Mental health & hiring for resilience.

By September 5, 2017Latest News

At certain points of the year returning to work can be tough for employees. From Christmas and New Year to summer holidays, adjusting back to the daily grind can be a challenge for even the most dedicated members of staff.

We’ve all experienced the post-holiday slump when the last thing we want to do after a nice relaxing break is return to a stressful environment. You’ll all know what I’m talking about when I mention the anxiety and dread associated with returning to work. And then there’s the moments when just a few demanding days later you wonder if you’ve even had a break at all.

Whether you’re expecting hundreds of unread emails, projects falling by the wayside in your absence, disgruntled clients or worse, sometimes the countdown and anticipation of returning to work can be just as bad.

A nation feeling the pressure

While there are certainly triggers that can be attributed to seasonality, as a nation of workers, the UK is feeling the pressure all year round.

Statistics from the 2015 Labour Force Survey estimate that as many as 11 million days were lost to work-related stress in 2015. Its figures suggest that there were almost half a million separate cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety.

These statistics are uncomfortably high. If we put aside the work hours lost to individual businesses and the wider economy, the toll on the mental health of the workforce is simply too high.

Increasingly, mental health conditions are a major cause of long-term absence from work. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and in England alone, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression), each week.

A company is only as strong as its people

Businesses know that stress and anxiety can greatly impact an employees’ physical and mental well-being, negatively affecting their performance and interactions with colleagues. And the correlation between levels of staff wellbeing and motivation and business performance is well documented. Studies show that organisations with higher levels of employee engagement benefit from better productivity, profitability and stronger staff commitment.

However, employee engagement cannot happen without good mental health. Research shows that when staff wellbeing isn’t supported, employee engagement declines, motivation and performance levels drop and staff retention is affected.

Therefore, it’s in a business’ best interests to spot the warning signs, but also to take reasonable steps to ensure everyone has the support they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

In a work environment the symptoms of stress and anxiety can be triggered when an employee feels:

  • as though they are under a lot of pressure.
  • they are losing control over projects or outcomes.
  • they have too much responsibility and not enough support from leadership.
  • uncertainty surrounding big changes.
  • a lack of structure, attainable goals or progression.

How can employers ensure the mental resilience of staff?

From existing staff through to the newest recruits, a business has a duty of care to all its staff. Promoting wellbeing at all levels of a business is crucial, as is providing adequate management training. Support services should be available to all staff and awareness of mental health issues should be embedded in a company’s culture.

Ensuring full provisions are in place for periods of absence, such as cover for annual leave and bank holidays, can help prevent unmanageable workloads and stress and anxiety building.

Other measures such as mentoring, regular one-to-ones, flexible working, improvements to the physical work environment and socialising outside the workplace can all have a positive impact.

Employers can also do more to ensure they hire the right staff, who have the exact combination of hard and soft skills needed to excel in their roles. Throughout my career I’ve seen hiring managers place too much emphasis on finding candidates with the right hard skills, sometimes neglecting soft skills altogether.

Particularly when it comes to more senior hires it’s often the case that soft skills are just as important, if not more. While all businesses should be looking for candidates with creativity, the ability to adapt, excellent communication and problem solving skills (at all levels), these skills become increasingly crucial to find, the more senior the role.

A candidate’s ability to connect with people, to lead, to inspire, to make tough decisions and excel in high pressure situations are key contributors in their ability to fulfil the requirements of a senior leadership role.

Technical ability and proven experience count for a lot, but won’t necessarily tell a prospective employer if a candidate will be the right cultural fit, or possess the objectivity and steely determination required to work in a high-stress environment. All too often businesses get it wrong.

Psychometric testing, and other methods of measuring cognitive ability are becoming increasingly common practice and can be used as a tool to help hiring companies ensure they find the right person for the role. Earlier this year we ran an executive search process for a Head of e-Commerce Transformation, and worked closely with a chartered occupational psychologist during the selection process, to help determine potential candidates suitability for the role.

Measured in conjunction with aptitude tests that assess knowledge and reasoning, psychologists use various techniques to build a personality profile assessing emotions, behaviours and relationships. We’ve all heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), for example, that indicates the different ways people perceive the world around them and make decisions.

Psychometric testing enables companies to find out more about a candidate’s personality than can be learned in a standard interview process. Among the findings a hiring manager will get to understand how a prospective employee may react in adverse situations and if they possess the skills that would be necessary to succeed.

There are numerous benefits of using psychometric testing in recruitment. From removing bias and risk to reducing long-term costs, it can be instrumental in ensuring a successful hire. It can be a real time saver too, helping to evaluate candidates in the early stages of the process, leaving hiring managers with a smaller pool of benchmark candidates to progress to the latter stages of the process.

Given the costs involved with recruiting senior hires, it’s not hard to see why learning more about a candidate’s behaviours, coping mechanisms, motivations and strengths and weaknesses can be of great benefit to a business when recruiting a key hire. The cost to a business of hiring a senior leader who is out of their depth and under pressure can be incalculable, and not just from a cost of hire point of view – getting it wrong can have a devastating impact on company culture, and staff morale.

To find out more about our award winning digital recruitment services, and how we can help you ‘hire for resilience’, call 0207 127 5238 or email

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