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The Most Important Question to Ask Potential Employers

Okay, sorry for such a click bait-y title, but I do think this question is one of the most important questions you can ask:

“How does the company help support its employees’ mental health?”

Recently I interviewed with the owner of a small business who gave off the old-school businessman vibe… a very “do whatever it takes to make the clients happy” kind of vibe. And to further set the tone of the interview, I was in and out of there within 15 minutes—quite possibly the shortest interview I’ve ever had; I think I had a longer interview for my very first job as a junior swim coach - I was certainly asked a lot more questions.

He kept saying how it was a very fast-paced and sometimes chaotic and stressful job, but that they had to do what they had to do to make their clients happy.

If you’ve been following my journey for a while, you may know that working for four years in that same kind of environment led me to hitting burnout and needing to take a two week therapy-mandated break from work - and then ultimately that I left the job earlier this year.

So as they do in interviews, he asked if I had any questions.

I asked,

“How do you and your company help support your employee’s mental health?”

And he said,

“We have an HR person for that.”

Here’s why that answer was a big red flag for me and ultimately the reason why I turned down the job (among other things):

If you’re going to spend 10 to 15 minutes listing off all of the responsibilities your employees have and paint a picture that this is a “very fast pace, sometimes chaotic and stressful environment,” but you can’t tell me how you’re supporting your employees through the chaos and stress? That’s a red flag.

Yes, HR is the right department to handle that kind of stuff. But what exactly are the resources HR provides? Do employees have access to EAP? Are they encouraged to use PTO? (Do they even accrue enough PTO?)

And as the owner of a company with LESS THAN 50 employees, what exactly are YOU doing to ensure your employees know of and are encouraged to use these resources?

If you can’t even tell me what your HR person does to help (one person, it sounds like, so how are they being supported?) - how do I know you care? Because based on that answer, I don’t think you do.

I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to feel part of a machine that needs to perform perfectly rather than be treated like a human being.

I know what it’s like to have that pressure to do whatever it takes to get the job done at the expense of my own needs and to feel unsupported in trying to set those boundaries to meet those needs.

I know what it’s like to work in a very fast-paced, chaotic, and stressful environment. My hyper vigilance FLOURISHED under that kind of pressure. Until it became the SOURCE of my hyper vigilance and anxiety.

I know what it’s like to just grin and bear it for the sake of a paycheck (and I recognize the privilege I have in being able to turn down a job despite the paycheck).

I know what it’s like to feel suffocated, trapped, and burned out because of my workplace. And I will never allow myself to feel that way again.

So in case you needed to hear this today:

Your mental health is more important than getting the job done.

If you’re job hunting, I strongly encourage you to ask potential employers these kinds of questions. Other than the paycheck, what else can they do FOR you? And trust your gut during interviews. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit, if something is nagging at you - listen to that voice. Listen to that discomfort. Is it you or is it the job? Because you can’t self-care your way out of toxic work environment.

If you already have a job that’s burning you out but you aren’t in a position to leave, I strongly encourage you to see what resources your employer has OR find support outside of the organization (therapy, coach, etc).

Money is important. But I strongly encourage you to not sacrifice your mental, emotional, or personal health at the sake of making it.

If you’re an employer reading this, please consider and understand the ways you may be contributing to an unsupportive and unsustainable work environment. If you’re noticing a high turnover rate, and when employees leave they tell you the job is too stressful - LISTEN.

When I had my exit interview and shared my experience and story, and ultimately why I was leaving, I heard “yeah we hear that a lot.” And I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs “Then change it! do something about it! don’t let this continue!”

I'm not sure if company's are allowed to answer these questions, but I think it's very important to ask or find out:

  • What’s your turnover rate like?

  • What are people’s main reason for leaving?

Because as much as you’re trying to sell yourself for the job, the job also has to sell itself to you. Please remember that. We’ve been conditioned to not see it that way; we’ve been told how to do everything right in an interview to get the job, but we aren’t taught how to spot the red flags, how to ensure the company will meet our needs beyond a paycheck.

I love seeing more tweets and posts like these:

In the last 18 months we’ve seen more and more people come to the realization that their job wasn’t just stressful, it was burning them out. And as such, we’ve seen more and more people leave these unsupportive and unsustainable work environments.

More often than not, the workplace culture and mentality can still be that work HAS to be stressful, that making money HAS to mean sacrificing your own personal, emotional, or mental needs, that “that’s just the way it is” (my most loathed statement in the entire world).

And so my hope is that this is a wakeup call for change, that healthy work environments will become the norm. That there’s no longer a thing such as workplace trauma. That employees will feel supported and encouraged to take care of themselves, rather than “just tough it out.” That work isn’t WORK in the way we've come to see it. That when we talk about work it’s not with this tone of apathy and resignation. That when people graduate college they’re actually looking forward to the job hunt and not terrified of having to wait until retirement to enjoy their lives.

So whether that all can happen within my lifetime, or the next, or the one after that - I know that it can only happen if we keep talking about it and setting those boundaries in our own life to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

If you take away anything from this, I hope it’s that you remember your mental health matters. It matters more than getting the job done, than being a team player, than doing whatever it takes to make other people happy.

Your mental health matters.

And I will never stop being an advocate for better workplace mental health support.


Hi, my name is Marisa! I'm a trauma survivor, mental health advocate, and trauma-informed life coach. I'm on a mission to empower high achieving women and survivors of emotional and mental abuse reclaim their birthright of self love and compassion.

Want to support my work? Feel free to buy me a coffee :)


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