The year was 2007. It was in the depths of the Great Recession when whispers of Anxiety connected to loss of jobs were sweeping the tech industry. Our core business at HR Solutions Partners in the Silicon Valley had dried up leaving HR Consulting stuck in the depths of services CEOs were no longer willing to invest in. And one could forget about Recruiting Services; the other 40% of our business.
My hours were cut to Part-time, and I found myself lucky with the knowledge that my wife’s teaching role would be enough to help us move forward. I then had a panic attack. I visited with a local psychologist and the diagnosis was sound: Generalized Anxiety or GAD as it is sometimes known. It had been with me my whole life. I just did not realize it. Soon the birth of my firstborn daughter Brielle added to my Anxiety puzzle. A new Father was coming to grips with something I did not completely understand, yet within myself I completely did.
For years I had wondered why I overtly worried, even when I was doing things extremely well, and adding value. I was also one who would go into a zone of “hyper drive” focus leaving me curious why I was 1. A Perfectionist; and 2. “My own toughest critic”. Interestingly, the GAD would come to serve me well years and years later when I was side by side with others leading in what would be known as an “Elders Quorum President” role within my local LDS congregation.
At that time starting at the end of 2019, and into 2021 I held this role where I led a group of about 100-150 men in my Church. Imagine having a responsibility to oversee welfare needs, and other circumstances and YOU have Anxiety during one of the most unprecedented events of this young century: Covid-19. Not exactly easy.
There was no handbook, there was no playbook. It was simply “learn as you go.” Top this off with the unprecedented talent circumstances of 2020 and it was a perfect storm. YET, I was uniquely equipped to lead out in that time BECAUSE of the very thing I had always feared sharing: my Anxiety.
Furthermore, I was able to close difficult candidates in the tough offer negotiation phase simply because I “got them” about the anxiety of the time. Because when everyone around you is anxious, and when others see you having empathy because “you get them” trust tends to come more easily in those first interactions. Well, there is something to be said about that. It was then I realized more so than ever before that my challenges with Anxiety were something that could give me the keys to do great things.
It has taken me to a place where TRUE freedom is understanding that I am SO much more than what is behind my reality inwardly. True strength is embracing your uniqueness and going forward despite all the circumstances and prevailing tail winds.
THE REALITY THAT IS ANXIETY
I have been pondering this article for 3 years. Timing, circumstances, focus and emphasis on “who I was” and “who I was becoming” played a role in the very moment it was time to step forward and share – finally – the circumstances of my Neurodiversity. It was on a call with friends such as Paul “The Minnesota Headhunter” DeBettignies, Shannon Pritchett – Head of Marketing & Community at hireEZ, and my friend the legendary Steve Levy, where I shared publicly that I was Neurodivergent.
To hear – at that moment – the criticality of the genuine power of humanity behind the share and support that came of it (hundreds of messages afterwards mind you from peer recruiters), NeuroDiversity & Anxiety is MORE common than I first imagined.
Now, in 2023 I sense this issue is more prevalent and pronounced, because people are ready to embrace this reality as part of the human existence. Before I dive into the meat of this article with some recommendations, and some ideas on how to make your workplace more suitable to #NeuroDiverse candidates, I provide a word of caution. Unprecedented circumstances of the last 3 years can only be described as a whiplash of sorts, and has positioned us in an unquestionably hard place for Talent/HR/Recruitment Professionals.
Anxiety is real for all of us.
Mental Health is playing out in front of us, and human beings are not always forthcoming about what they are facing NOR do they realize it. Under the surface of what could be called utterly ANXIOUS times, the day has come to embrace this unique reality AND be more human about it. Being genuine about mental health is a powerful key attribute of making an impact than anything.
It could be said it is just the beginning of unlocking a culture that creates engaged employees and teammates is just the start. YOU CANNOT ignore this issue to your peril – turnover, disengagement, lost productivity, apathy, and more are the results of ignoring this issue.
As a recruiter you have been anxious, your hiring managers have been anxious, your candidates have been anxious.
Come to the middle of this storm of unprecedented Macro, and Micro circumstances the reality is that Talent Acquisition has been a most stressful, and overwhelming of professions these last few years.
Let me repeat that for those in the back: THIS IS THE TOUGHEST TIME IN A GENERATION TO RECRUIT, FIND, AND ATTRACT Talent.
