5 Common Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace

on 5:05 PM

 Mental health issues are afflicting people in your office, too, Andrea Sides Herron, SHRM-CP, said. Pre-pandemic, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. had some form of mental disorder; the numbers have skyrocketed since then.

Identifying Employees Who Are Experiencing Mental Health Challenges

"Many of you are being squished by mental illness," Herron said. "You have more than you can handle."

One way HR teams and supervisors can identify staff members experiencing mental health challenges, she said, is by paying attention to each person's base lines. What is the person's typical behavior? Learning this becomes more difficult with remote workers, she said, but there are signs that should cause concern.

"Have you noticed that a person's appearance has shifted?" she asked. "Are they choosing not to have their camera on during videoconference meetings when they usually did? Is there evidence that they're drinking too much or [have] picked up smoking again? Maybe they've told you about the 12 Amazon deliveries that show up at their house each day. These are signs."

Herron, a seasoned HR executive, author and host of the HR Scoop podcast, advised HR and managers to be careful when reacting or responding to an employee's changed behavior. "Do not add to the shame that can come with mental health's stigma," she said.

Addressing Struggling Employees

Herron described five fictional employees, explored some of their behaviors and suggested ways of dealing with those behaviors.

Masa: He's been an employee at the company for three years. He's been a solid performer, but his manager has noticed changes in his behavior and there are rumors that he's getting a divorce.

Check in with him. Managers should keep an open-door policy and let employees know they are there for support, Herron said.

"Employers should never make that first one-on-one meeting … because an employee did something wrong," she said. "Try to meet earlier on with employees under friendly terms to help to establish a better relationship."

Carlyn: She's been working at the company for two years. She's a high-performer, and she has asked for an off-cycle raise. You sense that she's under financial strain.

It turns out her partner was fired and her household is lacking income. She's become uncharacteristically angry at her co-workers.

"We know there is a strong link between financial stress and mental health," Herron said.

Herron suggested that the employer might:

  • Offer her a promotion with more responsibilities since she is a high-performer, if it makes business sense.
  • Think about whether the company is doing enough to offer resources that support financial wellness.
  • Consider offering tuition reimbursement or student loan payoffs or other benefits in addition to a traditional 401(k).

Employees can be high-performers and have mental illness, Herron said. They may or may not have an official mental health diagnosis.

Ricardo: He has delivered seven years of solid service. Ricardo's manager, however, noticed a decline in his performance. He's up one week and down the next. It depends on the day. Does he have one foot out the door? If so, should he simply be managed out?

Herron suggested that the supervisor be curious about Ricardo. "Show empathy and care," she said. "Maybe offer him some noise-canceling headphones so he can better concentrate if that's a concern. Ultimately, you can be empathetic and also have a discussion about the performance issue if it doesn't improve."

LaVonda: She's new to the company with only six months of service working by herself in the retail section. Things have been OK so far, but LaVonda recently disclosed post-traumatic stress disorder, triggered by being alone in small spaces with men.

Herron suggested giving her a radio code word to speak when she is anxious or perhaps moving her to another equivalent position in the company.

"Work together to find some middle ground and a solution," Herron said. "Keep in mind, these employees don't like surprises. They like to be given a head's-up. Be transparent about the reasons behind the actions you take. Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind."

Some employees with psychiatric disorders (diagnosed or undiagnosed) will experience episodes of disruptive behavior at work. When facing a crisis of emotions, they can go from anger to tears. 

"As the supervisor, you must stay as calm as possible while they rage," Herron said. "Hopefully this brings down the temperature. Don't join their emotional level. Show them, 'I didn't come to your anger party.' And, of course, document everything, following up with any and all witnesses to the event."

Ted: He has two years of service. He's an average performer and has the reputation of being aggressive in tone and body language. Suddenly one day, Ted yells and throws a chair across the room.

Herron said the behavior must be addressed but not head-on by accusing him of having mental health issues. First you must de-escalate the situation and make sure everyone remains safe, she said.

If you're worried about legal implications when discussing mental health concerns, "a rule of thumb is to tie any questions you ask to observable behaviors that are related to work performance," Herron said. For example, questions that probe wanting to understand why performance has dipped, a new or noticeable level of disengagement, or speaking more often in a sharp tone are on the right path.

She said to steer away from rumors, personal assumptions or detailed health questions. Don't make comments that offer a medical diagnosis or ask questions about relationship status or medications.

Inappropriate dialogue would be, for example, "Are you depressed?" "Why are you so angry?" or "Have you been taking your meds?"

