Bernie Wong | Senior Associate, Mind Share Partners
This article is also published on Mind Share Partners' "Mental Health at Work" section on Thrive Global.
With 82 percent of workers open to new job opportunities, it’s likely that even you and others you know will be interviewing with a new, prospective company very soon. As demand for mental health care from companies has only grown over the years, it has become increasingly important for applicants to evaluate exactly how supportive a company is of employee mental health.
Whether you’re actively managing a mental health condition or simply prioritizing your mental wellbeing in your next role, mental health can still be hard to talk about in a workplace context, especially during an interview.
In this article, we have compiled 5 common interview questions—and what to look for—to more effectively evaluate if and how a company supports the mental health of their employees.
1. "How would you describe your company culture?"
Asking about company culture is common practice in most interviews, and can be a safe way for any applicant to learn about a company without self-disclosing anything personal about mental health.
What to look for: When you ask about company culture, you’re likely to get an elevator pitch evangelizing how desirable it is to work at said company. Promising descriptors include a supportive team, emphasis on work-life balance and diversity, and tangible examples of ways the company fosters a positive culture.
However, keep in mind that employers are trying to sell themselves to you, too. Read between the lines to understand the realities of a company’s work culture. For example, being “mission-driven” is increasingly common to engage and retain employees, but the scientific literature shows that “too many active pathways to meaning” can actually lead to burnout, especially if employees are under-resourced and overworked. Similarly, cultures of “nice”—which have real benefits in the form of social support—can sometimes make it hard to have difficult conversations about challenges employees are facing.
As you interview, remember to think through the potential drawbacks to purported positives, and consider how cultural values are actually lived and practiced at a company. Reading employee reviews on Glassdoor can also be a helpful glimpse into a company’s culture.
2. "How does your company support employee wellbeing and work-life life balance?"
Asking about work-life balance is similarly commonplace in job prospecting. Companies with true support systems can be game-changing for individuals managing mental health conditions. Flexible hours make room for therapy appointments, and a later morning schedule can accommodate the symptoms of fatigue that can come with depression. Still, the ways in which companies approach employee wellbeing—and how effective they are at it—can vary greatly.
What to look for: First consider whether the company offers perks or true support systems. A perk could be free coffee for 6:00 am meetings, but a support system would be a flexible work schedule that accommodates personal needs. Similarly, while the perk of free meals is increasingly common in workplaces, they can actually keep employees at work longer. As a 2017 Gallup report writes, “the benefits and perks that employees truly care about are those that oﬀer them greater ﬂexibility, autonomy, and the ability to lead a better life.” For example, Slack, consistently rated in “Best Places to Work” rankings, focuses on perks that let its employees “work hard and go home.”
Second, consider whether these support systems are only intentions or real practices. For example, perks like ping pong tables, meditation rooms, and unlimited PTO are increasingly common. However, cultural expectations around work have not allowed for the utilization of these benefits—the average U.S. employee only used 54% of their available vacation time in 2017. Consider how the availability of these benefits are balanced against how often they are actually used. A company that invests in mental health corporate workshops is also a great indicator for management that knows how to talk about and support employee mental health.
In many ways, the healthiest practices—like not checking email after-hours—don’t have the same frills that free meals do. Of course, this is not to say perks are bad, but in the absence of true supports, they may not add much value to employee mental health. Notice the differences and know what’s most important to you.
3. "How would you describe the team’s working style?"
Team dynamics are key to employee mental health and wellbeing at work. A 2018 Gallup report cited the top five reasons for burnout—all five have underpinnings in work style in how teams communicate and show support. In fact, 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their boss.
What to look for: Answer honestly to yourself how well-aligned your own needs and working styles are with the company’s, especially if you are managing a mental health condition. If they are a fast-paced company that errs on “do now, and fix later,” managing anxiety with a more deliberate and precautionary working style might be more difficult. Similarly, an office with an open floor plan, an in-house cafe, and music during working hours can make it hard to manage symptoms of ADHD.
Of course, not everyone may have the financial leeway to be quite as selective, and a mismatch in working style is not necessarily a no-go. In your interview, consider asking how different working styles are supported as well. Many companies are very open to flexible working and accommodations. For example, it can be as simple as moving the desk location of an employee that is managing ADHD to a quieter space. While your own working style may differ from your prospective team's, a company culture that does what it can to support diversity can still be an environment you can thrive in.
4. "What kinds of health benefits does your company offer?"
Comprehensive benefits packages are increasingly expected for most jobs, and the annual costs of mental health to companies are increasing twice as fast as other medical expenses in recent years. There is a real need for mental health care, with 1 in 5 employees managing a mental health condition every year, and mental health conditions are just as represented in high-performing professionals like entrepreneurs.
What to look for: Companies may not always explicitly state that their benefits cover mental health care in a job listing, and asking will give you a concrete answer. Having benefits that cover therapy and treatment is formal recognition by a company that mental health matters.
If a company doesn’t have comprehensive mental health benefits, ask about what other supports they might have. Some companies like Square have an in-house therapist, and others may reimburse, at least in part, mental health support services like Ginger.io or Kip. Know what kinds of support you need from a company.
5. "What other resources or programs does your company have for diversity and inclusion or overall wellness?"
Workplace mental health, and tangible policies and practices that support it, is still a relatively new topic in the U.S. Companies are just starting to get on board, so you may need to look for other existing programs that can indicate whether a company would be open and supportive of mental health. In our experience, companies with robust Diversity & Inclusion programs, employee resource groups (ERGs), and other wellness programs like mindfulness training have been most open to supporting mental health at work. It helps that both D&I and mindfulness have grown in popularity in recent years, which can be an “in” for broader mental health support systems.
What to look for: There’s no secret recipe for what resources to look for at a company. That said, companies that dedicate funds to support these kinds of resources for their employees are ones that are putting action to their words and values. According to a 2017 article by EY, companies with D&I programs and practices are shown to have enhanced team performance, stronger collaboration, better decision-making, enabled leadership, and increased motivation for employees resulting in better job satisfaction and reduced stress and absenteeism.
Mental health support is increasingly becoming the norm in the workplace, but it can be hard to decipher the culture of a company from only a few interviews. As you embark on your search, utilize these questions to make the most out of your next career move and prioritize your mental health in 2019.
Are you an employee that wants to encourage your company to address mental health?
Mind Share Partners offers mental health workshops that cover topics like how mental health affects the workplace, signs and symptoms, and how to talk to have productive conversations about mental health.
Bernie is a Senior Associate at Mind Share Partners. He focuses primarily on organization programming, marketing, and design. Prior to Mind Share Partners, Bernie was an Associate at HopeLab, a human-centered design consulting nonprofit, where he developed evidence-based products and solutions to support mental health and wellbeing.
Bernie has also worked in freelance visual design, in education at Stanford as a Head Teaching Assistant, and in editorial work and academic research. Bernie also sits on the board of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) Foundation, a grassroots philanthropic organization that provides funds and leverages resources to empower Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ students, organizations, and communities.
Bernie holds a Master of Health Science in Mental Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from UC Berkeley.