Question: I hate to bring up goals, but I struggle with knowing if I’ve achieved success in my work with folks struggling with poverty. Do you have an end goal in mind when working with people?
Answer: That’s a great question. I think the goal is typically self-sufficiency, right, whatever that means for that individual. Can we get them to a place where they can provide for themselves? And I do want to circle back a little bit. I think teaching people goal setting is a good skill, my fear with it is we don’t need to do it first, right? The relationship work is really the first and for those of you in Social Services, it’s a struggle because I know a lot of funders are like ‘we need outcomes, we need you to get going’. Whatever you can do to balance those things, but broadly, I would say self-sufficiency is the end-goal. I think in progress, can we see definable wins as quickly as possible. We kind of ask people to do delayed gratification when they aren’t used to delayed gratification, so those quick wins really help them start to buy into that concept.
Question: What types of ways have you reached out to partnering resources while most resources are closed or not open for normal business hours? I am trying to think out of the box as a Career Planner/Job Developer to engage local resources and also retain participants who need help?
Answer: It’s a great question. My best quick answer is can you find ways to enhance technology resources for clients so they can connect virtually?
These are very challenging times.
Question: What is the geographical reach of your jobs?
Answer: So, we have a very interesting system. You can post jobs with us anywhere in the US and then geographical reach kind of changes all the time, unfortunately. We have about 320 companies that we work with. It fluctuates. I would say the states where we have the strongest presence are probably Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, Washington — they’re kind of scattered out, but those are the ones that pop into my head as the ones we have the strongest presence. But, our software does this really cool thing. It looks at all the other job boards — Zip Recruiter and Indeed and any of the job listings on those sites where the job description explicitly states that they are a fair chance or second chance employer, our system grabs those jobs and pulls them to our job site.
So if you have a criminal history, no matter where you live in the country, we have fair chance job openings on our site. They may not be posted directly with us, so it may redirect you to another site, but our software has done the work of finding those opportunities. If you go to Indeed, you’d have to open every job posting and read through it to see if anywhere in the job posting it says that they’re a fair chance employer or if they’re a second chance employer. You may have to skim thousands of jobs to find them. Our software does it every day and we’re pulling thousands of jobs every day. They’re always up-to-date, so I’m confident that 95% of the US – anyone can find a fair chance job on our site.
Question: I have a participant with a criminal background and feels like it’s keeping her from getting a job. Do you have any suggestions on anything she can do to help her situation? She is currently going to school for medical administration, so she is working towards a certain goal but needs financial support until she finishes school. Thanks.
Answer: This is a really tough one. So, her goal is getting a job so she can have some additional resources to help her get through school. What I would say is she might be, sounds terrible, but she might be overshooting. I could be wrong, but oftentimes when you have a criminal history you’re limited to the bottom of the barrel jobs at first. Whatever program she’s pursuing could be a really great career path, in the meantime she may have to get a job working at a restaurant as a server or as a hostess. And then oftentimes, there are industries that are more open. Restaurants, Food Service, Manufacturing – Manufacturing and Food Service Industry are the biggest ones.
And then the other thing I would say is that she needs to have a prepared explanation of her criminal history. Don’t just wait to fail the background check. You want to be a little proactive about that so if you do have an employer who’s interviewing you and things are going well, you want to be able to explain your criminal history, the mistake you made, what you learned from it, and why you’re not the same person anymore. If you can’t explain to someone why you’re not the same person you were when you committed that crime, then they have no reason to believe that it won’t happen again.
So, I know that’s not easy, but being able to explain criminal history is very important. And oftentimes, the last thing I’ll say on this as HR people, as Workforce people — it’s the last thing we should be encouraging, but if someone doesn’t ask about your criminal history? Don’t tell them. I think if someone does not ask on the application or in person, there’s a reason they didn’t ask. They have decided that they don’t want to spend the money on background checks and they are okay with that risk. I have been hired while I was in college for more than one job where they didn’t ask me and I didn’t tell them. They gave me a paycheck every week and I worked the job and it worked out well.
Question: Are there any legal protections for felons in hiring? Can employers deny someone solely for their background as long as the company has their pass-check written in policy?
