Mental disability: still difficult to navigate in the world of work


Firste edition of Mental Health Information Weeks opens this Monday, October 10 for two weeks, with this year a particular focus on the consequences of the environmental crisis. Of the recherches have shown, it has been added to the list of factors at the origin of mental disorders, in full expansion at a time when the consequences of the health crisis are still being felt.

Mental disorders, in total, today concern a person in eight (13% of the world's population) according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And the people who suffer from it, beyond a health problem, also always encounter difficulties on the job market, the subject of our recent recherches.

Let us already note that the thing seems particularly problematic, employment being particularly beneficial in the management of these disorders. It structures an individual's environment, arouses in him a feeling of belonging, gives him objectives, and contributes to his financial independence.

Our work is based on the sociology of Bourdieu, and shows how social norms, as well as the structures from which they arise and which ensure their perpetuation, constrain the participation of people with mental disabilities in the labor market.

Difficulty of socialization, devaluation

In his works such as The distinction ou The reproduction, Pierre Bourdieu explained the position of individuals in the social space from the concept of “capital”. It thus designates the resources used by individuals to position themselves in the social space. There is certainly his income, his "economic capital", but also the whole of the network on which he can rely, the "social capital", and the knowledge, elements of language or intellectual references which he masters and which are socially valuable, i.e. “cultural capital”.

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What our article demonstrates, based on 257 questionnaires sent to Europe, Asia, Oceania and North America, is that people with mental disorders experience a devaluation of these different assets at work. Concerning their social capital, for example, they say they face difficulties in socializing and building social relationships in the work environment. A respondent testifies:

“There is a need to be sociable here, I am not, I should quit this job. »

Social rules are misunderstood and can lead to inappropriate behavior by people. Another participant admits to being too attached to her colleagues. Controlling your emotions becomes more and more complicated, and sensitivity to stress increases:

“I can't control my emotions, I cry, I get angry, I have panic attacks. »

The standards of the field of employment seem in fact out of step with the functioning of people with mental disabilities. This is where the devaluation of capital comes from.

Internalization, concealment

What these responses also prove is that people with psychiatric disabilities are aware of their inability to conform to the norms of the dominant group (people without psychiatric disabilities). They will try to adapt to it, rather than asking the labor market to integrate their specificities. This lack of adaptation constitutes, in the sense of Bourdieu, a form of “symbolic violence” towards these people.

“I can't adapt to the world of work and they won't adapt to me, so I guess I'm just left out. »

People internalize, legitimize and normalize their disadvantaged position, blaming themselves for their failure to live up to these norms, rather than questioning the social structures that cause the difficulties they encounter.

“What do you want me to tell you? That I risk being absent quite often? That I may need breaks so I don't have to go home early? How does that stand a chance of matching the ideal worker? I will never get a promotion. »

This internalization reinforces the difficulties of participation in employment, in particular leading people to hide their handicap to avoid any devaluation. Efforts devoted to concealing the problems have counterproductive effects, in particular they create a misinterpretation by colleagues of the professional behavior displayed:

“My colleagues think I'm lazy, rude and selfish. »

Awareness, solution

What solutions? In our view, the persistent stigma surrounding mental disorders requires that managers and colleagues be made aware of these issues. It's about reducing negative beliefs and encouraging people to talk openly about their difficulties.

For organizations to recognize these disorders, provide accommodations in the workplace, and ensure that all employees are aware of the policies and practices in place, these are the avenues for improvement that we identify. Because people are unaware of the norms that guide their actions, it can also mean, for example, trying to make their workplace more inclusive by offering more flexible working arrangements, changing job design or by giving people the choice of how they prefer to communicate. The inclusion of people with mental illness in the creation of policies and practices on this subject is likely to guarantee lasting change.

Finally, people with mental disabilities could themselves be made aware of the existence of these social norms and trained to question them through workshops aimed at working on their "locus of control", i.e. that is, their beliefs about what determines the events of their professional life.

Sarah Richard, Teacher-researcher in HR, bachelor director at EM Strasbourg, University of Strasbourg; Mustafa Ozbilgin, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, Brunel university london et Sophie Hennekam, Teacher-Researcher in management, Rennes School of Business

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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