This is a common question and one I wish I could answer with a simple “no of course they won’t” but if employers are honest, they will accept that this is not the world they live in yet. Even those rated the best employers will struggle, if at interview you tell them you have been signed off work for the past 6 months with work-related stress. So what can be done?
Firstly, let’s acknowledge the scale of this illness. Look at the headlines:
526,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2016/17
12.5 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17
The employer: That statistic tell us there is a lot of unwell people and a big expense for employers. You can understand why companies worry about this. Different companies have different policies – some pay for sickness absence, some will not. If a company still pays you to be off work, you can see how difficult that a smaller company with tighter profit margins would struggle if they paid you and also had to employ someone else to cover your job whilst you were off. Smaller business could even fail to operate at all with employees off work. With that in mind, there is a very real chance sitting in front of a potential employer and disclosing a work-related stress absence will set off an alarm bell with your recruiter.
But that is fundamentally unfair and of course, discriminatory. Doesn’t mean the employer would tell you that was the reason. Mostly, they would give you a different reason for rejection at interview “We went with someone who was a better fit” or something else just as flaky.
So if the odds are against you, how do you succeed?
I guess there are 2 initial options – stay at your current company longer to get your absence record back on track or go straight to other employers and try to secure that job with honesty and hope you meet a moral person at interview.
- Staying longer in your current job – with companies still asking in references about your sickness absence, it is obvious that this is an important factor in getting a new job. Can you stay longer at your job? This might feel completely impossible and it may be. Other times, you can overcome that hurdle, keeping the focus on the end game. It really does depend on the circumstances and the key cause of stress. Some of the considerations may be about working in a different team, working reduced hours, working in a different location, undertaking different duties. It will depend on the supportive managers and policies at your company. This is something that you will need to work through with your family, friends, therapist to decide if you can stick it out in a healthy way for a bit longer.
- Leave for a new job – work-place stress is usually environmental so chances are new job = reduced stress level. Chances are in an application you will have to disclose your absence at that point. You must say and why not? There is nothing to be ashamed of. Stress can happen to anyone at anytime. No one can see into the future. I would likely put next to the days absent a note along the lines of “I have fully recovered or I am managing my illness and fully prepared to evidence this at interview”. At interview, you don’t have to go into personal detail that is uncomfortable but if you feel you are fully recovered enough to tackle a new job (remembering what I said above about environmental causes), then it’s OK to be frank about the circumstances. You were ill – you could just have easily been off work for months with broken wrists. Accept what happened, confirm how you are managing or managed the illness and nail the rest of the interview.
Hopefully, you will be applying to a good company with a good recruiter and you will get the job that you need as part of your recovery. Remember, ignorance doesn’t mean you don’t deserve that job. It’s just as I said at the start, we don’t live in that world yet and more must be done. This post is not a solution – because you need employers to meet you half way. Companies are about people and with that, comes the responsibility to support each other. After all, if you get the job, some day you might have to support the very person who gave you the job.
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