The paradox of mental illness and employment: A person-job fit lens

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International Journal of Human Resource Management


Mental illness is highly stigmatized and much of the extant research has focused on the ways in which having a mental illness detracts from employees’ productivity. In this study, we aim to obtain a more holistic understanding of how mental illness impacts employees’ work experiences. We do this by examining both the positive and negative characteristics associated with mental illness by conducting two exploratory qualitative studies consisting of 257 qualitative in-depth surveys and 15 interviews with employees with mental illness. Using a person-job fit lens, we demonstrate how positive characteristics are associated with good needs-supplies fit while negative characteristics are associated with poor demands-abilities fit. This paradox illustrates how having a mental illness affords employees unique skills and qualities that enable them to excel in their roles; yet, the negative characteristics resulted in tendencies to overwork, increased stress, and reduced abilities to cope. Our findings highlight that the characteristics of mental illness simultaneously enhance and hinder different types of P-J fit. We believe employees with mental illness and their employers should be aware of the paradoxical benefits of mental illness, and develop strategies to support the effective balancing of the unique strengths and weaknesses of mental illness in the workplace.

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