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Employee Mental Health: It’s Not an “Either-Or” Proposition

In a bittersweet lesson, the pandemic has shone a bright light on the inequalities that we’ve lived with for far too long. These inequalities continue to affect the engagement, productivity, happiness, and mental health of so many unique groups within the world’s workforce. People are sidelined because of their gender or gender choice every day, or their cultural, societal, or ethnic background or beliefs. The cumulative impact of being minimized or overlooked because of one’s perceived differences builds barriers to a healthy mind. It also prevents equitable access to resources for mental well-being. Finally, the damage occurs even when the offending behavior is subtle, indirect, or unintentional. As a result, we all suffer.

What can employers do to change the story? The sources range from an employee’s personal life experiences to underfunded healthcare systems. They include poor leadership, overt discrimination, and stigma. The consequences are real, and they’re measurable.

A Sad New Triad: The Pandemic, Workplace Discrimination, and Employee Mental Health

Research in the last 15 years has demonstrated that when someone is mistreated because of their personal characteristics, it can have wide-ranging negative impacts on their mental and physical health. Discrimination can lead to anxiety, psychological distress, cardiovascular effects, and poor self-reported health status. Evidence also shows that mothers who experience racial discrimination are more likely to have babies with low birth weight (which in itself predisposes that child to more inequality). Workplace discrimination can also cause:

The pandemic exposed yet more discrimination in the workplace, adding new challenges to employee mental health:

  • Socially, culturally, or sexually diverse employees in the U.S. have experienced an average of 1.6 “acute challenges” during the pandemic. This compares with only one for incidents among their non-minoritized colleagues, according to McKinsey.
  • The same McKinsey investigation highlighted that two out of three self-identified LGBTQ+ employees report either acute or moderate challenges with mental health. They are also 1.4 times more likely than heterosexual and cisgender employees to cite challenges with fair performance reviews, workload increases, and losing workplace connectivity and belonging.
  • One in 10 women with young children quit their jobs because of the pandemic. The rate is nearly double (17 percent) for single mothers, according to KFF research.
  • The Latino community represents only 18 percent of the U.S. population but accounts for 29 percent of the COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.
  • COVID-19 also disproportionately affected Black workers. According to McKinsey, 39 percent of jobs held by Black workers in the U.S. were defined as “vulnerable” because of the pandemic. Comparatively, three percent of white workers holding similar jobs were subject to furloughs, layoffs, or being rendered unproductive during periods of high physical distancing.

Workplace Discrimination Has a Broader Impact

Discrimination affects each person’s mental health. It also inhibits their ability to access support for their challenges and stifles their capacity to remedy the root cause of their injuries.

Obviously, employer-sponsored mental health solutions are more important than ever–and for everyone in the workforce. It’s critical to ensure the solution you choose is accessible and suitable for your entire population. But it’s equally important to realize the limitations of the traditional “either-or” model of mental well-being–that we’re either mentally well or mentally unwell.

Fortunately, psychology is embracing a model of mental well-being that draws a wider net. It will also help remove the barriers built by social and cultural stereotypes. Finally, and over all else, it will more readily enhance employee mental health and well-being and company success.

Employee Mental Health Is Not A Yes-No Question

Since the 1950s, mental health has been guided by what’s called the “single-spectrum model.” It’s a paradigm that says mental health and mental illness are opposite ends of the same spectrum. In other words, it says mental health is the absence of mental illness. This model has been useful in helping people understand that everyone’s mental health fluctuates. But the either-or picture it paints can also be too simplistic and potentially stigmatizing.

This model automatically implies that someone cannot experience positive well-being if they are mentally ill. The evidence tells us otherwise. Today, we more fully appreciate that the single-spectrum model of mental health:

  1. Inhibits employees from getting help with mental health conditions (because of its either-or mindset toward mental illness)
  2. Doesn’t foster the potential of nurturing a healthy mind (but focuses instead on “fixing” mental health problems)
  3. Creates discrimination (by continuing the stigma around mental health)

The reality is that:

  • Every single employee is unique
  • Everyone’s mental well-being picture is different from anyone else’s
  • Everyone lives in a vast landscape of mental well-being. A yes-or-no response isn’t always appropriate when it comes to whether they’re mentally healthy.

So, it’s time to look at employee mental well-being from a perspective of whether someone is flourishing at work and home (that is, they feel good about their life and are functioning very well) or if they are struggling and languishing in life. This is a much more equitable and inclusive view of mental health and how it affects employees.

