Mindful job hunting: interview questions to safeguard your mental health at work

May 04, 2023

8 mins

Mindful job hunting: interview questions to safeguard your mental health at work
Kim Cunningham

Editor at Welcome to the Jungle

Are you ready to take charge of your mental well-being while hunting for your next job? The interview process is not only about showcasing your skills and expertise; it’s also the perfect opportunity to evaluate if a potential employer is equipped to support your mental health needs. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re exploring the importance of prioritizing mental health in your job search, revealing key questions to ask during interviews, and offering guidance on interpreting employer responses. Get ready to embark on a fulfilling career journey, where your mental well-being takes center stage, allowing you to thrive both professionally and personally.

Why asking mental health-related questions matters

It’s no secret that mental health has become a vital aspect to consider when evaluating potential employers. While a job may seem perfect on paper, ensuring that the company you’re joining has a culture that supports and promotes mental well-being is key. Asking mental health-related questions during an interview can help you gauge the company’s values, understand their approach to employee support, and assess whether they prioritize mental health in their policies and practices.

Career coach Harleny Vasquez is a mental health advocate and encourages her clients to ask as many questions as possible at the interview stage to avoid ending up in a toxic workplace. “It’s very important to first get a sense of how [the company] treats their employees,” she says. “This starts early on in the interview process from the way that a recruiter or hiring manager reaches out to you, or how they keep you updated throughout the process, or if you end up being rejected or even getting onboarded.”

Benefits of considering mental health during the job search

  • Improved job satisfaction: When you join a company that values mental health, you’re more likely to experience higher job satisfaction. A supportive work environment can contribute to lower stress levels, better work-life balance, and a more positive outlook on your career.
  • Better performance: A healthy mental state enables employees to be more focused, productive, and engaged in their work. Companies that prioritize mental well-being often provide resources, such as employee assistance programs, to help employees navigate personal and professional challenges, ultimately leading to better performance.
  • Increased retention: Employees who feel supported and valued are less likely to seek employment elsewhere. By choosing a company that prioritizes mental health, you can foster a long-lasting relationship with your employer and reduce the chances of needing to embark on another job search soon.
  • Enhanced personal well-being: Prioritizing mental health during your job search can lead to a more balanced lifestyle, allowing you to better manage stress and maintain a healthier state of mind both inside and outside of work.

Key questions to ask during an interview

When it’s your turn to ask questions during an interview, make sure to prioritize inquiries that can shed light on the company’s commitment to mental health and well-being. Here, we’ll delve into the key questions you should ask to uncover valuable insights about the organization’s approach to work-life balance, employee support, and mental health initiatives. “It’s very important to really get a sense of what you’re going to be getting into because, from a job description or even the reputation of a company, you’re not really going to know the full picture,” explains Vasquez. “You have to get to the nitty gritty and ask questions.”

Company’s approach to work-life balance

When discussing the company’s approach to work-life balance, ask about how they promote a healthy balance for their employees. Ask if they have any flexible work policies in place, such as remote work or flexible hours. “Let’s say you have to take care of a relative or you have a young child; you want to make sure that you’re able to assess the flexibility in the company,” Vasquez says. Additionally, find out how the company handles overtime expectations and encourages employees to take time off when needed.

Support for employees experiencing mental health challenges

Explore the support systems available for employees facing mental health challenges. Ask if the company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or provides access to mental health professionals for support. Furthermore, discuss how the company handles situations where employees may need to take time off for mental health reasons and if managers are trained to recognize and address mental health concerns among their team members.

Vasquez provides an example: if you’re somebody who attends therapy, for whatever reason, and you have a dedicated time slot on a recurring basis, you’ll want to ask if the company will allow you to manage your own schedule based on this. “Especially if you’ve been seeing the same therapist for many years and changing this therapist would drastically impact your mental health,” she says.

Examples of company initiatives promoting mental health and well-being

To understand the company’s commitment to promoting mental health and well-being, ask for examples of any mental health initiatives or campaigns they have implemented to raise awareness and support employees. Find out if there are any employee-led groups or committees focused on mental health and well-being in the workplace. Also, discuss how the company encourages open dialogue around mental health and creates a stigma-free environment.

Mental health resources and benefits for employees

Delve into the mental health resources and benefits available to employees through the company’s benefits package, such as counseling or therapy. Inquire about any wellness programs or resources provided by the company, including meditation or mindfulness training, stress management workshops, or physical fitness incentives. Additionally, ask if the company offers any mental health training or education for employees to better understand and manage their well-being.

Stress management and burnout prevention strategies

Lastly, discuss the company’s approach to stress management and burnout prevention. Find out how the company supports employees in managing work-related stress and preventing burnout. Ask if there are any specific policies or procedures in place to address high-stress situations or periods of increased workload. Vasquez recommends a question like, “Can you tell me about some of the initiatives that you are doing in order to ensure that employees don’t get burned out and that they’re able to have a good work-life balance?” She encourages job hunters to put the responsibility on the employer because you’re also interviewing them.

