The Recruitment Industry: How we Play a Positive Role in our Employees’ Mental Health

10 min read

By Chris Mercer-Jones

People & Performance Director

Sales roles, including recruitment positions, can be considered stressful in comparison to other career opportunities. For many following a sales-based career path, the right amount of stress can be motivating and drive a positive and productive working environment. The rewards within recruitment are plentiful for those who react well to a target-driven environment and have a natural drive to succeed. Being in the recruitment industry is also a rewarding career through being able to help people land their dream roles and helping clients who you have built a great relationship with. Finding great talent to work within a business can have a real impact on the success of a company. However, in any sales environment the line between feeling motivated and overwhelmed is different for each individual and can have an impact on a person’s mental health. 

Mental health is a prominent issue across all sectors and job roles, in fact, better mental health support within the workplace could save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health). We wanted to investigate how we, as employers within the recruitment industry, can better support our employees and reduce the impact work has. In line with World Mental Health Day this month, we recently conducted a survey across consultants, managers and senior leaders in the recruitment industry within the UK. Our aim was to explore which, if any, mental health issues recruitment consultants struggle with, how their workplace influences them and what employers can do to support them. We hope that these results will help businesses in the sector to make incremental changes that can make a difference and support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

Click here to view the full infographic on Mental Health within Recruitment

Prominence of mental health problems in the recruitment industry

We felt it was valuable to understand the prominence of mental health issues amongst individuals working in the sector. Of the individuals who took part in the survey a staggering 74% have suffered from some form of mental health issue in the last year. Anxiety was the most prominent issue with 59% of people suffering from the condition, and 39% of respondents having experienced depression.

When it comes to the daily work of those surveyed, 71% said they felt overwhelmed by day-to-day tasks at least a couple of times a month with 13% feeling overwhelmed all the time. The work itself may be impacting on this or existing mental health conditions may be impacting on an individual’s ability to cope with work. Either way, it is clear that this is something companies should support with.

It became apparent that mental health is affecting individuals’ attendance at work. 1 in 4 (28%) have taken at least one sick day in the past year as a result of a mental health issue. For some of these individuals, it is possible that managers are unaware of the true reason with 59% saying that they would not feel comfortable asking a manager for time off for mental health issues and 51% of consultants saying they do not feel they can discuss their mental health with their manager.

Causes of stress within the workplace

Our survey focused on the areas of the role that could be influenced by the company and its expectations or by its culture and environment.

In terms of weekly targeted activities set, 41% of consultants said that business development calls with key decision-makers was the most stressful aspect of their jobs, whilst this was only the case for 27% of managers and senior-level respondents. As less experienced recruiters feel more stressed by making business development calls than those with years of experience, it could be an indicator that businesses need to give their staff on-going training and support in how best to deal with these types of calls in order to alleviate any undue stress being caused as a result. Business development is an important part of a recruiter’s job, therefore giving them proper training on this from the early stages of their careers would be beneficial in reducing stress and helping staff achieve their goals efficiently without the worry that they will not be fully equipped to deal with these conversations.

Without proper training, consultants could feel that their managers are setting them unrealistic goals with high expectations, which is a guaranteed way to feel overwhelmed with day-to-day activities. In fact, respondents to our survey ranked ‘unrealistic expectations’ as the second most undesirable manager trait. CSG’s Managing Director, Jamie Thatcher highlights:

Recruitment is unique; it requires the drive, tenacity and dogged determination of a cold calling salesperson, coupled with the influencing skills of a hostage negotiator and the empathetic customer nurturing skills of the finest key account specialists.”

Jamie goes on to describe how managers can address the challenge in managing the expectations of consultants with little or no experience, in an industry with such high demands:

“The secret is to identify very quickly, then continually assess, the pace at which each consultant can operate, in order to get the best results in a sustainable way.”

With 88% of all respondents stating that their business does not train its employees on spotting mental health conditions, and a massive 94% of managers who participated felt they had some level of responsibility for the welfare of their team’s and employees’ mental health, it demonstrates that there is still a long way to go regarding supporting employees through mental health struggles in the work place.

Unachievable expectations, coupled with a lack of training in regards to spotting the signs of mental health in it’s employees, shows that recruitment businesses need to ensure they are properly supporting their staff in not only achieving their targeted goals but ensuring their staff are well equipped to carry out these daily tasks with minimal, if any, strain on their mental wellbeing.

