Employers’perspectives on hiring and accommodating workers with mental illness

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  • Many individuals with mental illness want to return to work and stay in employment. Yet, there is little research that has examined the perspectives of employers on hiring and accommodating these workers and the kinds of supports employers need to facilitate their reintegration into the workforce. The aim of the current research was to explore the challenges employers face and the support they need to hire and accommodate workers with mental illness (WWMI). A qualitative research design guided by a grounded theory approach was used. In-depth interviews were conducted with 28 employers selected from a wide range of industries in and around Edmonton, Canada. The employers were a mix of frontline managers, disability consultants, and human resource managers who had direct experience with hiring and supervising WWMI. Data were analyzed using the principles of grounded theory. The findings highlight several challenges that employers face when dealing with mental health issues of workers in the workplace. These challenges can act as barriers to hiring and accommodating WWMI. Research on the social determinants of health informs us that employment is a major determinant of mental health not only because it provides income but also because it affords people a sense of identity and purpose, social contacts and opportunities for personal growth (Harnois & Gabriel, 2000; Keon & Pepin, 2009; Raphael, Bryant, & Rioux, 2010). In the case of people with serious mental disorder, employment can provide a stepping-stone to recovery and there is increasing evidence that the ability to participate in employment enriches their quality of life and decreases disability (Ackerman & McReynolds, 2005; Becker, Drake, & Naughton, 2005; Morgan, 2005). Yet between 80% and 90% of individuals with serious mental disorder are unemployed, dependent on government pensions or on time limited allowances (Gilbride, Stensrud, Ehlers, Evans, & Peterson, 2000; Kirby & Keon, 2006; Krupa, Kirsh, Cockburn, & Gewurtz, 2009; McQuilken et al., 2003; Sanderson & Andrews, 2006; Secker & Membrey, 2003). This is unfortunate because most people with serious mental disorders desire to and can work (Bond, Drake, & Becker, 2008; Henry & Lucca, 2004; Liu, Hollis, Warren, & Williamson, 2007; Macias, DeCario, Wang, Frey, & Barreira, 2001; Morgan, 2005), but are excluded from the workforce because of attitudinal and structural barriers that prevent many from even gaining entry into the workforce. For those with mental illness who are in the workforce, there are issues related to sustaining their capacity for productive work. Currently, mental illness and addiction account for 60% to 65% of all disability insurance claims among Canadian employers (Dewa, Goering, & Lin, 2000; Goetzel et al., 2004; Kirby & Keon, 2006), while a more recent study estimated the overall economic costs of mental illness in Canada to be CAD$51 billion (Lim, Jacobs, Ohinmaa, Schopflocher, & Dewa, 2008). Whereas individuals with serious mental disorders need specialized vocational and employment services, those with mental illness who are already in the workforce need workplace interventions, accommodations, and counseling support to help them sustain employment. Currently, both groups face several barriers to gaining or sustaining employment. There is a critical need to improve employment outcomes for all individuals who experience mental health disorders and an increasing body of literature shows that employers can play a significant role in improving these outcomes.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution 4.0 International
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    • Shankar, J., Liu, L., Nicholas, D., Warren, S., Lai, D., Tan, S., Zulla, R., Couture, J., & Sears, A. (2014). Employers’perspectives on hiring and accommodating workers with mental illness. SAGE Open, July -September, 1-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2158244014547880
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