I hope this does not come as a surprise, because unless you are living under a rock you have seen mass layoffs, sick hiring managers and candidates, lost loved ones, had your bread and butter ripped from underneath your feet, you have blazed trails and lost candidates. Is what I am saying hitting the mark? In a recent presentation which I gave in Minnesota, my content hinged on the fact that I was ARMED with data, seriously showing the workplace trends that were under the surface hitting talent acquisition right in the heart.
You see your emotional intelligence might be very well tied to the ability to take circumspectly and critically to heart empathy and feedback well. But how can you do so effectively when you are hit so profoundly with loss – loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of predictability. You only need to remove predictability and stress becomes real.
THIS is the reality of the 2020s.
Face it, it is not going away: inflation, Covid-19, layoffs, THESE contribute to a growing and deep pandemic of emotional challenges the likes have never been seen before at scale. What is the ramification? If we DO NOT own this, we could miss a huge opportunity, and what is worse lose professionals who quit OR who take the ultimate sad way out: suicide. And I’ve heard of some of our peers who indeed have.
THOUSANDS of Recruiters were laid off in 2020, hired back, went through the busiest hiring season in a generation, and then many got laid off yet AGAIN. All in the space of 3 years. Anxiety has been front and center, and yet few are talking about this on the scale it needs to be heard. Imagine being in the center of your business, you hired and built trust with candidates, they came to you, they were in turn laid off, and then you lost your job.
Mental Health has been growing in importance, many sweep it under the rug. Many with Anxiety or NeuroDiversity FEAR they will lose their job, lose trust of colleagues, or face the ramifications of bias which while protected is most certainly real.
In our modern times it is less taboo to talk about. A conversation with several prominent Recruitment leaders I deem close friends reveals that some of those to whom I have profound respect and heap accolades upon ARE indeed Neuro-Diverse. You see it is more prevalent than we are led to believe.
STATISTICS THAT ARE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE PREVALENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE
There are sobering statistics which prove the existential importance and impact of Mental Health for everyone, whether you lead a team, hire for teams, or seek to impact the dialogue. Case in point:
- “An estimated 8% of the population experience depression, including 5% of adults (4% among men and 6% among women), and 5.7% of adults older than 60 years. Approximately 280 million people in the world have depression” – World Health Organization Fact Sheet
- “An estimated 15% of working-age adults have a mental disorder at any point in time” – World Health Organization
- According to One Health, a National HMO, in a study they conducted with 1600 Workers and HR Professionals found that “64% of workers said they are struggling with mental or behavioral health issues. 91% of these employees said they are less productive due to their mental or behavioral health issues, with 45% reporting a productivity loss of more than 5 hours a week.”
- In a 2021 American Psychological Association survey, nearly 3 in 5 employees (59%) said they have experienced negative impacts of work-related stress in the past month, and a vast majority (87%) of employees think actions from their employer would help their mental health. What is more, those who typically feel tense or stressed during the workday are more than three times as likely to say they intend to seek employment elsewhere in the next year, creating challenges for employers seeking to retain valued talent. Source: Department of Labor
Let us dissect this. That is a good chance that Mental Health issues have been exacerbated with MANY going untreated. If there are those that speak up about 60% of the time, imagine what Covid-19, the loss of income, the loss of a loved one, and so many other issues compiled on top of one after the other are causing now?
Here’s some more sobering statistics for you to digest:
- According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), an independent source of Health Policy Journalism, it was found that: “Over the course of the pandemic, many adults reported symptoms consistent with anxiety and depression, with approximately four in ten adults reporting these symptoms by early 2021, before declining to approximately three in ten adults as the pandemic continued.”
- “Concerns about mental health and substance use remain elevated three years after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 90% of U.S. adults believing that the country is facing a mental health crisis, according to a recent KFF/CNN survey.”
- According to the National Institute of Health – “In a 2021 study, half of Americans surveyed reported recent symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder, and 10% of respondents felt their mental health needs were not being met. Rates of anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders have increased since the beginning of the pandemic. And people who have mental illnesses or disorders and then get Covid-19 are more likely to die than those who do not have mental illnesses or disorders.”
I will also say that the issues of challenge have resulted in, according to Jobvite – “65% of recruiters say their job is more stressful today than a year ago.” They also cite that “61% of recruiters say” that the shortage of talent is to blame. Further, “51% say” that open and focused competition “is to blame.”” This survey called the “Employ” survey cited by Jobvite seems to be a poll of 18k HR/Recruiting Professionals.
