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Workplace intervention

By Alex Piazza
apiazza@umich.edu

The nerves start to kick in on your way to the interview as a series of questions run through your head.

“What will they ask me?”

“Am I dressed appropriately?”

“Am I even qualified for this job?”

You’re not alone. Job interviews come with their share of stressors, and for the 40 million Americans affected by an anxiety disorder, the process can be overwhelming.

“Everybody’s anxious about going on a job interview, but if you have social anxiety, it’s so much worse,” said Joseph Himle, a social work and psychiatry professor at the University of Michigan. “The process can be so unnerving that many people with social anxiety avoid job interviews altogether. And in today’s service-based economy, social capabilities are at a premium.  So if you’re afraid to talk to people, there’s a good chance you won’t excel in the customer service industry.”

“Everybody’s anxious about going on a job interview, but if you have social anxiety, it’s so much worse,” Himle said. “The process can be so unnerving that many people with social anxiety avoid job interviews altogether.”

Himle focuses his research on mental health intervention with adults and youth, and a recent project placed him in Detroit where he worked with unemployed adults affected by social anxiety. His goal was to develop an intervention that would help residents cope with social anxiety, while also providing them with resources to land a job.

He teamed up with Jewish Vocational Services in Detroit to identify 58 unemployed southeast Michigan residents with social anxiety.

Half of the participants received vocational services designed to help them prepare for job interviews and excel in the workforce. The other half received similar vocational services, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy intended to help address signs of social anxiety.

At the end of their treatment, participants who received both vocational services and cognitive behavioral therapy experienced significant improvements in how they dealt with social anxiety. Those participants also reported more self-confidence that they could find a job and engaged in significantly more job-search activities.

“It helped me put a label on what I had (social anxiety) and I could then deal with it,” one man told Himle after his treatment concluded. “It changed my life.”

The research project proved promising enough to convince the National Institute of Mental Health to fund a second study that, over five years, will track 300 unemployed residents of Detroit and Los Angeles with social anxiety. The second study recently kicked off and Himle is confident the larger pool of participants across two metropolitan cities will deliver more conclusive results.   

“Our ultimate goal here is to bring awareness to the fact that social anxiety is a very important element in terms of finding and keeping a job,” he said. “If this intervention continues to be effective, we could implement this low-cost, easy-to-disseminate model nationwide to help people with social anxiety overcome barriers to employment.”

Questions?