Employment and the Mentally Ill

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Back in the summer of 2011, I worked as a writer for Alberta Education. It was such an absolute nightmare for me that had I not had the good fortune to be fired, I would have found myself in the psych ward in the hospital within a week. I wish I could say that is an exaggeration but it isn’t. As a result of this nightmare, two things happened; I began to have panic attacks. These attacks were triggered when I tried to write or when I was working in a job and had to talk to the boss. Just thinking about it is enough to quicken my breathing and make a panic attack seem imminent.

Yes, I tried to work but the anxiety got the better of me and I simply couldn’t anymore. The idea, just the simple thought, of talking to a boss still makes me want to shut down. However, I’m not one to give up without a fight so, recently, I thought perhaps I could work part-time somewhere. A couple of days a week shouldn’t overwhelm me and would give me time to recuperate for the next shift.

See, aside from the anxiety, I’m actually a great worker. In an office I’m versatile and creative. Show me what you need done and I’ll get it done. In retail, I’m actually very patient with the customers and like to help. I understand what it’s like trying to find something and needing some help. So, with that in mind, I applied to some local businesses. Like Walmart.

There is a new trend in corporations to use psych tests as a means to thin out the resumes they get. The belief being that they can get the type of person they want without all the hassle of actually talking to people. It’s cookie cutter thinking and it’s dangerous.

Anyone who’s been trained as a psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you that without the proper training and proper testing methods, these tests are, at best, useless. A true psych test such as the MMPI has very specific questions that answer questions that the psychologist or psychiatrist may face. However, these tests are meant to be a tool, not a means to weed people out.

Think of it this way; a hammer is a tool that can help a person with the right experience and training to build a house. However, that hammer cannot build the house by itself. These big corporations are relying on these mini psych tests to do their job for them. A job they were never designed to do.

Further, these tests are not full psych tests. There is a great deal missing from them. A true psychological test done by a trained professional has multiple questions dealing with the same or a similar issue. This is done not only to determine who’s trying to fake something but is also a means to gauge how deep an issue may go. These mini tests don’t have the follow up questions. Therefore, the corporation is only getting a very skewed picture of the person.

There is a very real human rights danger here, though. Those tests can reveal any mental health issues such as, in my case, anxiety. Suddenly the person with a mental illness finds themselves and their illness exposed to strangers without their knowledge or consent. I find that frightening. It goes deeper, though. Once exposed, the corporation will red flag that person so that any subsequent resumes they send in are automatically rejected without even being glanced at.

What does that mean? That means that those with mental health issues are being denied jobs based on their disability. Yet, most of the time they don’t even know this is going on. That the human resources department has red flagged them because their mental illness showed up on a test they neither have the training nor experience to administer.

I find all of that terribly, terribly frightening. Don’t you?


Bunny Prints in the Snow

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I have bunny tracks in the snow on my patio. This also means I have bunny poop in the snow on my patio but I’m cheerfully ignoring that.

I live in an area where there is an abundance of wildlife. Rabbits, birds even ravens are my neighbours. They are also one of my thousand and one distractions.

My brain works on a system even I don’t understand. If I say I will have something done in two days, it absolutely has to be ready the next day for me to feel comfortable. If I say I’ll have something done well, I will make it amazing. Part of it is a love of my craft. Yes, part of it is also my need to be loved. Some would say I have issues. I say it’s making lemonade.

Speaking of making lemonade, that’s the other thing about my brain. It will happily find a half a dozen things that need to be done at the same time and natter on about each and every one of them until they’re done. For example, I was getting supper ready to go in the slow cooker. Have I mentioned I love my slow cooker? I make all kinds of things in it. Oh, yeah. Back to my point. Getting supper ready in the slow cooker and I decide I need bread. So I start getting ingredients for the bread machine. Back to the slow cooker. Oh look! Chocolates. I haven’t had lunch yet. Nothing interests me.

In the midst of all this I manage to finish getting supper ready, put bread on, sneak a chocolate and finish a story. I still have no idea how. I’ve learned to stop fighting it. I’m sure most people would stare at me like I’m a lunatic, but this is the track my brain runs on and if I try to change that it gets derailed.

And I’m not the only… oh look! The sun is glinting off the snow. Isn’t that pretty.

When I was working for someone else, this scatterbrain working drove 99% of them crazy. There was one, though, that accepted it for what it was; just my mojo. He was a very large man with a big booming voice that made me jump if I wasn’t aware he was around me. I asked him how he was able to accept it and others weren’t.

He said that he hired me to get a job done. I got the job done quickly and well. That’s all he really cared about and if he messed with my mojo (as he put it), then it wasn’t likely I’d do as good a job as quickly or as happily.

When you run a business you run in to different personalities. Traditionally, businesses would find they had a particular job open and fit the person to the job. However, that’s changing. More and more businesses are finding the person and fitting the job to them. Sounds backwards, yet it works for a lot of companies. Rather than spending a great deal of money to find out you’ve hired the star shaped peg to go in to the square hole, you learn to use that star shape to your advantage.

So, how does it work then? Shouldn’t a business at least have some idea of what they need before they hire?


Determine what your budget is for hiring employees. If you have room in your budget, start looking for the person you’d like to work for you. Yes, their experience and history is important, but not the first thing you should be examining. What’s important to you? Loyalty? Honesty? Hard work? What do you want in your employees? Look for that first. Hire them. Find out what they’re good at and let them do it. Yes, it’s a little bit of letting your workers determine their own jobs, but they know how they work best. No, don’t hire an accountant to work in your warehouse unless he tells you he likes lifting and hates math.

You still need to steer the ship. You set the goals. You set the limits of what they do. You decide what work needs to be done. Nothing else changes except how you bring them in to your company and where they fit. Yes, there will be some growing pains, but it’s the businesses that think outside of traditional methods that move forward.

And there are bunny prints in the snow.

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