This Mental Well-being Model Help Remove Discrimination

With the right treatment and tools, someone experiencing chronic depression can feel purposeful in life. They can make valuable contributions to their team and the wider community. On the other hand, consider someone with no mental health diagnosis–or someone who has no symptoms they associate directly with mental illness. They can be ungrounded and disconnected from their work and family, and perform well below their norm.

This dual-spectrum model is underpinned by years of research and is about 20-years-old. It can help us stop pigeon-holing employees as being either mentally ill or mentally healthy. Instead, we have the opportunity to look at someone’s entire employee experience as a field on which those two areas play out. It makes us realize that positive mental health and mental illness are not necessarily polar opposites.

The dual-spectrum concept of mental well-being means having positive feelings and functioning. This needs to happen at home and at work, in personal relationships, and in colleague interactions. It also acknowledges that we can experience positive well-being regardless of any mental health condition. In other words, employees with mental illness aren’t always struggling. And those with no defined mental condition aren’t always doing well.

But in almost every case, and regardless of the model you subscribe to, the solution to discrimination’s harsh impact on mental health begins in the same place: with awareness and understanding. By appreciating that each individual carries their own experiences, identities, cultural and social richness, and viewpoints, we realize we have more that unites us than what separates us. With understanding, we can create empathy. From there, we can begin to overcome barriers, break stigmas, and smash glass ceilings.

There is no such thing as normal. We’re all unique. Everyone has the right to a healthy mind.

Age Bias At Work: Bad Business #TChat Recap

“Discrimination due to age is one of the great tragedies of modern life. The desire to work and be useful is what makes life worth living, and to be told your efforts are not needed because you are the wrong age is a crime.” Johnny Ball

Who wouldn’t agree with that statement, in theory? But in fact, age discrimination persists. Why? And what should talent-minded professionals do about it? These were the core issues we tackled at this week’s #TChat Twitter forum.

To help us take a collective look at the impact of age discrimination on today’s workforce, two of the HR community’s sharpest thought leaders joined our moderator, Cyndy Trivella:

Steve Levy, a prominent workforce sourcing expert and popular recruiting blogger.

Heather Bussing, an employment law attorney who is also a founding editorial advisory board member and contributor at HR Examiner.

Here are some top takeaways, followed by resource links and the #TChat highlights slideshow:

Ageism “Sniff Test”

TChatTwitter_logo_020813Age discrimination is often not as overt as other forms of bias. When interviewing for a position, older candidates may be told that they’re not the right “fit” for an organization, or they’re “overqualified” for a job. Younger job seekers may be told to pursue unpaid internships to “gain more experience.” Either scenario may be appropriate — but when a pattern emerges, it’s most likely a systemic problem. Similarly, if employees “of a certain age” are consistently left out of communication loops, meetings and business decisions, discrimination is a likely culprit.

Ageism can be a factor at any stage in our lives — and tension seems to be mounting at both ends of today’s workforce, as the economic slowdown continues and more employees are retiring later in life.

What’s The Source?

Discrimination based on age (or other arbitrary criteria) stems from our need to categorize the abundance of information that surrounds us each day. Classifying information helps us process the world more efficiently — but not always effectively.

Fear seems to be a common factor in age discrimination. We tend to feel more comfortable with things that are familiar, and we fear things that we don’t know or understand. An older worker may fear that a younger counterpart is more energetic, or offers more creative ideas. While a younger worker may fear that an older employee contributes more depth of knowledge in a particular area, or resists fresh ideas. These feelings may not be rational, but the fear can be very real. Yet, ironically, no one likes to be stereotyped.

Keeping Age Discrimination Out Of The Office

To move past age discrimination, we need to embrace diversity, in all of its forms. A culture of  inclusion starts with leaders who leave age at the door. Smart leaders know that a diverse workforce contributes to innovation, and adds to a company’s value in the marketplace. It creates a “virtuous cycle” effect that encourages more collaboration among teams and employees. On the other hand, a one-dimensional workforce can breed “group think” that weakens a company’s competitive position.

How Can Leaders Foster Workplace Diversity?

Start with the hiring process. Hire the best candidate for the job. Use performance based hiring to avoid age discrimination. Consciously strive for a fair, inclusive, transparent recruitment process.

Create a cross-mentoring program. This makes sense for employers in the face of today’s talent shortage. It encourages knowledge sharing and helps support succession planning. It can also boost employee engagement.

What Can Each Of Us Do?

Consider listening and inquiry your personal weapons in the war against age discrimination. Never stop learning — no matter what your age. Embrace technology and use it as a tool to network with others and learn from them. Look for opportunities to grow personally and professionally, and share ideas with others at social forums, like #TChat Twitter — where diverse thinking is always welcome!

