Having the specific skills for a particular job is important, but even the most qualified job applicant may not pan out if there is a poor “fit” between the position and the workplace. Whether one wants to call it job or corporate culture, work environment, or “fit,” it’s not just what you do for a living, but also where you work that can play a strong role in success.
And when someone suffers from a mental health challenge such as depression or an anxiety disorder, the right “fit” becomes even more important and potentially costly for the employer if overlooked. Take for example the case of Stanley Stringer. Stanley lost a number of jobs during his 35-year career as a reporter, writer, and editor. He was convinced that a poor fit between his personality and a fast-paced work environment-which depression and anxiety issues exacerbated-played a significant role in his terminations.
Stanley is far from alone. According to Forbes, untreated depression among employees cost employers $44 billion annually in lost workdays. This article will explain three main takeaways for managers to help ensure better “fits” for the employee and for management.
1. Never underestimate how many employees are in the wrong job
Most employees seen by the manager of a corporate mental health program came in to see them because they were unhappy at work. “Nine times out of ten, their unhappiness was due to a very poor fit between the employee’s personality and the work environment,” wrote Marina London in Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness. Marina found herself repeatedly recommending those employees look for a more suitable position.
At a time when recruiting new hires is more competitive than ever, what company can afford excessive turnover, especially when it could have been avoided? While performance issues are obvious cause for concern, many signs of unhappy workers are more subtle. They include:
Becoming more withdrawn socially;
Lacking energy and motivation;
More easily distracted or stressed;
More instances of anger than in the past; and/or
Showing changes in outward appearance.
2. Don’t overlook potential solutions
Every workplace has interruptions, but they were endless at one company our example Stanley worked at, a firm that he said was an otherwise pleasant place to work. The problem was it was a little too exuberant for him. Multitudes of coworkers would stop by his cubicle area each day. “Cubicles were in close proximity, and with concentration issues, the continual disturbances were very difficult to cope with.” As Marina wrote, “when you are depressed, everything is an effort. That includes socializing.”
There were some slower, less stressful and quieter work environments at this firm, but when Stanley talked to HR about working elsewhere, he was told the company was not in the habit of providing “lateral transfers.” In other words, the new job had to be a promotion, not one that involved similar work. As a result of “staying put”, Stanley was terminated less than a year later, and the company lost an otherwise punctual, hardworking employee because they did not bend their rules and moved him elsewhere in the organization.
3. Take the time to help ensure a good “match” from the start
Determining whether the person can do the job is an important part of any job interview, but too often the discussion ends there. As in our example a reporter good at writing is not enough. If the individual is skilled at writing in-depth stories, he will be a poor fit at a newspaper where spontaneity to cover fires and accidents is stressed over lengthier essays. If the position requires working various work schedules, but the individual prefers steady, regular hours, the job is not likely to work out. Probing questions that go beyond the nuts and bolts of a resume or application can be very revealing. For starters, “What types of jobs have you enjoyed the most?” “The least?” Taking extra time to screen an applicant is time well spent.
In conclusion, it’s true there is no perfect job. That said, when it comes to selecting a work environment, the more you know who you are, the better choices you can make. But job “fit” remains a two-way street. It is still vital for an employer to learn the person’s wants and needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Staff attrition is inevitable, but better understanding of job culture will go a long way toward reducing turnover.
Mike Jacquart was a longtime editor of the Journal of Employee Assistance for the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. He is currently involved in other writing and editing projects. His new book, Climbing out of Darkness: A Personal Journey into Mental Wellness (with Marina London, LCSW) can be found on Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Climbing-out-Darkness-Personal-Wellness/dp/B0BQ58KJH4