Answer: From my understanding, I’m not a lawyer – even lawyers will tell you they’re not lawyers when it comes to stuff like this because I don’t want to be quoted. From my understanding, I know that felons are not a protected class. So, what that means is there is no law saying you’re not allowed to discriminate against them because they have a felony. The one risk that HR runs is getting an adverse action which is basically — if you say we don’t hire people with criminal records, down the road after years of not hiring people with criminal records, your staff will be largely white. And that’s just the reality of the data I went over of people having criminal histories of color and why it’s so important to diversity and inclusion.
Someone can sue you because they can say ‘they told me they didn’t hire me because I’m a felon, but I believe they didn’t hire me because I’m black.’ And if they get a lawyer and the lawyer says ‘my client is saying you didn’t hire them because they’re black’ and then the courts demand you to cough up some data. Your company could give data to the courts and then the courts could say ‘hey, he’s right – basically your company is racist’. And that is what an adverse action is, in my understanding. I believe that’s the term they use.
I’ve been on many panels where the legal experts in HR warn companies about this. They say if you don’t hire felons at all, you are liable for being sued essentially for racist hiring. Even though it may not be race, it may be background check is the reason you didn’t hire them, but as I talked about — it’s inherent if you’re not hiring anyone who fails the background check, you’re automatically falling into that category of companies who could be sued for disproportionately discriminating against people of color.
Question: From an HR perspective. What if an employee comes to you concerned about another employee who confided in them about their mental health concerns?
Answer: That kind of thing happens a lot. One thing you can do from an HR perspective is educate everyone. That if anybody ever says those two things: I’m having any kind of medical problem, including mental health and I also need something to change, then that should trigger some kind of process that anybody could go to to suggest we need to get this person to HR to check to see if they want a reasonable accomodation for their mental health condition. And not just mental health, but anything. So that should be something, ideally, from a prevention standpoint for HR in future. If you’ve set that up where people understand that when these two things happen, we can’t just privately have these little confiding sessions and do all this stuff behind the scenes from HR. We have a responsibility with everybody, and everybody knows it, to check in and see if that person needs help. And it’s as simple as saying ‘Do you want to file or do the process for an accomodation or not. Let us know.’ It’s basically saying ‘we heard you’. So, from an HR perspective, I believe that it’s important for everyone to be ready to interpret a lot of things as potentially being a request for reasonable accomodation and then say ‘ok would you like to do a reasonable accomodation?’. And that’s a situation we just had of an employee confiding, you can say to the person ‘can you check with them to see if they want to do a reasonable accomodation’ and that would be the formal way to do it at work. The other issue here is people become friends at work and they also are coworkers, and those are two different roles and so in a situation like this, the friend who confided to HR is in a difficult situation because they have a professional responsiblity, but they also have a responsibility to their friend. And so, in the workplace, it might be good for everyone to understand the professional responsibility to the workplace in many cases could outweigh the desire to do whatever the friend wants.
Question: How do you educate and encourage leaders to use person first language?
Answer: It’s something that people have to practice and want to do. There’s a lot of different ways people teach person first language. I personally think one of the best ways to do it if you’re having trouble, because obviously the way I did it here was I just said it and I showed it. But, if you’re saying people don’t want to adopt it, unfortunately one of the best ways to show people that they need to do it is to show them the risks of not doing it. Or the stories of times when someone didn’t use person first language and it became a big thing. So I would probably, and that might show how jaded I am now, but I would probably resort to those kinds of scare tactics instead of saying ‘oh, this’ll make someone feel really good that you did person first language’, I’d say ‘you know, you really should key into this and do this because you can get in trouble if you don’t use person first language and here’s a story of someone who did get in trouble for not using person first language and this is an easy way to protect yourself.’. So that’s the last resort… People really key in when they realize these mental health conversations are actually protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and I want to make sure I don’t get that wrong.
Question: What is the most appropriate response when you offer assistance or help and they say they are not in need of anything? How can you encourage looking into additional resources?