For more inspiration, see resource links and #TChat event highlights in the Storify slideshow below. If this post inspires you, be sure to add a comment below or jump into the #TChat stream any time. In our world of work, everyone is welcome, at any age!

#TChat Week-In-Review: Age Discrimination Perception + Reality

SUN 10/6:

SteveandTim

Watch the #TChat Preview video now

#TChat Preview: TalentCulture Community Manager Tim McDonald set the stage for this week’s event in a preview post that featured a fun G+ hangout video with guest Steve Levy. Check it out: “Old Dogs + New Tricks: Will HR Learn?”

TUE 10/8:

Related Post: This week’s other special guest, Heather Bussing, offered a very human perspective on discrimination in a post at HR Examiner. Read: “Why Age Discrimination Should Matter to You.”

WED 10/9:

Related Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro outlined 5 steps that business leaders should take in overcoming workplace age stereotypes. Read: “How To Break The Age Bias Habit.”

#TChat Twitter: This week, we by-passed #TChat Radio. Instead the entire community set the #TChat Twitter hashtag on fire, as our guests joined moderator Cyndy Trivella in a lively discussion about 6 key age discrimination issues. The hour flew by, as thousands of ideas and opinions hit the stream. For highlights, see the Storify slideshow below:

#TChat Highlights: Age Discrimination Perception + Reality

[javascript src=”//storify.com/TalentCulture/tchat-insights-age-discrimination-in-the-workplac.js?template=slideshow”]

 

GRATITUDE: Thanks again to Steve Levy and Heather Bussing for shining a light on workplace age discrimination. We welcome your enthusiasm and perspectives anytime!

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about age in the workplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week we focus on next-generation workplace leadership with our special guest, YouTern CEO, Mark Babbitt! Watch for more details in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the World of Work conversation continues! So join us on the #TChat Twitter stream, on our LinkedIn discussion group. or elsewhere on social media. The lights are always on here at TalentCulture, and your thoughts are always welcome.

See you on the stream!

Image Credit: Tim Tyrell-Smith at flickr

How To Break The Age Bias Habit

Want to know a deep, dark secret? OK then. Just between us — there’s some truth in all those stereotypes that swirl around about Baby Boomers, Millennials and other generations. That’s actually why they became stereotypes in the first place.

But wait. There’s another truth that no one in the workplace can afford to ignore. Discrimination is a career killer. Age bias may be as old as the hills, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable or even legal to let it poison your company culture. And in today’s transparent world of work, that kind of behavior is bound to be exposed, sooner or later. So let’s step back and re-frame this issue.

Smart Leaders Know Age Is Not A Factor

Today’s global economy is highly competitive. Successful organizations need all the creative, useful ideas they can get. It doesn’t matter if the source is old, young or in between. As French playwright Moliere said, “I take my good where I find it.”

Yet the labels persist. You’ve heard it before: Gen Yers are lazy, entitled, and preoccupied with digital connections. Gen Xers are cynical, alouf, and make lousy team players. Baby Boomers are stodgy, inflexible, and can’t relate to younger people. Can you find individuals who perfectly fit these descriptions? Sure you can. But can you find many other people who smash these cliches to pieces? I certainly hope so! I’m one of them.

Removing Age From The Workforce Equation

If you’re serious about your success — as well as your organization’s success — you’ll reach to the best and brightest no matter how old or young they are. But how can you avoid the trap of generational stereotypes? Here are 5 steps to consider:

1) Be aware and be vigilant. Take a quick personal inventory. Do you see some signals that shouldn’t be there? You’re not alone. All of us let age stereotypes creep into our thought patterns and behavior. It happens more than most of us want to admit. Come on. Own up. Face it by formalizing it. List the age-related assumptions you make about people. Become mindful. You can’t stop stereotyping until you’re willing to recognize how you do it.

2) Disprove the stereotype. Now that you have your list, find people who make a mockery of it. The Gen Xer who has worked 80 hours a week at the same company since college; the Gen Yer who created a cohesive, winning team; the Boomer who invented a wildly exciting new technology product.

3) Retrain your brain. Now that you know who and how you stereotype, and you know how false and limiting your “reality” is, train yourself to stop believing the lie. Be prepared to practice. Making snap judgments about people based on obvious attributes is deeply ingrained in us all. Unlearning this behavior takes time, but every step is a move in the right direction. When you meet someone, pay attention to your internal response — both intellectual and emotional. If you stereotype them, consciously tell yourself to look past it, and instead look at other characteristics that are more relevant.

