The International Journal of Human Resource Management
Deadline: September 2019
Mental Illness in the Workplace
Recent estimates suggest that rates of mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, and their consequences, such as suicide, are on the rise globally (Hasin et al., 2018, Swartz, 2015). The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines a mental disorder as “a clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behaviour that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important activities.” While individuals with mental illness have received attention in health-related disciplines, the field of management is lagging behind (Follmer and Jones, 2018). As such, little is known about the way such individuals navigate the workplace and what the role of Human Resource (HR) could be in supporting these workers. This is surprising as many individuals with mental illness are also actively involved in the workforce.
Attending to employees with mental illness is important for several reasons. First, mental illness is costly for the overall economy. The World Health Organization has estimated that mental disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year, partially attributed to decreased productivity and increased absenteeism rates among employees with mental illness. Indeed, evidence has shown that mental illnesses can influence employees’ productivity (De Vries et al., 2015).
Second, ample evidence has demonstrated that individuals with mental illness face challenges in the workplace because of their conditions. Due to the stigma associated with mental illness they may be negatively perceived by others, such as supervisors and co-workers (Elraz, 2018). Previous research shows that workers with mental disorders are often perceived as unstable, incompetent, crazy, or dangerous (Corrigan et al., 2005). Research has shown that stigma contributes to negative stereotypes and discrimination toward those with mental illness (Follmer & Jones, 2017). Perhaps for these reasons, employers are often reluctant to hire individuals with mental health issues (Richards, 2012), despite legal recognition of mental illness as a disability (Santuzzi and Waltz, 2016). Accordingly, this group of workers experiences lower employment rates, under-employment, and lower wages (Harris et al., 2014). Furthermore, mental disorders negatively affect career development opportunities of individuals with such conditions, as it may be difficult for them to justify gaps in their employment history, or explain the fluctuating nature of the display of their symptoms and their low self-confidence (Harris et al., 2014).
Despite these impediments to obtaining and maintaining work, research has demonstrated that employment provides multiple benefits for individuals with mental illness. It improves individuals’ functioning and recovery by providing structure and stability, giving meaning and purpose to their lives, and thereby improving their general well-being and financial independence (Niekerk, 2009). For employers, the benefits of employing individuals with mental illnesses include an improved reputation, improved ambiance and culture in the organization, and increases in loyalty and commitment amongst all employees (Peterson et al., 2017).
Third, the symptoms of mental illness can be invisible or ambiguous. Employees’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours may be influenced by their mental illness, yet the nature of their underlying disorder may remain unknown to others. Consequently, employees with mental illness may need to decide whether to disclose their condition, or to ‘pass’ as normal (Clair, Beatty, & Maclean, 2005). Disclosure and concealing both have benefits and risks. Disclosure allows the individual to be authentic and get needed support, but exposes them to stigma. Concealing affords privacy, but takes cognitive effort and may not work.
Finally, organizations are largely unprepared to manage and respond to employees with mental illness (Shann, Martin, & Chester, 2014). Evidence suggests that managers lack the conceptual and procedural knowledge necessary for aiding vulnerable employees (Martin, Woods, & Dawkins, 2015). Thus, even as rates of mental illnesses continue to rise, organizations lag in understanding, which can create numerable concerns for employees’ well-being and organizational effectiveness.
Attending to the HR functions and processes within an organization is especially critical for creating a workplace that is inclusive of employees with mental illness.
First, more information is needed about the selection and recruitment experiences of individuals with mental illness. Research questions centered around identifying the organizational factors that are attractive to individuals with mental illness as well as the factors that encourage or discourage employees from disclosing their disorder during the selection process would be promising. In addition, papers that focus on the strategies that organizations use to recruit individuals with mental illness and how they assess person-job fit could aid in minimizing employment barriers for this group.