Answer: So again universal handout, universal process. Because what you have here is, you have a person who has said they don’t need anything and you still think they need something. You need to respect that every person has their own choices to make about whatever, even if you think it’s a mistake, whether they get help or don’t get help or who they get help from. Nobody has an obligation to get help. Nobody has the mandate and that goes with people can disclose and ask for help at work anytime they want. They don’t. They don’t have to do it sooner, and people have a right to privacy. People have a right to all sorts of things. So fundamentally, you have to accept that this person has their own choices and you’re going to respect their choices when they say they don’t need to get any help. But if you want to keep promoting and you want to promote these resources and encourage them, encourage them to everybody the same way and with the same criteria, and you can keep doing it. You know ’cause then you can say, OK, I know you don’t need help, but you know our policy is anytime this happens or that happens with anybody, we always remind people with resources. You can go further than that – you could have a monthly update where you share the mental health resources you can have HR people in their e-mail signatures linking to the resources. The whole idea is you want to normalize some people getting those mental resources so it feels like it’s something anybody might do and not just something that you think that one person needs help. That’s basically the answer to that, but the main thing is it’s important to understand anyone who has a mental health problem or anyone who doesn’t have a mental health problem, but you think they might, they are entitled to their own choices up until the point that they do something that compromises the workplace. So they’re not entitled, for instance, to miss those deadlines and are not entitled to those days off, but you have to talk them and tell them you can’t take this many days off. Here’s what we do in response to that. What do you want to do about it? And then they might say you know what? Now I realize. Or they might say I’d rather lose this job then get help. You need to talk about what’s appropriate for you to talk about, which is the behavior in the workplace and not get lost in this idea that you think that the reason for that behavior might be mental health.
Question: What is the best way to break mental health stigma in the workplace?
Answer: So the best way to break mental health stigma in the workplace is to normalize it. That’s why I had said before. Now, if you do that hand out, don’t just put them into mental health resources on a mental health handout. Put them with all the resources you give everybody. When people get hired or have an employee handbook when any kind of opportunity can, if you remind people we have an employee assistance plan, you know this is what we do for mental health, this is what we do when there are behavior issues. Put it out there then it won’t be as stigmatising for that person and people will understand that everybody has the same infrastructure for that. So that’s my pitch for that. I always suggest I think it’ll make things a lot less stigmatising. Beyond that, programs like this are helpful, but I think the other thing is, you know, I’m talking about how do you put resources out there that people can access when they need help, but we also want to remember everybody is on the spectrum of mental health and make it relatable. You know I mentioned before, our bad days don’t all end in hospitalizations like mine did but we all know what it’s like to have a bad day. So, broadening the message of mental health to include the fact that we’re on that spectrum is another way I believe can reduce stigma.
Question: If someone discloses information to you, do you still need to focus on the statement and disclosure of “this is what I do with anyone with this behavior?” Or does the disclosure allow for a different level of conversation?
Answer: So when somebody discloses, that’s the end to talk about it at all. Otherwise you wouldn’t talk about it at all. Basically, you only talk about it if some kind of behavior happens and you want to say here’s some resources, but you’re really talking about the behavior. Or if someone discloses to you. Once it’s disclosed, you can do whatever you want. I’m suggesting that it’s helpful to let the person know that you’re treating them the same as you would anybody else. Instead of looking at them like they might have some serious problem, which might make them feel stigmatized and judged. So it doesn’t stop you from having more conversation, it just lets you remind them that you would help anybody in this way, and you would offer help in the same way. And you’re not trying to say I think you have a really bad problem and because you have a really bad problem, that’s why I’m talking to you. You know, that’s not what you wouldn’t be saying, but that might be what they’re feeling because they don’t realize there’s a broader context, so that’s why you want to keep it universal.
Question: How do you respond to a staff person that shares mental health issues related to someone in their family?
Answer: Well, I think that it really depends. It’s interesting because someone also said how to how to prevent mental health stigma. I think that the answer to this question is related to that, where it’s not appropriate to tell somebody we don’t want to hear about mental health issues in your family, if that’s what the question was about. What is appropriate is to tell people we generally limit anybody talking about any kind of personal situation, mental health issue or otherwise, because we’re focused on work. So that’s the idea where you shift it from the focus being on the mental illness or mental health for looking for what the behavior is. Is the behavior that this person is not doing their work for a long time, or distracting other people doing their work. That’s what you want to talk about, not about the particular content of what they’re saying. So that’s that’s the key here is to look for the behaviors that are coming up. Instead of saying, well g ee, this is uncomfortable because it’s about mental health and that’s too much for us to listen to because the other person is dealing with a mental health situation. You can do that, but you’re better off finding the real issue. Is that the length of time that they talk about it, is it that they’re interrupting other people and focus on that behavior piece instead of on the content. If I understood that question correctly.
