you’re leaving because you have to. When you do get home and shut that door with your back leaning against it out of sheer relief, you don’t always feel happiness at being home but rather, sometimes great frustration that once again, you couldn’t finish what you’d hope would be putting in a full day.

Being normal; it’s not too much to ask for is it? Just getting up, feeling good, having a shower and washing away all the remnants of bad dreams and thoughts along with the water. Dressing, looking at yourself in the mirror and liking what you see as you lock the door and head to work with confidence, looking forward to meeting people, being productive, getting things done. Normal. Sigh… “Why can’t that be me?”, you wonder. Just a normal, average person living free of these constant mental health challenges. Oh to have a day free of meds, free of worry and fear, no anxiety – “do I remember a time when I didn’t have these things?”

Now we all have times in our lives when we experience anxiety and worry. We’ve had moments of panic, a few days or maybe a couple of weeks when something has caused us to feel added pressure and stress. Some major project at work, year-end inventories, staff shortages, some invasive dental work etc. The pressure and anxiety we feel in these moments gives us a small glimpse into what others with mental health issues feel; a good thing of course. However the downside of these moments is that we might feel we know exactly what someone with constant anxiety and depression feels. This can cause us to expect them to snap out of it eventually, put in the effort to pull themselves past the panic attacks and be stronger than their mental illness. After all, if ours passed, theirs should too.

Like I said, this is the downside of having moments here and there where we all experience stress, anxiety and sadness. Oh it’s completely understandable that we evaluate others behaviours based on what we’ve experienced ourselves. As humans, we all do this. We try and understand the behaviours and actions of others using whatever we’ve experienced that comes closest to what we see and hear. The problem in this case is when we see our own short-term challenge; one we’ve overcome, and we compare it to someone with an ongoing mental health challenge and expect them to put it behind them as we’ve done. That’s just not realistic. If these are the expectations we hold, we’re really not being empathetic.

It just may not be possible to fully appreciate and truly understand what we ourselves have not experienced. And many a person with anxiety, depression, panic attacks and constant pressure has told me they wouldn’t wish on anyone what they struggle with every day. I for one can only imagine the strength of character, determination and immense mental and physical effort it must take just to show up some days and then on top of that, work with a smile, look like you want others to see you as. What I can’t imagine is how hurtful it must feel if you were present on the job, thinking you were blending in (finally!) and then someone said, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to smile.” It would have to feel like a dagger bursting what you believed to be a pretty impressive rebuilding of your self-esteem.

This blog today is therefore meant to be for both you who struggle with mental health and those of us who work alongside you and are fortunate enough to live free of. Show some compassion; what you can’t understand do your best not to criticize or judge harshly. When your workload goes up because someone is absent again, be mindful that they aren’t, ‘goofing off’, or ‘having a good time lazing about’. Keep them in your thoughts and welcome them back with words of encouragement.

And you who have mental health challenges, problems, struggles – choose what you will – all you can do is your best and your best is all that can be asked of you. May you be surrounded by considerate, compassionate people who lend support, have your back and excuse/forgive us if every so often we fail to act at our best with words that may hurt unintended.

Responding To The Convicted Looking For Work

There is a practice where I live making it illegal to ask a job applicant if they have a criminal conviction. It is legal however to state in a job posting and at the interview that a criminal record check is required prior to being offered employment. If a clean criminal record check doesn’t materialize, the person is often advised they will not be hired.

What we have here creates a conundrum; society wants people to work and earn their living. People with criminal convictions are willing to work but are being denied employment. As no one will hire them, they turn to social assistance at best, or crime at the worst out of a way to survive; society supporting them either through social assistance or the penal system should they be caught.

The convictions people carry range from those committed very recently to those committed decades ago. The crimes range from murder at the extreme to perhaps plea bargaining to avoid going through a trial and facing a stiffer penalty where they may have eventually been found innocent. Records stick unless they are pardoned.

Now not all people with criminal records look like hardened criminals and some folks with clean criminal records look like the criminals we imagine! So we have in our society then a number of people who are unemployed, qualified to do advertised work but who employers will not consider. The reason most employers give for not hiring someone with a criminal conviction has to do with insurance costs and liability should the person commit an offence.

There are indeed situations where the majority of us would be in agreement when it comes to denying certain offenders employment. We would not want a pedophile working at a childcare centre, a sex offender working at a woman’s shelter, nor a convicted thief working in people’s homes as a Personal Support Worker. In other words, we would not want to have a person placed in an environment where the temptation or possibility of offending again would put innocent people in harm’s way.

However, what do we do with the vast majority of people who have committed an offence (not excusing the conviction), who are capable of working with a low likelihood of re-offending in the kind of employment they are seeking? So for example a mom made a bad snap decision 10 years ago and stood between the police and her teen, trying to reason out why the police are in her home accusing her teen of something but can’t process what is happening that quickly and as a result has a record for obstructing police. Does that conviction 10 years ago mean she can’t be a Cashier at a grocery store? A Receptionist? What about a Call Centre Operator?

Now suppose you had an able-bodied, unemployed man in front of you with great people skills, appropriately dressed, well-educated and the qualifications to work as a Machinist or an Investment Broker. His 20-year-old offence when he was 19 years old was defending a girl he was with and in so doing, has a conviction for assault against her attacker.

Understand I’m not trying to minimize the convictions themselves. I am raising the discussion however on whether some with convictions should be able to compete on a level field where their convictions are not related to the jobs they are applying for.

There are some employers out there who want to hire people with criminal records. They short-list them for interviews, become their first choice after one or two interviews, and then offer them jobs – pending a clean criminal reference check. However, when that check comes back, they withdraw the offer. The point is that the person was objectively speaking the best person who applied.

The fear of being sued by someone who would say, “You knew this person had a criminal record and you hired them anyhow. I’m going to sue the pants off you!  We had a right to know! What were you thinking?” is just too great. One lawsuit and the company could be financially crippled, out of business altogether – and their reputation forever damaged.

IF they were hired, is it ethical to tell all clients, co-workers, stakeholders and customers, that a person with a criminal conviction has been hired? Would you treat your co-worker differently if you knew they had a conviction, even when their conviction has no direct relation to the job at hand.

So what is the logical reality of not employing people with such convictions – leaving aside the most extreme crimes and convictions. They still need to eat and be housed, so they may turn to social assistance; the safety net. There they will undoubtedly be told it is mandatory as a condition of receiving assistance to….job search. Take a course, attend a workshop – all designed to make them more attractive to employers; which the courses do.

A pardon is possible, but it takes $700 – $1000 and 5 years to get that locally. In contrast, 5 years of social assistance could run about $40,000.00. By the time 5 years of unemployed goes by the person is also embittered, skills, education, experience and references out of date.

I’m not proposing THE answer, just opening up the discussion. Is this the way we intended the system to work? How do we protect our businesses, safeguard our clients and customers, yet still provide opportunities for people with convictions to become financially independent, responsibly employed taxpaying citizens? What do you think?