WHAT CAN LEADERS DO?
Beyond these indicators it is time to honestly take a solid look as leaders at what your talent and HR teams are facing. Is it any wonder then that with multiple displaced recruiters, many who have lost their jobs and are in a great deal of stress could be at risk for suicidal ideation?
Absolutely. I implore leaders to put Mental Health Issues at the forefront of workplace dialogue, get the word out, and stop stigmatizing those who are in the throes of a lost job, lost loved one, and so many other prevalent issues. It is time to take a serious look at all these things and move forward with human support.
Can those fishing, finding, driving, and engaging talent function well when the entire landscape is full of mine fields like these past few years? Take a moment each week to give your team a quick check-in, ask them how they are doing, what support do they need, etc. And those who have a voice to lead in this discussion I also plead with you – do your part to minimize suicidal ideation, anxiety, and the challenges of our present times. If you invest time in your HR and Recruiting professionals at the cusp of so many difficult circumstances, you will only heroically save a life.
Today, I want to offer you some ideas of how to tackle these issues in these important times of War, Pandemic, Race/Diversity Challenges, and instead turn the paradigm to EMBRACE #NeuroDiverse candidates, recruiters, and others.
All have a role to play in helping your business thrive. When I shared my NeuroDiversity in a supportive environment, I felt many heroes come to me, and reach out as new friends with the dialogue to seek to become their best selves. We need to embrace the rich power of helping human beings find their self-worth and overcome the Imposter Syndrome that exists so prevalently in society because of ALL these issues.
What follows are 5 ideas from a #NeuroDiverse perspective for your consideration. I have pondered these as solutions, and they will not fix everything BUT they are a start.
5 Ideas to Overcome the Workplace Mental Health Crisis
POINT 1: MAKE DISCLOSING MENTAL HEALTH LESS TABOO & EMBRACE UNIQUENESS
Start by making Mental Health discussions in the workplace open and honest, of course not to the detriment of productivity but to the enhancement of it. Bring EAP Counselors onsite, allow for those grieving loss of loved ones from recent circumstances to be able to discuss it. If your organization had a layoff provide support to those who remain and outplacement to those affected. You see this should be a standard in my book.
Talk through the challenges if stress has increased on your team and train your managers on dealing with Mental Health in the workplace. Help them understand their role as leaders in providing support, enabling HUMAN discussions, and embracing and celebrating contributions. Leaders can be the frontline support system along with peers to have open and honest dialogue on these matters and what it has been like to deal with them.
In a team meeting Leaders OR HR could foster a dialogue about what has been faced since 2020 and what the organization is doing to support their staff plus resources available. Give an “opt in” approach where those who are not ready to discuss for themselves at least know the resources are available. A dialogue GOES A LONG WAY. I must shout out my past employer ADP for being a leader in this space, every time I logged in there was a resource on the intranet that addressed this issue during the pandemic. Having managers address real time in a human way in 1:1s Mental Health and Stress is a huge step forward to advocating for staff who face such challenges.
What key questions is your benefits team asking? What is your HR Community telling you? Do you have a forum to talk through the issues, address them and make available real solutions to keep your staff and talent engaged? Do you have key leadership invested in the idea to harness the power of support to help employees succeed better? Address these issues in real time, and you may even save a life. Help your team recognize the signs and symptoms and enable real time humanity to address and support team members who can then inspire each other during their careers.
POINT 2: MAKE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS AND EMPLOYER RESOURCES AVAILABLE
It may seem like a no brainer, but you must start somewhere, make sure your employees and your talent pros, HR pros know where to go to find Mental Health resources. They are the front line and need to be able to help other employees. Make sure your Business Resource Groups are thriving (which enables Diversity) where like-minded professionals and those with similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds have a platform that regularly talks about the issues that are unique to them.
Have the leaders of these organizations on your main Mental Health Awareness “team” or “committee.” Make sure your EAP benefits are readily accessible, and that you enable discussion about these resources and how best to use them.
Did you know that EAP benefits (free Counseling, Financial Planning Services) are underutilized in many organizations? This is sad because it can help with so much. This is the basic place to start.
POINT 3: SPONSOR A HEALTH & WELLNESS DAY WITH A FOCUS ON MENTAL HEALTH
Have your CEO along with senior committee members sponsor a Wellness Day geared to mental health. Bring in folks to talk about a whole host of Mental Health topics.