Question: How do you address the employee when an accommodation cannot be made based upon their job function, such as must talk with the public every day, but a mental health condition is not allowing public contact?
Answer: This was a very quick introduction to the ADA, but you have to be able to do the essential functions of the job, or you can’t get the accommodations. And you know there’s a whole process for doing these accommodations. And I would explain to the person, or whoever it is that is doing the disability accommodation. So again we want to always make it universal and not just focus on their situation. You say, now we’ve reviewed your job description and an essential function of the job is for you to interface with the public, so we can’t do this. We can’t offer you the accommodation and that’s a real thing that happens. There’s another thing to undue hardship. There’s a few different ways someone doesn’t get an accommodation, and that might become a conflict. If the person doesn’t understand, but that’s what you want to talk about, and I would focus on broadening that. Not just their situation, saying this is the rules for everybody and saying this is how we handle it for everyone. It’s not particular to you, but broader to anybody who had any disability that led them to not be able to interface with the public, then they can’t do the job. They don’t meet the essential functions of the job test. This goes with things like bus drivers and nurses and other other people… You can’t have someone be a bus driver without driving the bus. So, if you have a condition that makes it so you can’t drive and you’re not going to be able to be a bus driver. You can’t be a nurse if you can’t be in the hospital day. So that’s how it works.
Question: Beyond personal or academic experience with the analytics shared for example the one in two during COVID versus one in five during normal times, what are your sources of reference in order to give credit?
Answer: I can email the link to the studies. It’s 47% for the one in two and then the National Institute of Mental Health has the statistics for the one in five. And some people have said one in four, depends on which study. So those are the two things, I can email that out if you email me, but you can just just Google and find the National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health Prevalence Statistics. There are entire websites that goes and breaks it down by tons of numbers. Sorry I didn’t put the reference on the powerpoint. The one in five and one in two are very commonly cited statistic for the prevalence right now and the lifetime prevalence and then the COVID one is probably the one you’re interested more in, and I have that I have that statistic.
Question: How would you encourage an organization to bring this type of mindset into it so everyone speaking the same language?
Answer: So when we’re working with companies, the first thing is just creating the appetite for the change and the best way to do that is to use the ‘what’s my mask’ assessment. What happens is, and you guys went through it, is you ask the questions and answer questions and you start to become aware – it creates awareness. And then it creates universal, just like any other personality tests like DiSC or Enneagram, it creates a universal language where you can connect to each other. We started with 50 masks and now it’s just 4.
So the first thing is literally just do the assessment with your team. And here’s the most important thing: Simon Sinek says great leaders eat last while authentic leaders go first. You share your results first and you sure a vulnerable example that has no book ended positives – no sandwich. It’s just a vulnerable truth of where you exhibited this mask and it hurt you, and then ask your team members to do the same. That will start the conversation. But if you want meaningful change, my humble opinion, you’ve got to work the mask free program. That means you’ve got to get my book, you’ve got to come to one of my rehabs. I hate saying that but I don’t know of anything else out there that will help you do that.
Question: Do you have any suggestions on how to gain leadership buy-in?
Answer: I think that’s an important question because I made the mistake of having a leader who believed in this bring me into a company and making the assumption that everyone was going to come along at the same pace. And the truth is that if you wear a mask, this is very threatening to you. And not everybody’s going to adopt something this innovative this quickly. So, the key is to lead by example. In 12 step recovery, we do not tell people that they are an addict and we do not tell them what to do. We share our experience. So, the key here is as a leader, if you work the mask free program, you can gain buy-in if you openly share your experience.