Second, how can the effectiveness of the onboarding process be improved for these individuals? Here, it would be valuable to consider how employees assess fit and the extent to which they become embedded within the organization. Relatedly, research is needed about the role of training in helping employees with mental illness to complete their work tasks, as well as stigma-related training that aims to minimize mistreatment of these employees by others. Moreover, papers that focus on manager-based training programs could help illuminate the most effective strategies for preparing managers about the ways in which mental illness might influence employees’ thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Third, the trajectory and symptoms of mental illness may require different kinds of support than other employee groups. Mental illness is a long-term condition that may have ongoing effects on employee performance, making it different from an acute condition in which employees return to normal after a brief illness period. How should medical leaves of absence and return-to-work be handled, and how can HR aid in facilitating these transitions both for the employee and others in the employee’s work group?
Finally, we need more insight on how HR can provide suitable career development opportunities for individuals, including the use of mentoring and accommodations. An understanding of which policies and practices are most effective, as well as investigations of how these policies and practices are communicated throughout an organization, would help in shaping inclusive organizational cultures in which employees with mental illness can thrive.
Looking to Publish your Research?
- Call for papers online September 2019
- Papers due from contributors March 16, 2020
- First round of blind review and editorial decisions May 31, 2020
- Revised manuscripts back from contributors August 31, 2020
- Second round of blind review and editorial decisions October 31, 2020
- Final recommendations for publication or reject decisions November 30, 2020
- Review by editors from IJHRM January 31, 2021
- Publication of Special Issue May 2021
Guest Editor Information
Joy Beatty: Joy is an associate professor of management at University of Michigan-Dearborn. Her work has been published in Human Resource Management, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, and Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal.
Kayla Follmer: Kayla is an assistant professor at West Virginia University. She has published in journals such as Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, and Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
Sophie Hennekam: Sophie is an associate professor at Audencia Business School in Nantes, France. She has published in journals such as Human Relations, Journal of Vocational Behavior and Human Resource Management Journal.
Taken together, this Special Issue aims to understand the workplace experiences of individuals with mental illness with a particular emphasis on how HR practices and process may influence these experiences. Drawing upon empirical, theory-driven research, we can better understand the ways in which employees with mental illness experience the workplace and identify the factors that contribute to such experiences. Such advances are critical because work is important for individuals with mental illness as it provide structure, gives them a sense of purpose and belonging, and improves their general well-being and financial independence. As researchers begin to explore in detail the work experiences of employees with mental illness, organizations can become better prepared to manage and support these individuals.
We are open to both qualitative and quantitative research designs and encourage interdisciplinary collaborations and perspectives. We invite manuscripts that address, but are not restricted to, the following:
- How and to what extent does mental illness influence the performance of individuals at work and their career paths? What kinds of career barriers are experienced by employees with mental illness?
- How does national or industry culture affect the way individuals with mental illness are perceived in organizations? Which legal policies have been effective in increasing employment for people with mental illness?
- In what ways do the experiences of individuals with different types of mental illness differ from one another? How might experiencing simultaneous disorders at once (i.e., comorbidity) affect the workplace experiences of individuals with mental illness and how can HR best accommodate and support for different types of mental illnesses?
- How does mental illness interact with other identity features (race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion) to influence workplace experiences, including disclosure events and accommodation requests?
- How are employees with mental illness recruited? What organizational factors are important in attracting this population?
- What disclosure and impression management strategies are used by employees with mental illness? To what extent do these influence individual and group performance outcomes?
- When and how do employees request accommodations for their mental illness, and what kinds of accommodations are sought or offered? How much knowledge do managers and HR professionals have about accommodations for those with mental illness?
- What kinds of formal (e.g., training, job coaching, job design) and informal supports (e.g., peer mentoring and support groups) have been helpful for employees with mental illness?
- How can employers most effectively manage and support individuals with mental illness, and what is the role of HRM in managing mental illness at work? How can organizations best prepare managers and leaders to support employees with mental illness?
- What can we learn from mental illness in organizations with regards to equality, diversity and inclusion? What are the implications for HR?
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