Vasquez insists that not everyone will be in a position to evaluate a potential employer’s mental health stance because some people’s situations—financial or otherwise—require them to find a job ASAP. “If you do fall under that category, do what you need to do. But if you currently have the ability to be flexible in your particular job search process, don’t be afraid to ask these questions,” she advises.

The role of personal values and preferences

When searching for a job that supports your mental health, consider how your personal values and priorities align with the company culture. A strong alignment between your values and the company’s approach to mental health and well-being can contribute to a positive work experience and greater job satisfaction. As you ask mental health-related questions during the interview, reflect on how the company’s policies and initiatives resonate with your personal values. For instance, if you highly value work-life balance, you might prioritize companies that actively encourage flexible work arrangements and provide ample time off.

Self-awareness plays a crucial role in the job search process, as understanding your own mental health needs can help you identify the most suitable work environment for you. Consider factors such as the level of support you may require, your preferred working style, and your stress management strategies. By being aware of your own mental health needs, you can more effectively evaluate how a company’s culture, policies, and initiatives align with your well-being. This self-awareness will enable you to make more informed decisions when choosing a workplace that fosters your mental health and supports your long-term career growth.

Finding a company that supports employee mental health and well-being

While preparing specific questions related to mental health is important, Vasquez insists on the fact that researching the company before even getting to the interview stage is crucial, too. She recommends searching keywords such as “mental health” or “self-care days” in a tool like LinkedIn to find posts about companies that advocate for these things. From there, you can find job openings at the company and apply. “Not all job descriptions are going to list these things,” Vasquez warns. However, she insists that doing research on the company based on your non-negotiables will help you narrow down your search and find the environment that you need to thrive in.

Mental health red flags to watch out for in the job search

While a lack of available information on a company’s mental health initiatives is not a red flag according to Vasquez, evasion of mental health-related questions in an interview is. “Let’s say you do your research and you find nothing regarding mental health. That’s not necessarily a red flag—it could be that maybe the marketing team has not updated all those things,” Vasquez explains. However, “when you start asking these questions and you either see people’s facial expressions change or any tension,” warning signs should be going off in your head. A lack of openness or willingness to answer questions related to mental health is worrying, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Assess how openly and candidly the interviewer discusses mental health issues and if they provide concrete examples of the measures taken by the company to support employee well-being. This will give you a better understanding of the company’s commitment to fostering a healthy work environment.

While most people naturally feel some level of stress or anxiety in a job interview, Vasquez says it shouldn’t be debilitating. “Even though it can be scary, and anxiety can kick in, you shouldn’t feel so uncomfortable that you’re not able to advocate for yourself,” she shares. If you’re in a room—or Zoom—with people that make you feel uncomfortable or that you can’t talk about mental health, maybe it’s not the right fit for you.

Additionally, Vasquez insists that any kind of hiccup in communication could potentially be a sign of a non-ideal workplace. “Pay attention to how a company treats you even early on in the process, or even the communication you have with your potential supervisor,” she says. If the hiring manager says they’ll let you know in two weeks if you got the job, and all of a sudden it’s tumbleweeds and radio silence, that’s a red flag, according to Vasquez. “If they’re not able to give you the time of day early on in the process, can you imagine them working with you through potential accommodations or even helping you feel safe enough to be able to work in an environment that’s going to make you feel good and positive?”

Lastly, any kind of hesitation for you to speak with other team members or potential supervisors should be seen as a warning, Vasquez says. “Don’t be afraid to also speak to other people on the team,” she says. Asking questions like, “Is there any way that I’m able to meet with my potential supervisor or hiring manager in this interview process for a quick chat?” can give you a good indication of how open and trusting the company is when it comes to their employees. “If a company says ‘Why?’ or says ‘You’re not able to do that,’ that’s a red flag,” Vasquez explains.

Protecting your mental health in an interview: key takeaways

Prioritizing mental health during the job hunt is a crucial aspect of finding a workplace that supports your overall well-being and career growth. By considering mental health-related factors when evaluating potential employers—during the job search and the interview phase—you can boost your chances of finding a job that nurtures your well-being and allows you to thrive professionally.

Job seekers are encouraged to take a proactive approach to address mental health and well-being during the interview process. By asking thoughtful questions about a company’s policies, resources, and initiatives related to mental health, you can gain valuable insights into how well-suited a particular workplace is to support your well-being.

Ultimately, remember that mental health plays a significant role in determining long-term success and happiness in the workplace. A healthy work environment that prioritizes mental well-being can contribute to improved job satisfaction, increased productivity, and greater career fulfillment. By carefully considering mental health factors during your job search, you can set yourself up for a more positive and rewarding work experience.

Check out more content related to Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 here.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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