We have a company right now that has 175 employees. The CEO is in the mask free program. He loves it and he’s like ‘I want this to be at my company’. So what we did was we set up, and this is crazy, he built what we call a mask free action card. We laid out all of this stuff on the table and he worked this card with me in front of his entire team. He sent me a message before it, he was terrified. And this guy’s pretty innovative when it comes to being willing to be vulnerable, but he was terrified. But the response he got from his team was incredible because the thing is is that we all are humans and when we expose our humanity we create connection and that’s what we so desperately need in this world. Yet leaders still have this archaic notion that they need to pretended that they’re more than human.
So, if you can leave with your vulnerability, and most importantly not just do it haphazardly, do it through the context of a system or a language like this. Then, you can really create and enable this change for everybody else.
Question: With COVID, it seems more people are feeling anxious and insecure. Isn’t this harder right now?
Answer: I’ll do you one better. I entered the promotion window for my book promoting the mask-free program right when we started debating whether we should wear masks in the middle of pandemics. So if you want to talk about things getting weird for me, they got really weird really quick. We thought it was going to hurt the mask-free program. What we have learned is the pandemic is driving participation in the mask-free program and not because of the word mask. It’s because the fact that we’re virtual means that connection through true authenticity is even more important in a zoom — in any virtual working, whatever it is.
People are feeling anxious, they are feeling insecure. But, what drives anxiousness and insecurity is fear. And when you learn how to master the principle Surrender the Outcome and you do uncomfortable work, fear becomes your friend. And then if you’re able to do that with other people that you’re working with, that creates a level connection that you could never achieve in person if you have the masks up. So yes, this is a harder time for everybody right now, but there’s never been a more important time for us to learn how to take off the philosophical masks because we need it now more than ever.
Question: What does a mask free interview look like when recruiting new employees?
Most employers are tempted to wear a mask with especially competitive or desirable prospects. Everyone has the story of “It was great at the beginning and then……”
Mask-Free Interviews from the employer perspective
- How many times has an INTERVIEWEE….
- Said yes to something they should say no to
- Hid a weakness
- Avoided a difficult conversation
- Held back their unique perspective
- How many times has an INTERVIEWER….
- Said yes to something they should say no to
- Hid a weakness
- Avoided a difficult conversation
- Held back their unique perspective
- Principle 1 – Practice Rigorous Authenticity
- Acquire an Organizational Mask Assessment to identify the mask holding back the company, each department and each employee
- Share the company’s mask assessment result and the interviewers result with the prospect
- Invite the prospect to take the assessment
- Immediately differentiates by disarming the fear of “I wonder what they aren’t telling me”
- Immediately equips them with a differentiated framework and language to feel connected to the organization
- For the company, it creates a language that allows them to dig deeply into the prospect’s gaps in a way that doesn’t trigger defensiveness
- Principle 2 – Surrender the Outcome
- Outcome: Let go of the fear that sharing this imperfection will drive the prospect away
- You CAN’T control where your company is in the Mask process.
- You CAN control if you differentiate in talent acquisition by saying “we formally work on that stuff here and you can too.”
- You CAN control if you better connect with and evaluate prospects by disarming them.
- You CAN control if the inevitable challenges of your company are leveraged as a positive in the interview process as opposed to a “bill of goods” negative after the fact
- Principle 3 – Do Uncomfortable Work
- State the Mask that might hold you back from certain aspects of evaluating the prospect…
- I want to hide the weakness of company but instead I will share that our product is still being refined and not expected to be mature for another year
- I want to avoid the difficult conversation but I am not convinced that you can effectively manage the resources in the role you are interviewing for. Can you tell me about a time when…..
- Encourage them to do the same – Examples
- I want to say yes to that additional responsibility for my role but I think it would set us up for failure so I have to say no
- I want to hide the fact I don’t have expertise in that area but the truth is I only watched co-workers previously….I didn’t do it myself.
- I want to avoid the difficult conversation about comp and career pathing but I really need to understand the pay structure to make a decision.
Conclusion: If you integrate this framework into the interview process you prevent the top mistakes people make interviewing or being interviewed. Additionally, you make a clear differentiated impression that has a clear logic to how it will give that prospect an employment experience they CANNOT get anywhere else. If the prospect is turned off by the process they were going to cost you over 500 hours a year anyway. If your employees aren’t willing to do this when they interview they are costing you more than 500 hours a year.