Nothing Positive About Toxic Positivity

A recent trend starting to pop up is toxic positivity. It's one when office workers must only—and always—express positive feelings.

"These can't be the only emotions that are allowed, because this does not demonstrate a full range of emotions," Herron said. "Not everything deserves a silver lining. Everyone can't always be feeling great all the time."

Herron said one way to modify that environment is to tell employees, " 'Your feelings are valid and are allowed. It's OK to feel bad sometimes. Things can get really tough. I'm here for you.' Not every circumstance needs a silver lining. You can acknowledge someone's experience even if it's different from your own.

"And then when employees come to you and start to unload, don't try to solve things for them," she added. "Ask, 'Do you just want me to listen or do you want me to help you solve it?' "

To show you are a reliably compassionate listener, stay 100 percent focused on the other person. "People know when you're distracted," Herron said. "Practice being present for best results. Don't talk over others when they are unloading. If you do, they know you are not really listening."

HR's Heavy Burden

Some industry professionals experience compassion fatigue. It is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion and a profound decrease in the ability to empathize. 

"If this happens, take time off," Herron said. "Things have been steadily difficult for many for a long time. Know your limits. During the pandemic and beyond, we see that resiliency practices are needed."

She suggested those who feel overburdened can improve their resiliency by journaling daily, taking breaks, paying attention to self-care, prioritizing sleep, setting and achieving exercise goals, and forming tiny habits that can help with coping.

Peer connections have never been more valuable, she added. "It's a wild time to be in HR," she said. "And remember, you don't have to go it alone. Connect with your peers. Remind yourself you are making a difference."

Digital apps

on 8:00 AM

 Credit unions (CUs) have long been known for the personal relationships they build with their members. After the pandemic forced customers to adopt a digital-first mindset, customers still wanted individualized attention, but they wanted it delivered through digital channels, with in-person services and live call centers as an option, if needed.

Many CUs are hesitant to innovate, due to either lack of resources or indifference to new technology. This mindset can be detrimental to CUs’ continued success, however, as 84% more CU members are securing second mortgages from other financial institutions (FIs) this year than in 2020. Despite their lack of urgency, 85% of CU executives reported members refinancing mortgages at another FI would negatively impact their institutions’ profit margins.

CUs can increase member retention and ensure customer satisfaction through a combination of personalized digital tools and human-first experiences.

Financial uncertainty made consumers wary of purchasing new cars during the pandemic. Lending services from CUs for new car loans subsequently took a hit, but used car loans, first-time mortgages and credit card loans made up for the lost revenue. Used car loans increased 6.4% to $254.1 billion in July, according to a released Consumer Credit Report released by the Federal Reserve. Additionally, first mortgages rose 8%, adding momentum to the 13.4% increase during July of the previous year.

Consumers have come to expect the most up-to-date digital apps and tools from their FIs. The accelerated digitization that resulted from the pandemic gave technologically inclined challenger banks and FinTechs a competitive edge over traditional banks and CUs. Eleven million customers joined the competition, while only 4.2 million members signed up at CUs during the same period. However, Jeremiah Lotz, managing vice president of digital and data at PSCU, told PYMNTS that challenger banks often lack the level of personalization CUs provide, and CU executives can use the trust they have built with customers combined with emerging tools to regain their leader status.

CUs need to invest in digital tools and services to remain relevant among emerging challenger banks. The board of directors for PSCU, a credit union service organization (CUSO), signed off on an additional $54 million investment into Lumin Digital, a cloud-native digital-banking subsidiary. The investment is expected to fund product innovation and platform automation for a more personalized banking experience, reported Lumin Digital President Jeff Chambers. A total of 1.2 million users across 23 CUs already use the services Lumin Digital offers.

Over the past 18 months, consumers have gotten used to and even prefer mobile and digital banking platforms. Through online portals and mobile applications, customers can pay bills, view statements, deposit checks and even apply for loans and mortgages.

One definitive change that CUs underwent during the pandemic was that branch-centric customers began interacting with call centers, said James Urban, assistant vice president of the Member Experience Center at Community First Credit Union. Although members looked favorably upon new technology, they still wanted the option to speak to a human representative to address more nuanced issues.

Why everybody’s hiring but nobody’s getting hired

on 4:07 PM

 Patrick Healy says he did everything right in his job search. After being laid off as a designer early on in the pandemic, Healy, 36, tried his hand at a couple of entrepreneurial ventures before looking for a new full-time position at the start of 2021. He estimates he applied for hundreds of positions, relying on nearly a dozen jobs boards, researching potential employers, and writing personalized cover letters to accompany his résumé.