What companies can do to support their employees

It can be widely agreed that, to be an effective recruitment professional, you must be highly adaptable and reactive. This is an industry that deals with the most unpredictive element of any profession – people. Recruiters need to be able to navigate their way around difficult situations or unmarked territories with clients and candidates alike, requiring ongoing coaching and improvement of skills.

Scott Jones, Trainer & Performance Coach at CSG recognises the importance of an effective learning & development strategy with recruitment companies. He believes that:

 

“By providing a consultant with clear guidance, direction and skills improvement, it can be argued that this goes a long way to removing the fear of failure. Often, there is a misunderstanding by the consultant of what they need to achieve from their actions, or a lack of knowledge of how to achieve it. This worry can add to an already demanding occupation, where delivery of figures is often the ‘be-all and end-all’. A well-designed, structured learning pathway can help provide the supporting framework a consultant needs to ‘clear the fog’”.

 

Whilst the statistic for recruitment companies offering ongoing training and support to their staff to reach their targets (at 77%) is positively high, we cannot say the same for training on mental health. When it comes to supporting employees in carrying out their roles well, it is positive that companies are giving ongoing training for target-driven activities, however, there needs to be a shift in focus to make employee mental health and wellbeing just as much of a priority.

With the industry continuing to grow, and 8,448 new recruitment company registrations in the UK last year alone, (Recruitment Buzz) there is an increasing need for recruitment businesses to step up their game with regards to attracting talent to work for them, and then retaining these people. 96% of those surveyed said it was important that they work within a business that offers a positive working culture.

We wanted to understand what aspects of this positive culture and company perks most positively affect an employee’s mental health. 37% of all respondents said that fitness lunches best affect their mental health in a positive way in comparison to other popular company incentives such as free fruit, holiday incentives and gaming/breakout areas. As we know, exercise can help lower the stress hormone, cortisol, so offering your employees the opportunity to workout during the day could be hugely beneficial to not only the mental wellbeing of your employees, but their productivity and efficiency throughout the day.

Alongside specific company perks, we also recognise that the environment we work in has a real impact on our mental health. 56% of all respondents said that being able to work from home or have the option of a flexible working pattern would most positively affect their mental health, particularly when compared to other options such as; open plan office space, divided cubicles and hot-desking. It is important to understand that your employees are all unique individuals with different personality types, and therefore, giving them varying options of working environments could have a positive effect on their mental health.

With 83% of respondents stating the technology and software their business provides makes their jobs easier to carry out, providing employees with the necessary equipment, for example a work laptop, remote access software and permission to work at home flexibly, could be a key driver in alleviating work pressures, as long as this does not impact their role responsibilities, output or quality of work.

With technology being prevalent within most industries, particularly within recruitment, it can be difficult for employees to truly switch off. This can be a contributory factor of stress that goes beyond the workplace. It is important for companies to set the precedence that a good work-life balance is necessary for employees to be the most efficient within their role. Particularly for consultants who work in markets outside of the UK, and where a large time difference comes into play, it is key for employees to strike the right balance between fitting around their clients’ needs and switching off. Encouraging your employees to organise their day around their international clients, so it doesn’t have a negative impact on their mental health and the quality time spent with their family would be beneficial for all.

How companies are starting to support their employees

Despite year on year growth, the UK recruitment industry has a staff turnover rate of 31%, more than double the national average across all industries (Xpert HR). A high employee turnover rate can have a negative impact on business performance, overall perception, productivity and morale. It is key for business leaders to really investigate why their businesses are losing talent, and if there are any aspects of an employee’s mental wellbeing that has an impact on this, and what can be done to alleviate any stress or mental suffering.

While it is clear that the recruitment industry in the UK could do more to address this issue, it is encouraging to see so many companies already starting to make changes within employee mental health and the topic be an incremental aspect of their corporate agenda.

Companies are incorporating exercise classes such as yoga into their employee’s lunches in order to relieve any stress they may feel – some companies are even building gyms into their offices to make physical activity much more accessible and affordable. Another change we are seeing are the use of interchangeable ‘stand-sit’ desks which can increase a person’s productivity through being able to move their body and not be confined to a sitting position for long periods of time.

Additionally, the importance of a well-balanced diet has been taken more seriously, therefore companies throughout the UK have taken the initiative to offer their employees free fresh fruit and subsidised onsite kitchens. Ensuring that healthy alternatives are available for all employees.

Finally, as well as incorporating physical activity and a good diet into their employee’s daily activity, some recruitment companies have provided their managers with training to spot the signs of mental health and be mindful of the wellbeing of those around them, so the necessary support can be offered if needed.