Get the dialogue going, and foster support across the board especially if your team has faced a recent stretch, sprint, or other big, focused project that required extra time. You could also have a session that focuses on Leaders and dialogue on these topics.
POINT 4: SPONSOR MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATIONS
What better way to address mental health than going to the experts? Could you embrace and support the Mental Health associations and get involved in your community? Nothing beats Mental Stress than serving. This is the cusp of changing the culture in your organization and community.
More advocate organizations are needed. For engaging and having members of your organization lead in these places is paramount to spread Mental Health Awareness and build credibility on the part of your organization to become the best it can be.
POINT 5: ENSURE YOU HAVE TIME OFF BENEFITS THAT MAKE SENSE
Letting your employees de-stress and away from work is key. Leaders need to be empowered to have their people take breaks and recoup from stressful times.
When you notice that your staff is facing these challenges (turnover, de-motivation, and quiet quitting are all indicators of a stressful work force), ensure they can take a break, stretch, detach, and focus.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means to address these issues. This IS a list that is meant to start the dialogue and get to the root cause of many of these issues that are now more pronounced than ever. Because organizations need help fostering this dialogue it is so important to ensure constant support is there in a VERY human way.
Recruitment has the power to place individuals in roles that will benefit them. Let your NeuroDiverse peers lead the way here and provide insights on what roles can be filled with NeuroDiverse professionals. When you can certainly focus on helping folks to thrive and you are finding keyways to help all your team flourish magical things start happening.
People of various races/cultures, LGBT, and other under-represented groups are highly affected as well. Addressing these issues is a form of powerful humanity that enables them to thrive. If you are truly dedicated to diversity start by asking your Business Resource Support Groups to help inform your Mental Health advocacy strategy. You would be amazed at how far that can go.
Finally, let me speak about one thing that I know is reality. During Covid-19 many lost loved ones, and as someone who lost my mom a year ago (due to congenital heart failure), I remember distinctly how that affected me. If your team is working long hours, has felt the challenges of worrying if they will have jobs and lost loved ones there is true frustration there. Add in the stresses of inflation then you have the perfect storm of challenges.
People now are more at risk than ever before of environmental factor induced Anxiety Disorders. Environmental factors are now top of mind in determining stress and anxiety.
Please make sure you are doing all within your power to help address this growing problem worsened by the pandemic, inflation, and other factors. For those who lost their jobs and who face the reality of long job search times as Recruiters realize that you are facing circumstances that were heightened in the impact in recent years. As a recruiter ensure you are getting human connection with peers who understand you and if you suspect you have a condition get it checked out. Environmental factors could have brought about recent stress and the carnage of anxiety that is no fault of your own.
Let us be kinder, gentler, and more humane with each other across the board.
Recruiters have been affected as never before, and the challenges of these times will determine competitive advantage for employers who are savvy enough to address mental health issues real time, and further embrace the uniqueness of those who struggle.
As a victor over my Anxiety, I say that with support and advocacy those within your organization can thrive and perform at another level IF you invest time and energy in their Mental Health outcomes. No longer can we afford to sweep this topic under the rug. Those in the recruiting and HR professions must go the distance in the efforts to help others succeed when faced with the very real circumstances from the last few years.
With support and advocacy these issues can be overcome successfully to enable your organization to be a successful employer of choice. It would not surprise me if the top 100 places to work for on Glassdoor are advocacy employers of Mental Health. That is a topic for another day.
I hope this article was helpful, as one with Anxiety who has found my path, I implore you to think differently about these issues.
It is time to be out front with the realities of mental health awareness in the workplace.
Mike Rasmussen is a Senior Talent Acquisition professional based in Utah with his family including wife and 3 children. Mike has been working in Talent Acquisition for the better part of 19 years including some stints in Human Resources as a generalist. Mike has spoken at 3 SourceCon Conferences most recently in Minnesota, as well as the Cande’s Candidate Experience Conference, HR.com’s High Volume Hiring Event, and the ERE Conference including multiple webinars. Mike has passion for making great hiring outcomes, and contributes frequently to the Talent Acquisition community. Currently working at the Source and Recruit Company a Recruiting Consultancy that provides RPO and Recruiting Consultancy services as a Sr. Talent Advisor.