For the most part, he heard nothing back, regardless of how qualified he was.

“You get no feedback. I was still trying to experiment with what I was doing, but I just had no idea what was happening, why I wasn’t moving forward,” Healy said. “That was both stressful financially and heartbreaking psychologically.”

It took nearly six months for Healy, who has a decade of experience in industrial design, to find a new job. Meanwhile, headlines touted a record number of job openings, and many employers said they were doing everything in their power to entice potential employees.

For Healy and many others, the situation just doesn’t make sense — there’s an incongruity between what they are hearing about jobs and what is actually happening.

For some of the jobs available, people don’t have the right skills, or at least the skills employers say they’re looking for. Other jobs are undesirable — they offer bad pay or an unpredictable schedule, or just don’t feel worth it to unemployed workers, many of whom are rethinking their priorities. In some cases, there are a host of perfectly acceptable candidates and jobs out there, but for a multitude of reasons, they’re just not being matched.

There are also workers who are hesitant to go back — they’re nervous about Covid-19 or they have care responsibilities or something else is holding them back.

The result is a disconnected environment that doesn’t add up, though it feels like it should. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 8.4 million potential workers who are unemployed, but it also says there are a record 10.9 million jobs open. The rate at which unemployed people are getting jobs is lower than it was pre-pandemic, and it’s taking longer to hire people. Meanwhile, job seekers say employers are unresponsive.

There’s no single party to blame here. Corporate hiring practices can be convoluted and too reliant on machines, and many applicants aren’t being realistic or strategic enough in their work search efforts. For employers, job seekers, and the American economy in general, it’s worth figuring out what’s going on and addressing it. Because although these trends have been exacerbated by the pandemic, many of them pre-date it, and they’re not going away.

The difficult, undesirable job market

Essentially anywhere you go in the United States right now, you’re going to encounter “help wanted” signs. But just because a bar or restaurant or gas station wants a worker doesn’t mean a worker wants to work for them. The millions of jobs available aren’t necessarily millions of jobs people want.

“A lot of what people are seeing are low-paying jobs with unpredictable or not-worker-friendly scheduling practices, that don’t come with benefits, don’t come with long-term stability,” Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work Initiative at the Aspen Institute, told Recode. “And those are not the types of jobs that any worker is eager to take on.”

A survey of workers actively searching for a job on FlexJobs, a jobs website that focuses on remote and flexible work, found that about half of job seekers said they were not finding the right jobs to apply for. Some 46 percent of respondents said they were only finding jobs that are low-paying, while 41 percent said there weren’t enough openings in their preferred profession.

Arlethia Washington, who worked as a legal secretary in New York for 40 years, took an exit package from her job early in the pandemic and, given her experience, assumed she’d be able to easily find a new position after things reopened. Instead, she found herself in a maze: It was hard to tell if recruiters who reached out about jobs were serious. For a lot of positions, she just didn’t hear back, or somewhere in the process, she’d be screened out.

Washington, 68, chalks it up to a combination of age discrimination and not having a college degree, which many positions were requiring even when it didn’t seem necessary. When she did get replies, jobs would offer her much less than what she was paid before, sometimes even less than what was advertised. Or, they would offer to pay her requested hourly rate — but only for part-time work. “It was a grand opportunity to push the secretarial opportunities and incomes back,” she said.

Tim Brackney, president and COO of management consulting firm RGP, refers to the current situation as the “great mismatch.” That mismatch refers to a number of things, including desires, experience, and skills. And part of the reason is that the skills necessary for a given job are changing faster than ever, as companies more frequently adopt new software.

“Twenty years ago, if I had 10 years experience as a warehouse manager, the likelihood that my skills would be pretty relevant and it wouldn’t take me that long to get up to speed was pretty good,” Joseph Fuller, a management professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of a recent paper on the disconnect between employers and employees, said. “The shelf life of people’s skills for a lot of decent-paying jobs has been shortening.”

That’s especially the case if someone gets laid off or is otherwise out of the workforce for any period of time — say, during a pandemic. The pricing tool or order entry software necessary for logistics workers to perform their jobs, for example, will likely be different one year to the next.

The pandemic has also made the specter of in-person work less attractive — if not dangerous — so many people are now looking for jobs where they can work from home. The vast majority of workers, regardless of industry, say they want to work from home at least some of the time. While the number of remote jobs has certainly risen, they still only represent 16 percent of job listings on LinkedIn, though they receive two and a half times as many applications as non-remote work.

