A Powerful Perspective on Mental Illness in the Workforce

On January 27, 2014, Rob Lachenauer published an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Why I Hired an Executive with a Mental Illness.” In it, he speaks of his experience, his harvard business reviewfirst encounter with a potential employee that disclosed a mental illness, his initial reaction (essentially a mixture of surprise, confusions and admiration), and his observations regarding corporate America in general on the issue.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prevents employers from discriminating against people who have a mental illness. But my experience as a consultant at a very large strategy firm whose clients are giant corporations had been that if someone admitted that he or she struggled with depression or mental illness, that would often be career suicide.”

He also describes the very different and accepting approach to greater or lesser mental health in successful family businesses.

“Family businesses can’t escape these difficult emotional realities because they can’t just fire the guy suffering from depression when he is the majority owner. The successful families do find ways to work together. But even then, things are messy in family businesses, and it is out of this very messiness that the human side of capitalism emerges.”

The problem in the impersonal corporate setting is a type of ignorance. Unlike physical ailments, for which we have a rich vocabulary and sufficient experience to know what to expect, “mental illness is thought of as all or nothing.”

“You’re either depressed, or you’re not; mentally ill, or not. Yet the reality is that the mental illnesses, too, are nuanced. We all have more or less mental health at different times in our lives. But the lack of a working language, together with the terrible secrecy that festers around mental illness, makes understanding one another, and collaborating effectively, extremely difficult.”

Rob LachenauerRob Lachenauer’s experiences and perspective contain a powerful message of understanding, acceptance and resistance against the ignorance and stigma that leads to the exclusion of talented persons with mental health issues from positions in which they could shine.  At present, Mr. Lachenauer is the CEO and co-founder of Banyan Family Busness Advisors, and he is co-author (with Goearge Stalk) of Hardball: Are You Playing to Play or Playing to Win? A complete copy of his Harvard Business Review article can be found by clicking HERE, and is worth reading in its entirety.

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