4) Be open to “see” the person “in 3D.” There’s a word for someone who doesn’t measure individuals by their unique strengths and talents. That word is “fool.” You’re working to build a successful career, project, or enterprise. Why in the world would you limit yourself by refusing help from willing and able contributors? Embrace the talent that is available to you. Judge people by their past performance and potential to add value in the future. Age is irrelevant in that context. You need everyone to deliver their best effort. Stay open to possibilities and reach out.

5 ) Make it a habit. The goal is to build a network that transcends stereotyping. Make a conscious effort, at least once a week, to spend time with someone whom you would have stereotyped in the past. If you’re a Gen Yer, take a Boomer out to lunch. Listen to their story and soak up lessons from their experience. If you’re a Boomer, seek out a Gen Yer to mentor. Ask what’s on their mind and how you can help. Then listen closely to how they respond. No matter what age you are, be willing to discuss personal limitations and ask for input and feedback. Too often we assume it’s a sign of weakness if we admit our concerns and shortcomings. But actually it’s a strength. As Moliere suggested, take your good where you find it. I’m not sure how old he was when he penned that advice, but honestly, it doesn’t matter!

Bottom line: In the workplace and in every other aspect of life, stereotyping is self-destructive. It denies our basic humanity, and the ability we all have to transcend superficial categorization. Smash stereotypes, celebrate individuality, and you will learn, grow, and build stronger relationships. You’ll also be a business leader that others will want to follow.

(Editor’s Note: Join the TalentCulture community tonight, Oct 9 from 7-8pm ET, at #TChat Twitter,  where we’re discussing age-based discrimination in the workplace. Everyone is welcome! Learn more in the preview post…)

(Editor’s Note: Meghan M. Biro is an active contributor to Forbes.com. This article is adapted from her Forbes blog, with permission.)

Image Credit: Pixabay

Old Dogs + New Tricks: Will HR Learn? #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Are you looking for complete highlights and resource links from this week’s events? Read the #TChat Recap: “Age Discrimination At Work: Bad Business”.)

This week, the TalentCulture community action is truly nonstop, with a trifecta of #TChat events! Let me help connect the dots between these three elements — old dogs, new tricks and HR lessons to live by:

1) HR Celebrates New Tools: Today Oct 6, TalentCulture’s intrepid founders Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman hit the ground running at this week’s HR Tech Conference — which promises to be the biggest and most mind-blowing ever. Meghan explains what all the buzz is about at Forbes.com: “7 Hottest Trends In HR Technology.”

2) HR Learns New Tricks: Tomorrow Oct 7, LIVE from the conference, Meghan and Kevin host an Expert Roundtable Discussion on Employee Engagement. If you’re not at the conference, you can follow the action from a distance on the #TChat Twitter stream from 2:30-3:15pmPT (5:30-6:15pmET).

3) But Are “Old Dogs” Willing? Perhaps too often in today’s digitally driven workplace, it’s suggested that innovation is a young person’s game. But is that perception realistic? Is it fair? And is it even legal? Those questions inspired us to focus on age discrimination at our weekly #TChat Twitter chat, this Wednesday Oct 9.

Youth Code: Age In Today’s Workplace

If you’re familiar with TalentCulture, you know our community has no fear about taking on deeply human workplace issues. In the past year alone, we’ve explored the relationship between “thought diversity” and business innovation, we’ve considered the value of reverse mentoring, and we’ve discussed the need to remove age-related stereotypes as Millennials enter the workforce.

Now we invite you to fasten your seat belts as we take a realistic look at age discrimination, and its implications for an aging workforce. We’ll be guided by two respected HR community leaders:

Steve Levy, a prominent workforce sourcing expert and popular recruiting blogger.

Heather Bussing, an employment law attorney who is also a founding editorial advisory board member and contributor at HR Examiner.

I sat down briefly with Steve in a joint G+ Hangout to frame this topic. Watch now, and I’m sure you’ll won’t want to miss what should be a lively and helpful social learning opportunity this Wednesday on Twitter!

#TChat: Age Discrimination at Work: Perception and Reality

#TChat Twitter — Wednesday, Oct 9 7pmET / 4pmPT

This week, we’ll skip the #TChat Radio interview and jump right into the #TChat Twitter stream, with event moderator, Cyndy Trivella. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to join us as we discuss these 5 questions:

Q1: Do you see age discrimination at work? Describe it.
Q2: If a company hires or fires with age in mind, what does that say about its culture?
Q3: Which is more prevalent / problematic: discrimination of young or old?
Q4: How can we improve the perception and reality of age at work? Laws? And…?
Q5: What role can technology play in empowering older workers?

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So feel free to contribute your thoughts. Please join us and share your ideas, opinions, questions, and concerns!

We’ll see you on the stream!