Nothing becomes better with unemployment. Mental problems are no exception. If anything, they become worse with idleness. Keeping people out of the productive processes of society, due to their mental disabilities, may well be the perfect way to mess them up for life. In this day and age of countless professional niches, there is bound to be at least one field of work suitable for any person.
In the exceptional Italian movie “Si puo fare”, a whole psychiatric ward of patients is transformed from a batch of human driftwood to a fully functional floor laying company, under the guidance of a visionary teacher. Each patient is given a task according to his strengths and the whole thing works like clockwork. Give a guy with OCD a truck-full of wood chips and tell them to lay a floor with them. See what happens.
Unfortunately, neoliberal capitalism is hostile to any sort of venture even remotely risky to financial gain; at least when it comes to helping people. It is the rare company that would take the initiative to voluntarily include mentally challenged people in its operations. And that’s understandable. Even a tiny wavering of the company’s performance could spell its doom in today’s toxic economic environment. That’s where regulations come in.
Incentives works best, perhaps, when it comes to motivating people to do stuff, however companies are not people. For them to do anything of actual value to a community, they must be forced by law. So the first step to include mentally challenged people in the job circuit is to establish a legal minimum of workers for each company derived from this specific group. At least until the whole thing builds momentum. Mind you, people facing mental problems are far from few. We are talking about a considerable chunk of the general population.
So let’s say that companies have (grudgingly) accepted mentally challenged dudes into their workforce and sufficient time has passed so they are somewhat convinced of this policy’s value. How do you best integrate these people in a modern company’s workflow? There are a few things you could try. And what’s great about them is that they work magnificently with all employees as well.
1. Be positive
There’s a lot to be said about the power of friendliness and nowhere is this more evident than the workplace. Being kind and actually expecting the person to succeed can (and does) work wonders. Apart from basic human decency, it gives the employee the (true) impression that you think highly of their ability and you expect great things from them. And you know what? Most people will deliver.
2. Be clear
Again this tip is pretty much universal. Say that you mean and mean what you say. The value of clarity and cohesion when it comes to giving instructions cannot be stressed enough. People should have no doubts about what you expect from them and you absolutely must be perfectly clear in your instructions. Break down complex tasks to simpler components and explain what you want to be done at each stage. It will save you a lot of grief in the long run.
3. Be consistent
Surprises are only nice when they are accompanied by a present or a big wad of cash, so try to keep them out of your work relationships. Especially when dealing with employees with special conditions, make it your number one objective to be solid as a rock in your expectations and your behavior. Your word should be good enough to take to the bank. People must not wonder what to expect from you; they should know it. Also, when you say you’ll do something, do it.
4. Be caring
One of the most important concerns when it comes to working with mentally challenged people is rewarding good performance and correcting it when it is poor. Doing so in a constructive manner is an art form. Make sure you provide positive feedback when people are doing well and establish their already conquered level of performance as a launching pad for even better results in the future. When you need to criticize, do so in private and always try to end your “disciplinary” talks with a positive affirmation about the employee’s abilities.
5. Be present
Finally, be preemptive in your approach to managing employees. Meet them privately and meet them often. Ask them what they are concerned with and what they are unhappy about. Try to stop the proverbial shit before it meets the proverbial fan. The only way to do that is by being present in the everyday dealings among your workers and being attentive to what they think and feel. Prevention is worth its weight in gold.