The problem, however, may not only be on the hiring side. The pandemic has made people rethink their lives and their work, and some individual job seekers may be applying for jobs they want but aren’t suitable for. About half of the FlexJobs respondents searched for jobs outside their current field.

“A lot of reasons that job searches fail is people want to go from unemployment to the next job they would have had if they kept their old job,” Fuller said. “You know, ‘I’m going to not only get a new position, but I’m going to get promoted to boot.’”

Hiring lacks a human touch — sometimes literally

As much as employers say they’re looking hard for employees, they’re often not looking in the right places or in the right ways. HR departments are leaning too heavily on technology to weed out candidates, or they’re just not being creative enough in terms of how they consider applications and what types of people could be the right fit.

Hiring software and the proliferation of platforms like Indeed, LinkedIn, and ZipRecruiter have made it super easy for employers to list countless positions and for jobseekers to send in countless résumés. The problem is, they’ve also made it super easy for those résumés to never be seen. Artificial intelligence-powered software scans résumés for certain keywords and criteria. If it can’t find them, the software just filters those people out.

“We think that we made it easier 20-something years ago when Monster started posting jobs. It makes it easier for the employer, it doesn’t make it easier for the job seeker,” said J.T. O’Donnell, the founder and CEO of career coaching platform Work It Daily, who runs a popular TikTok account with work advice. “You’re not getting rejected, you’re just never getting past the technology.”

Sometimes, what the software is scanning for doesn’t even make sense — as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, it will look for registered nurses who also know computer programming when really they just need data entry.

“Applicants think they’re talking to another human being when they write a description of their experiences,” Fuller said. “If they start explaining something at length or describe it the way they imagined it that doesn’t fit with what the system is trawling for, you have a possibility for a disconnect, literally because of word choice.”

Making things worse, companies have the tendency to add to job descriptions rather than subtract from them, meaning job requirements have ballooned beyond people’s ability to actually meet them.

The increasingly AI-focused application process makes it even harder for applicants to be assessed by a human being. According to Glassdoor, the average number of applications for a job at a publicly traded company is about 250; the average number of people interviewed is five.

There’s a lack of imagination on the employer side. They assume that what people are doing is what they are qualified for, even if that current job is unsuitable for them. Say a person is working part time as a shift manager but wants to be a full-time sales manager — doing the first job might harm their chances of getting that other job.

“What they’re doing is building a résumé that says to the next hirer, ‘This person is a shift manager, that’s what they do. We’re looking for a sales manager, why would we hire them?’” Fuller said.

This system is also not good at understanding what a person might have the potential to do. Fuller gave the example of a former Army Corps of Engineers employee applying for a job as a cable technician, which increasingly requires workers to not only hook up people’s cable but also to upsell them on cable packages. While the engineer would be perfectly capable of doing the technical part of the job, if she didn’t have sales experience, she might be overlooked, even if she’d actually make a good saleswoman as well.

Part of the issue is a lack in the amount of on-the-job training that employers offer. Steward blames declines in unions that would fight for such perks and an ongoing shift of risks and responsibilities — including career development — from employers to employees.

“People are expected to come onto the job and have the experience, have the skills, have everything, and few people do,” Steward, from the Aspen Institute, said.

The endless quest to make hiring efficient has rendered it inefficient. Candidates who are great fits for 90 percent of the job are screened out because they’re not perfect for the other 10 percent. Recruiters are so inundated with résumés flowing in online that they only look at the first few, hiring the people they can get the fastest instead of the people who are the best fit.

Meanwhile, for candidates, the entire process is a black box. Healy, the designer, ended up getting two job offers in less than a week after not hearing anything for months. He still has no idea why.

As for Washington, the legal secretary, she says she finally “released herself” from her job search on LinkedIn after months of trying. She decided to switch gears and pursue a different line of work. In the spring of this year, she moved to Florida, where her son lives, and after tweaking her résumé, she got a job working in customer service for a pharmacy. The pay is much less than what she’s used to — around $17.50 an hour — but she’s able to work from home, and her cost of living is lower now, too.

Flood-damaged cars could reach the market. Here’s how to avoid buying one

on 10:57 AM

 Anyone who considers buying a used car in the upcoming months may want to be extra-cautious.

As storm-ravaged areas take stock of the destruction left by Hurricane Ida, thousands of flooded cars are expected to be among the personal property that was ruined. While cars with flood damage may have titles that indicate that, the system is not foolproof — which means some of these autos are likely to be purchased by unknowing buyers.

