Each year, one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind. In the past decade, the topic of mental health has gained increasing traction as societies and businesses become more aware to the importance of a healthy mind.
Good mental health typically means we can think, feel, and react in a manner suitable to the situation at hand, whereas poor mental health reflects thinking, feeling, or reacting becoming too difficult to cope with. Like physical health, each of us needs to be proactive in order to maintain our mental wellbeing. Mental health problems range from common issues such as depression and anxiety, to rarer problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
So, as employers, how can we ensure we assess people fairly to select them for roles that they will enjoy and prosper within? Neurodiversity has gained attention in the realm of assessment for selection as employers seek to embrace the talents of employees and candidates who think differently to people they would typically hire. Often, neurodivergence goes hand-in-hand with diagnosed or self-reported mental health problems. Recent research has found higher prevalence of mental health issues in those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has shown that those with negative emotions associated with their dyslexia experience lower self-efficacy and competency pertaining to their work.
When assessing individuals for a role, we must ensure we take steps to avoid direct and indirect discrimination, both of which were outlawed as a result of the Race Relations Act (1976). Direct discrimination references treating somebody less favourably on the basis of a demographic characteristic (e.g., gender, race, religion, sexuality etc.) than they would treat somebody else in the same or similar circumstances. Conversely, indirect discrimination occurs when the same rule or condition is applied to everybody but it:
- Adversely affects a particular group more than others
- Cannot be justified on non-discriminatory grounds
- Causes detriment or loss to those who cannot comply with it
However, it does not necessarily follow that where a selection process does discriminate it does so unfairly. Differences between two groups could be found because there are real and genuine differences in ability that have been caused by differences in educational opportunities, socialisation, or cultural values among other factors. When deciding upon test use in selection, the basic requirement is that it has good rational validity, or in other words good face and content validity.
So, what does this mean?
Well, a psychometric test should not include content that is irrelevant to the job in question and/or content that obviously discriminates on the grounds of a demographic characteristic (e.g., sex or ethnic group). In addition, the tests selected must be consistent with the level of ability required for the job and organisations should bear in mind any demographic limitations that may arise from particular tests. To give an example of this, a test of verbal reasoning may disadvantage those where English is not their first language; therefore, the practitioner must decide whether such an ability is essential to the job in question.
How exactly then, does this apply to mental health in the selection process? The first consideration is that it generally contravenes the Equality Act (2010) to ask people to disclose mental health problems during recruitment. The times where it is appropriate to ask a candidate about their health before a job offer is made are as follows:
- To find out whether they will be able to take an assessment for the job
- To find out whether they need reasonable adjustments to the application process
- To find out whether they will be able to do tasks that are central to the job
- To find out if you are receiving job applications from a diverse range of people
- To establish if they have the particular disability required for the job
- To assess them for national security purposes.
The most relevant points above reference reasonable adjustments and the ability to do the tasks relevant to the job. For example, if an individual has a diagnosis of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) that will affect their performance on a cognitive ability test, it may be possible to accommodate this by allocating extra time. Using the same example, if a job is particularly high pressure where calmness is key to success within the role, then such a role may not be well suited to the candidate. In the case of the latter, an employer should do all they can to make reasonable adjustments to the job, but where this is not possible the candidate may be better suited to another position. A thorough job analysis prior to recruitment will reveal the essential requirements of a role. Whilst we do not want to discriminate against an individual unfairly in our selection process, we do not want to select a candidate who is not appropriate for the job role as this could have a detrimental affect on them if they perform poorly and become unsatisfied.
You may be wondering what to do if somebody discloses mental health problems during their interview or in a personality validation discussion. The most important thing is to prioritise the wellbeing of the candidate and ensure they are okay and comfortable to continue. As occupational test users, we must remember our boundaries of professional practice, most test users in an occupational setting are not qualified to diagnose or advise on mental health issues. If you or the candidate feels that the discussion is having a negative impact on them, then you both have the right to end the session. It may be appropriate for you to refer the individual onto a professional body that provides mental health services if you feel the individual is in need of support.
Alternatively, the individual may just be disclosing this information to be candid about their mental health. In this instance, it is important to advise the candidate about our professional boundaries and remind them that the session is confidential. If they are happy to continue, then you can thank them for disclosing this to you and continue with the interview or exploration discussion.
We do not want to discriminate on the basis of this disclosure, so there is no need to write this up in a report for the candidate or a hiring manager. Instead, we should stick to assessing the candidate on the same basis as everyone else in the selection process, trusting its standardisation and the assessment methods we have selected. Remember, occupational tests are designed to measure our specific mental abilities and personality preferences in relation to the job at hand. In order to assess the validity or impact of an individual’s mental health condition, we would need a clinical instrument and the training to administer and interpret it.
So, to summarise, here are the key things to remember if somebody discloses their mental health condition during a selection process:
- We do not want to unfairly discriminate against the candidate either directly or indirectly because of their mental health.
- Where possible, we should make reasonable adjustments to the testing process or job role to accommodate mental health issues.
- If reasonable adjustments cannot be made and the job role could negatively impact the candidate, they may be better suited to a different role.
- We must prioritise the wellbeing of the candidate and recognise our professional boundaries if they disclose mental health problems in an interview or personality discussion.
- Occupational tests are not designed to measure clinical issues such as mental health conditions.
- Do not shut somebody down if they disclose a mental health condition. If they are happy to continue, thank them for doing so and move on with the selection process. If they are unable to continue, consider whether you should refer them to a professional body for more support.
At Clevry, our expertise lies in the field of Business Psychology. If mental health issues are a challenge you are facing within your organisation, then you may wish to seek the services of Occupational Health specialists. Occupational Health is about how work affects a persona’s health and vice versa.
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