Can HR policies end mental health bias at work?

The stigma is alive and well in Singapore

Can HR policies end mental health bias at work?

Mental health discrimination is illegal in Singapore, and yet the stigma around the issue continues to persist in workplaces. Seven in 10 employees believe that co-workers’ negative attitudes are a major barrier to employing persons recovering from mental health conditions. The National Council of Social Service (NCSS) found that more than half of residents were not willing to live nearby or work with persons who have mental health conditions. Additionally, 60% of respondents believe that mental health conditions were caused by a lack of self-discipline and willpower, so they shouldn't be given any responsibility at work.

Read more: Myth-buster: mental health support is bad for business

Paradoxically, seven in 10 respondents acknowledged that persons with mental health conditions experience stigma and discrimination in their daily lives. Another eight in 10 believe the best therapy or ideal way to help them was to make them feel included in the community. While the journey to educate individuals and destigmatise mental health in workplaces can be a long one, is there a way to use formal HR policies to tackle bias?

Practical solution to tackling bias

A structured ‘guaranteed fair practice’ procedure in the organisation may be one practical solution, shared Kuan-Thye Sean, managing director of employee experience, design and implementation at FedEx Asia-Pacific. The procedure is part of FedEx’s ‘people-service-profit’ philosophy (PSP), which aims to create a positive working environment for employees. Sean explained that the policy exists to help employees keep leaders accountable.

“If someone feels that they are a better candidate than the one selected, they can raise [the issue] that they’re not fairly treated,” Sean said. “The moment someone triggers this point, then the managing director will meet with the employee to find out why they feel that they’re not fairly treated.” Then, there are three rounds of assessments. The first round involves a review of the issue by the director. The second, by officers responsible of managing the issue. The final round involves the company’s regional president.

“Because of the way we structure equal opportunities, we want the hiring manager to be mindful that when we reject or accept a candidate, we have to be very clear about the facts that helped us to make that hiring decision,” she said. “In the event an employee [claims] the selection is not fair, we have reasons to support the decision.”

Read more: How to turn D&I policies into practice

Sean explained that the policy should only be used as a last resort. Efforts to educate and regularly raise awareness on bias must be a greater priority in the organisation, so as to build a more inclusive culture and avoid incidences of bias altogether. Like all seasoned HR leaders, Sean shared that it’s crucial to put in place a structured hiring process that involves a panel of interviewers, for instance, to take the pressure off one person from making all the decisions.

Furthermore, it’s important to consistently communicate that the organisation embraces differences and has an open culture that allows employees to speak up. “When we consider promotions and progressions, it’s more about capabilities versus the past,” she said. “It’s important [to focus] on capabilities, whether the person can perform, and then we move forward.”

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