“Unfortunately, following major hurricanes or flooding events, we see fraudsters try to scam consumers by selling cars damaged in the flooding,” said Tully Lehman, public affairs manager for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Compounding the potential for fraud this time around is the high demand for used cars as the global shortage of microchips continues slowing production of new vehicles. That demand could create an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of buyers’ eagerness to seal a deal, experts said.

Ida slammed into Louisiana on Aug. 29 and then moved inland, eventually crossing over the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. The storm left a trail of devastation in its wake from deadly flooding, high winds, storm surge and tornadoes. That was on the heels of two other large storms that dumped torrential downpours in the Southeast and Northeast.

Roughly 378,000 flood-damaged cars already were on the roads before Ida hit, according to Carfax spokesman Chris Basso. 

“If history holds true, we’re looking at several thousand more [flooded] vehicles, and a decent percentage of them will make it back into the market,” Basso said.

Floodwaters can destroy — sometimes slowly — electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems in vehicles. Corrosion can eventually find its way to the car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers, according to ConsumerReports.

Buyers should always check a used car’s “vehicle history report” to make sure they know what they are buying, regardless of when or where they make the purchase. Flooded cars often end up for sale in places far from where they originally were damaged.

Through services like Carfax or the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck, you can input a car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, to see if there’s anything in its history that’s a red flag. However, you may not be able to find out everything. 

Basically, when an insurance company receives a claim for a flooded car and the vehicle is totaled — meaning the repairs would cost more than the car’s worth — the car’s title generally is changed to reflect its status.

Those ruined cars are typically sold at salvage auctions to junkyards and vehicle rebuilders, according to ConsumerReports. Reselling them to consumers may be legal if the title discloses the flood damage.

Unfortunately, following major hurricanes or flooding events, we see fraudsters try to scam consumers by selling cars damaged in the flooding.

However, not all car owners file an insurance claim. If they don’t have comprehensive coverage — the part of car insurance that flooding would fall under — they’re generally out of luck. This means that with no insurance company involvement, the flood damage may not end up officially recorded anywhere. 

“Unfortunately, there will be those that, due to not having insurance coverage for flood damage, will attempt to clean their car and try to sell it to unsuspecting buyers at some point in time down the road,” Lehman said.

And, there are some dealers that will clean up flooded cars and sell them, whether locally or in another state where titling rules are less stringent.

“This makes checking out cars closely, even on lots, very critical,” Lehman said.

There are things you can look for in a used vehicle for that could suggest flood damage, according to Carfax:

  • A musty odor in the interior, which sellers sometimes try to cover with a strong air-freshener;
  • Upholstery or carpeting that may be loose, new or stained or doesn’t seem to match the rest of the interior;
  • Damp carpets;
  • Rust around doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals or inside the hood and trunk latches;
  • Mud or silt in the glove compartment or under the seats;
  • Brittle wires under the dashboard;
  • Fog or moisture beads in the interior lights, exterior lights or instrument panel.
  • You also should test drive the car and have it inspected by a trusted mechanic.

“And remember, if the price seems too good to be true, it likely is,” Lehman said. “Trust your instincts and if you have a bad feeling, go elsewhere."

FBI, CISA issue ransomware advisory prior to Labor Day weekend

on 9:50 AM

 The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Agency issued a joint cybersecurity advisory Thursday warning of increasing attacks against U.S. entities on or around holiday weekends. The agencies note they do not currently have any specific threat reporting indicating a cyberattack will occur over the upcoming Labor Day holiday.

“Cyber actors have conducted increasingly impactful attacks against U.S. entities on or around holiday weekends over the last several months. The FBI and CISA do not currently have specific information regarding cyber threats coinciding with upcoming holidays and weekends,” the advisory reads. “Cyber criminals, however, may view holidays and weekends—especially holiday weekends—as attractive timeframes in which to target potential victims, including small and large businesses.

The agencies suggest organizations engage in preemptive threat hunting on their networks. Threat hunting is a proactive strategy to search for signs of threat actor activity to prevent attacks before they occur or to minimize damage in the event of a successful attack

Indicators of suspicious activity that threat hunters should look for include:

  • Unusual inbound and outbound network traffic
  • Compromise of administrator privileges or escalation of the permissions on an account
  • Theft of login and password credentials
  • Substantial increase in database read volume
  • Geographical irregularities in access and log in patterns
  • Attempted user activity during anomalous logon times
  • Attempts to access folders on a server that are not linked to the HTML within the pages of the web server
  • Baseline deviations in the type of outbound encrypted traffic since advanced persistent threat actors frequently encrypt exfiltration.