WVU Researcher Finds Fears of Discrimination in the Workplace Lead to Performance Issues for Employees with Mental Illness | Today
Incompetent. Lazy. Mad.
“There is still a considerable amount of stigma associated with mental illness,” Follmer said. “Even many researchers unwittingly attribute negative employee outcomes to mental illness.”
Follmer’s work, however, suggests that is not the case.
In an article published in Group and organization managementFollmer, Associate Professor of management to John Chambers College of Commerce and Economicsdetails the latest set of results from its study of 279 American adults who have a professional diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder and who work at least 20 hours a week.
His research shows that one of the reasons employees may engage in deviant behaviors at work is fear of being discriminated against at work.
“Importantly, fear of discrimination predicts employees’ deviant behavior beyond their symptoms of mental illness,” Follmer said, suggesting that simply having a mental illness is not the cause. number one problem behavior at work.
The participants, who held positions as diverse as animal caretaker, database architect, missionary, housekeeper and engineer, answered three stages of survey questions. They rated the likelihood of them receiving a negative performance review or being overly scrutinized if everyone at work knew about their mood disorder, for example, and whether or not they agreed with the fact that the disorder defined them.
Follmer’s analysis of their responses, conducted with co-authors including Jake Follmer, assistant professor at the College of Applied Human Sciencesexplored whether participants believed they were at risk of discrimination at work because of their mental illness, how fear of discrimination might prevent them from being authentic in the workplace, and to what extent this fear and this inauthenticity could lead participants to damage their relationships with colleagues and employers.
“If you’re able to be authentic, it can mean you can talk freely about having a doctor’s appointment, how you’re feeling that day, or your diagnosis without fear or worry about how it manifests to others,” Kayla Follmer said. “Or maybe it just means you’re not talking about your mental illness, but you’re not constantly monitoring your behavior or analyzing what’s going on. you say, to determine if it is a safe space or not. In some ways, authenticity is just being able to engage in a way that feels true to yourself without that constant stress or pressure of trying to gauge how it’s going for others.
When an employee’s emotional resources become depleted due to continuous self-monitoring, counterproductive work behaviors become a problem. Follmer said she looked at two types of counterproductive work behaviors: interpersonal and organizational.
“Interpersonal deviant behaviors are those directed at co-workers, such as acting rudely, swearing, or making hurtful comments. Organizational deviant behaviors are behaviors directed at the organization that harm productivity, such as stealing work property, falsifying records, daydreaming, sharing confidential information, and intentionally working slower than one is capable of.
The likelihood of an employee sabotaging their working relationship or organization depends in part on two factors. There is the severity of their symptoms: the intensity or extent of the symptoms of their mental illness. And there is the centrality of their stigma: the extent to which they view their mental illness as central to their identity.
As expected, Follmer found that employees’ fears about discrimination led to even greater inauthenticity among people with more severe symptoms of depression or mania.
Follmer, however, did not expect the results she found regarding the centrality of stigma.
“We found that when a person sees their mental illness as central to who they are, they are less likely to behave authentically at work. This absolutely surprised us, as previous research, particularly on people from the LGBTQ community, found that when people truly hold some part of their identity as central to them, they were more likely to behave authentically, but we found the opposite.
Although Follmer emphasized that the goal “is not to compare groups in terms of who is worse off,” she speculated that one of the reasons why the centrality of stigma works so differently for employees with mental illness may be related to “differences in societal perceptions of mental illness in relation to sexuality”. guidance, as well as opportunities for support. You think June is Pride Month and how much conversation there has been around Pride and opportunities for support groups and programming. There really isn’t that level of societal support for mental illness yet.
Follmer emphasized that talking openly about mental illness isn’t necessary for authentic engagement in the workplace — employees with mental illness don’t need to share their diagnoses at work to be there themselves.
On the one hand, sharing a workplace mental health diagnosis can make an employee more self-aware, not less.
“If you divulge once and never talk about your mental illness again, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re authentic, does it?” said Follmer. “In fact, in previous research, we found that there were individuals who disclosed it and then regretted it or were mistreated because of it and then continue to engage in certain coping strategies. identity.”
Similarly, Follmer added, “someone might cover up their depression or bipolar disorder and not tell others about it, but still show their true self, especially if they don’t view their diagnosis as a central to his self-concept. There is a complex relationship between disclosure and authenticity that must be dissociated.
Complicating the issue further is that an employee need not even be discriminated against for the process of stigmatization, identity threat, identity suppression, inauthenticity and counterproductive work behaviors manifest. Follmer’s study showed that “the simple belief that one would be discriminated against if others knew about one’s mental illness predicted counterproductive work behaviors two months later.”
Given this fact, she emphasized that interventions that focus on addressing discrimination after it has already happened may not be enough. Preventative measures focused on creating inclusive organizational climates could likely eliminate employee fears about potential discrimination, Follmer said.
By preventative measures and inclusive organizations, Follmer means employee assistance plans, health insurance, time off for medical appointments, and tools such as stigma reduction and ally trainings.
“Many European countries tend to have labor laws that are more employee-friendly,” Follmer said. “For example, in France, they have a rule related to email. Employees are not required to respond to emails after working hours and they cannot be punished for doing so. It’s this clear attempt to have a line between work life and family life and we certainly don’t have anything like that here in the United States. It’s not just how we treat mental illness, but also how we treat people in general and how we support them in all facets of their lives that contribute to their overall well-being.
Follmer specializes in research around employees’ work experiences with mental illness and serious psychological consequences such as suicidal thoughts because, she says, people with mental illness “are so often excluded from management research. When management research talks about diversity it often focuses on race or gender, more recently perhaps on sexual orientation, but there is almost no mention of people with mental illness
“It’s important to shine a light on their experiences because they represent a significant portion of the workforce,” Follmer said. “There are a large number of working adults dealing with mental illness and dealing with their work responsibilities and I think we underestimate how much it could really affect them.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Jake Stump
WVU Research Papers
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