IRL: how employers can do more to recruit staff who’ve had mental health issues

Catherine Eadie reflects on her journey into employment and says employers need to do more when they advertise vacancies to ensure they’re catering for people who’ve had mental wellbeing issues

Little has changed for people who have experienced poor mental wellbeing but who now feel ready to try out some kind of work. There are many barriers which brought me to reflect on a few recent conversations about recruitment.

When I see recruitment adverts I get very curious and, while I’ve recently been helping my husband look for a new job, I’ve seen so many flaws.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to try out some work for a typesetting company. It was just on the cusp of Apple Macs being introduced into their line of work, something I had had a lot of experience in before I joined (remember those training for work schemes!). We produced the recruitment adverts for the Scotsman.

When I think back to what we were producing in print to what we produce digitally today, little has changed. We describe the vacancies in the same way  – job title, description, contracted hours, pay etc. We now have the benefit of being able to download job descriptions and application forms instead of waiting on the post.

Great, except that we’ve not taken the opportunity to take into account employment legislative changes.

When I look back at when I was trying to get a job, there was very little for me to realistically apply for. If you did happen to find something that you really liked, you’d have to pluck up the courage to phone up and find out if there was any flexibility in the hours, were there any opportunities to work from home, what support was there around travel and/or reasonable adjustments, did they have knowledge of the Access to Work and Permitted Work schemes?

What that very first impression of the advert said to me was ‘don’t bother applying’. I limited what I went for because I didn’t have the confidence or knowledge to get in touch with employers and find out.

I’d been unwell for such a long time that the task just felt too frightening and exposing. I’d be essentially disclosing to them my vulnerabilities and therefore considerably reducing my chances of getting my foot in the door. I am forever grateful to one guy for giving me that chance.

In job applications now you are not meant to be asked about whether you have a disability or how much time you have had off work. Upon a conditional offer, you can then be asked about those things, with the idea being to provide the support you require to do the job.

The problem is people are too frightened to do this because evidence suggests that they need to build up trust with their employer first.

A recruitment advert is the prime time to show that you are an open, honest and non-judgmental employer. It also shows your understanding of legislation.

There are some pieces of information that I would add to all job applications if I was hiring. I’d add information about the flexibility around the hours for disability, carers, young families etc.

I’d mention home working opportunities and knowledge of the Access to Work and Permitted Work schemes and what extra things the company could provide in terms of support. I read many adverts that say ‘We particularly welcome applications from disabled candidates’ and then contradict themselves when it becomes clear that there’s very little room for manoeuvre.

As I now manage a long-term physical condition, there are very few adverts that make me go ‘I could apply for this’ and in this day and age that’s not acceptable. If we are to really engage people in the labour market and support people into jobs, we need to be showing how open we are to any type of disability.

Until that happens, we are going to continue to struggle with the devolution of the employability programme because there’s that bit in the middle still missing that closes the gap between being job-ready and then being employed.

Catherine Eadie is the founding director of
MHScot Workplace Wellbeing CIC

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