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Mental Health and the Workplace

Updated: May 5, 2021

Mental Health is a factor that affects students in many ways, including job and internship searching and the support they will look for from an employer. Learn about resources and strategies that you can deploy now as a student and at your future workplace.

According to a recent survey by Handshake, students want to make mental health a priority, especially as they navigate job or internship searching during COVID. If this has been on your mind, you're not alone. Whether you are adapting to a new virtual environment, preparing for digital interviews, or managing your fears about transitioning to a professional role during a pandemic, there is a lot that has changed in 2020.

Lehigh resources

One of the first steps you can take - talk to your Career coach. Using Handshake you can schedule a 1-on-1 appointment that will give you time to discuss not only your career goals, but how you are feeling about the process. This is a confidential conversation and it can be helpful to speak with someone who understands what you are facing and the challenges COVID has created in the job market. Career coaches are also career counselors, let them help.

Tips from a Career Coach

  • Break your job search goals into small steps

  • Write down your action plan and know when your industry typically hires

  • Be prepared - taking time to develop a resume, cover letter and interview stories will help you feel more confident

  • Set reasonable timelines that factor in academic deadlines and coursework demands

  • Set realistic expectations around the number of applications you should complete

  • Identify things that help you destress and build them into your weekly schedule

  • Talk it over with classmates or friends, your often not the only one feeling pressure, anxiety, fear, or stress

  • Stay organized by using a notebook or google doc that organizes your job search steps and progress

  • Celebrate wins along the way! Finalized resume, first interview, new LinkedIn connections, etc are all progress you should note!

Go to the alumni experts

The Lehigh alumni community on Lehigh Connects can also help. Don’t forget that many of them navigated the 2009 recession and similar job market challenges. You may find it helpful to ask for advice on how to manage job search stress or share your fears about your next steps. Alumni have walked this path before you and every one of the profiles on Lehigh Connects volunteered to support students, which includes answering their questions about mental health and job search anxiety.

Example messages for Lehigh Connects:

Dear {name},

I connected with your profile on Lehigh Connects because I am interested in working in a similar position within (industry, company name or job title). I wondered if you had some time to talk with me about what steps I should be taking as I job search. To be honest, with the complications due to COVID and lack of internships this past summer, I am worried about finding a position. I would value your thoughts and encouragement, especially if you can help me identify job search strategies that would be effective.

Thank you,

Your Name

Dear {name},

I am hoping you can help me with some questions I have about the best way to get experience in your industry this summer. Under normal conditions, I would be looking for job shadowing during winter break and a hands on internship during summer 2021 but I am fearful that Covid will prevent both of those options. What suggestions do you have for me for ways I can grow my resume? What does virtual work look like for your company? As you can imagine, I am facing a lot of stress about this process and I am hoping you have some ideas for me.

Thank you,

Your Name

Mental health and the workplace

The support and skills you use as a student to manage stress and anxiety will also serve you as you enter into the workforce. Keeping a check and balance on how you are feeling mentally and knowing when, how, and to whom to reach out for help is a life skill. The World Health Organization recently published a study that made the connection to mental health and the workplace by saying “The impact of mental health problems in the workplace has serious consequences not only for the individual but also for the productivity of the enterprise. Employee performance, rates of illness, absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover are all affected by employees’ mental health status.” In other words, it's in everyone’s best interest to address mental health. The idea that your mental health can affect your professional life is something you should consider.

It's also important to evaluate employment options by considering the impact they will have on your mental health. You may have heard the term “fit” used to describe if you are well suited for an environment, team or company culture. Just as the employer is evaluating you, take time to also evaluate if the employment option will be a good fit for you.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if you will thrive in a position:

  • Can you picture yourself working there in the physical space?

  • Does the work seem interesting and engaging?

  • Would you enjoy the amount of independence vs team work you would receive?

  • Do you think you could confide in a supervisor or colleague if you needed to talk?

  • Can you use your strengths often in the role?

  • Does the company’s value system align to your own?

  • Does anything about the position, physical space or the workload trigger stressful feelings or negative emotions?

Determine if your employer has mental health resources

Part of any job search should include researching an employer. This can include looking for information about mental health resources for employees. Start with any details shared in the benefits information on the company website. Do they include information about counseling services, treatments or programs? Look for employee services (webinars, meetings, programs, etc.) that address mental health education and stress management. Remember that full benefits details may not be provided until an offer is made, at which time you can also ask your employer for more information about your health coverage.

Bring questions to an interview

It's important to first mention that discussion of specific benefits or salary are not suggested during an interview. But there are lots of other questions you can ask that will help you gauge how an employer supports mental health in their workplace.

  • How does the company prevent burnout or job stress?

  • Is there a mentor program for new hires?

  • Who does this position go to for help or feedback?

  • Can you describe the leadership style?

  • In what ways does the organization support work life balance?

Have a plan and be informed

Read more about mental health on the Muse with their section related to Mental Health. Several great articles are provided there on how to evaluate your stress levels and manage your mental health while also balancing other commitments like job searching or internship commitments. LinkedIn also offered some helpful tips in their article “Finding Motivation during a Job Search”.

Lehigh’s Counseling Center also has virtual services available for students, its never too late to access their support and resources. Counselors can assist with many strategies to manage daily stress, anxiety, & more. Many additional free services are also here to support you as a student. Tap into the support you need.

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