Coping with mental health conditions at work and its impact on self-perceived job performance

Date11 February 2020
Publication Date11 February 2020
AuthorSophie Hennekam,Sarah Richard,François Grima
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
Coping with mental health
conditions at work and its impact
on self-perceived job performance
Sophie Hennekam
Department of Management, Audencia Business School, Nantes, France and
Institut de Recherche en Gestion des Organisations, Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France
Sarah Richard
EM Strasbourg Business School, Strasbourg, France, and
François Grima
University of Paris-East Cr
eteil, Creteil, Paris, France
Purpose This exploratory qualitative study examines both the impact of mental health conditions on self-
perceived job performance and how individuals with mental health conditions cope with their conditions
at work.
Design/methodology/approach A total of 257 responses to a qualitative questionnaire and 17 in-depth
interviews with individuals with mental health conditions are analyzed.
Findings The findings show that mental health conditions can negatively impact self-perceived job
performance in the form of lower quality of ones work, slower pace, and more mistakes. In addition, the
findings reveal coping strategies that positively and negatively affect ones performance at work. Strategies
that negatively influence ones performance include substance abuse and self-harm, suppressing and hiding
ones symptoms, and forcing oneself to continue to work when feeling unwell. Coping strategies that tend to
positively affect their performance include accepting ones condition and taking time off, medication and
counseling, mindfulness activities, transparent communication, humor, and a compensation strategy.
Originality/value A growing number of individuals struggle with mental health conditions at work,
impacting both organizations and employees. However, little is known about the influence of mental health
conditionson ones performanceat work, how individuals cope with their mental health conditions at work, and
what effect those coping strategies have on organization-relevant outcomes.
Keywords Mental illness, Mental health, Mental health conditions, Coping, Coping strategies, Job
Paper type Research paper
The American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2018) defines mental health condition as a
condition that involves changes in emotion, thinking,or behavior (or a combination of these)
that are associated with distressand/or problems while functioning in social, work, or family
activities. Despite the rising numberof individuals dealing with mental health conditions at
workplace (Weissmanet al., 2017) and the negative effects of such conditions for organizations
(Collins et al., 2011), surprisingly little is known about how individuals with mental health
conditions navigatethe workplace (Elraz, 2018). While such individuals have received a great
deal of attention in health-related disciplines, the fields of management and organizational
psychology are lagging behind (Follmer and Jones, 2018).
Studying mental health conditions at work is important for several reasons. Firstly,
mental health conditions are costly, both in a direct way in the form of being unable to work
and having to rely on government income support (Heffernan and Pinkilton, 2011), and in an
indirect way through a loss of productivity due to sick leave (Levinson et al., 2010). In
addition, employers are reluctant to hire individuals with mental health conditions (Dietrich
et al., 2014), despite legal recognition of mental health conditions as a disability (Santuzzi and
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 13 May 2019
Revised 11 September 2019
21 November 2019
17 December 2019
Accepted 18 December 2019
Employee Relations: The
International Journal
Vol. 42 No. 3, 2020
pp. 626-645
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ER-05-2019-0211
Waltz, 2016). This leads this group of workers to experience lower employment rates
compared to the general population (Harris et al., 2014), and when they are employed, under-
employment (Levinson et al., 2010) and low wages (Baldwin and Marcus, 2007) are common.
Employment is important for individuals with mental health conditions, as previous research
has found that work improves functioning and recovery by providing structure and stability
(Boot et al., 2016), gives meaning and purpose to their lives (Jackson et al., 2009), and thereby
improves their general well-being and financial independence (Niekerk, 2009). Furthermore,
individuals with mental health conditions can contribute to the workplace in unique ways.
Forgeard et al. (2016) refer to positive beliefs about mental illness (PBMIs), defined as
perceptions of specific positive qualities, benefits, or advantages individuals associate with
their disorder(s) or symptoms(p. 198). In addition, individuals can also develop some
valuable characteristics, such as empathy and resilience that flow out from their mental
health conditions (Galvez et al., 2011). For organizations, employing individuals with mental
health conditions can also be beneficial in that it improves their reputation, improves the
ambience and culture in the organization, and increases loyalty and commitment amongst
employees (Peterson et al., 2017).
Having established the importance of mental health conditions in a workplace context, we
answer several calls for research on the workplace experiences of individuals with mental
health conditions (Elraz, 2018;Follmer and Jones, 2018). While research has documented in
what way mental health conditions affect different aspects of their lives (Corrigan and Miller,
2004), little is known about work-related outcomes. In this article, we focus on an
organizationally relevant outcome, namely, self-perceived job performance, defined as the
perception of an individuals overall performance (Meyer et al., 1989,1993).
Moreover, although previous research has identified ways in which individuals cope with
the stigma related to their mental health conditions (Ilic et al., 2012), we know little about the
way those individuals cope with their condition in the workplace and what the outcomes are
of the different strategies they may use. Coping, defined as the cognitive and behavioral
efforts made to master, minimize, or tolerate stressors (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984), is a
relevant theoretical perspective when studying mental health conditions in the workplace
(Taylor and Stanton, 2007). To cope with stressful situations, individuals adopt problem-
focused and emotion-focused strategies (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984). As mental health
conditions can be considered stressors (Ilic et al., 2012) and impact ones functioning, a coping
lens can help us understand how individuals deal with the fluctuating nature of their
symptoms and how this relates to work-related outcomes like ones job performance.
Drawing on 257 responses to a qualitative questionnaire and 17 semi-structured interviews,
this exploratory study aims to better understand how employees with mental health
conditions deal with their conditions at work using a stress and coping lens, leading to the
following research questions:
(1) In what way do mental health conditions affect self-perceived job performance?
(2) How do employees with mental health conditions cope with their conditions at work?
(3) Whether and how do those coping strategies affect their self-perceived job
Literature review
Mental health conditions at work
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists 157
different conditions. Individuals can be diagnosed with one or several conditions, as their
symptoms are being observed and assessed by medical health specialists. Mental health
conditions have been found to have a negative impact on workplace functioning. For
Impact of
mental health

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