The Importance of Mental Health Days in the Workplace

Andrew Buck September 16, 2021

Mental health is no longer an issue that can be pushed aside or ignored in the workplace.

Once upon a time, just the term “mental health” carried negative connotations, particularly in a professional setting. The idea of taking a mental health day would not occur to many, if any, employees or employers.

Today, employee wellness is a must for business owners and managers to consider, and wellness starts with positive mental health.

Individuals also have a responsibility to pay attention to their mental health, and to put this before almost anything else.

Whether you’re in charge of a team and not sure how you should approach mental health days for your team members, or an employee who is not sure how to recognized the need for a mental health day, this article is for you. We’ll answer these questions, and clear up everything modern professionals need to know about the subject.

Further reading: learn about every type of leave you should be offering employees in your business.

What is a Mental Health Day?

Mental health days are a relatively new concept within the realm of business leave policy. 

This type of leave is designed to provide an employee with a quick break to refresh and reset when they’re dealing with excessive stress and overwhelm. 

Too much stress, whether work-related or not, can be extremely difficult to handle for employees that also struggle with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Why are Mental Health Days Important?

Until now, mental health has not been considered a priority in the corporate environment. Typically, when an employee struggles with stress or burnout, the unspoken rule has been to “suck it up” and get on with it.

But the trend is shifting, especially within forward-thinking companies that recognize that prioritizing employee wellness is not only the right thing to do, but it also pays dividends when it comes to performance.

By allowing time to take rest and re-focus, you can help your employees come back to work re-energized and with increased productivity.

How to Know If You Need a Mental Health Day?

As an employee, if you consistently experience the following, then it might be time to ask for a mental health day. 

If you’re a manager, then these are the signs you should look for in your team to know if you should recommend that they take a day for mental health.

Loss of Focus

When you’re feeling your best, you come into work with laser focus. You grab a cup of coffee, fire up the to-do list, and power through your tasks effortlessly.

But when you’re stressed or overwhelmed, completing tasks seem like moving a mountain. You might find yourself browsing social media, or that you need more frequent breaks to get through the day. 

Loss of focus could be one of the signs that you need to take a day to regroup and refocus.

Negative Outlook 

Another tell-tale sign of burnout is if you find that you have developed an uncharacteristically negative outlook. 

Maybe you’re typically someone that is optimistic about where the company is headed, and your impact within the business. 

But of late, you find yourself asking what is the point of all your hard work. You might be feeling that you’re not making the impact you want, or that your personal career progression options are limited. 

Procrastination

When you’re fully switched on and raring to go, you take all your tasks head-on. 

But when it all gets to be a bit much, you might find yourself procrastinating. It could be an unconscious way of avoiding facing all the things that you know you need to do, but feel like they might be too much for you to handle.

How to Ask for a Mental Health Day

Knowing you could do with a mental health day is one thing. Asking for it is another. Many people may still be apprehensive about approaching their manager and admitting they need a day off. There remains a social stigma around the subject, even if that stigma may just be in your mind.

Here are some tips to approach the situation.

Just ask

All going well, you’re in a positive workplace that promotes the idea that employees need time to manage their mental wellbeing.

Best case, mental health days are actually written into your business’ leave policy, in which case you should have no trepidation about asking for one.

If not, you may want to take a moment to have a chat with your boss and briefly explain your situation, and how you may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or for whatever other reason, that you need a day or two off.

If your manager values you, they should understand this and work with you to help you get back to full strength.

Use your annual leave

While, ideally, your manager should understand your plight, some businesses are still stuck a little in the past. Thus you may not feel comfortable asking straight up for a mental health day.

In this case, you may want to use a day of annual leave. It may be tricky to take a day off on such short notice, but it may be easier to take a day off a week from now, for example. This may be enough to recharge and refuel mentally.

Sick leave

Alternatively, if you feel that a mental health day is urgent, and you don’t want to wait until you can use annual leave, you may want to take a sick day.

Some may consider it dishonest, but in reality, mental health issues are as real an illness as a cold or flu. If you have to twist the truth a little, and say you have a cough or stomach issues in order to deal with a workplace that doesn’t recognize the value of mental health, so be it.

If you have to resort to using annual leave, sick leave or little white lies to get the mental health break you need, it might be time to consider trying to find a job in a more progressive company.

What to Do With Your Mental Health Day?

When your mental health day gets approved, it’s important that you use it the right way. 

While you don’t need to overthink it, you should be mindful about only doing things that help you feel better. 

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, a mental health day will not address your underlying condition. But it can act as a quick breather so you have a moment to regroup, get some rest, and find new energy. 

Avoid Stressors

If we’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into the same traps that might be the causes of our stress in the first place. 

That could be unpleasant interactions with family members, contemplating negative situations we can’t control, or even consuming content that makes us angry. 

Make a quick list of all the things that might increase your stress levels and try to avoid them the best you can on your mental health day.

Switch Off From Work Entirely

With smartphones, it can be difficult to switch off from work even after we get home. 

Maybe you get an email right before you go to bed. Or a Slack message from a coworker that reminds you of an overdue task. 

The sources of stress can be many. On your mental health day, switch off all communication from work. Everything will be just fine with you gone for a day or two. 

You should spend this time rejuvenating so that when you do get back to work, you can handle any necessary tasks to the best of your ability.

Do Things That Make You Feel Relaxed

Ok, so you’re avoiding stressors and switching off from work. So, what is it that you actually do with the time off then?

Well, it can be anything that helps you feel better. There aren’t really any right or wrong answers, because it will depend mostly on your personality, and why you’re stressed in the first place. 

Maybe you spend time catching up with your friends and family with some good food and wine. Or perhaps your idea of relaxation is spending time in nature, maybe taking a hike with your dog. 

If you’re heavily driven by your goals, then it’s possible that you’re feeling stressed because you’ve lost track of how you’re progressing in your career. 

So, it might be that you take a couple of days to visit a place that you love (the beach, the woods, etc.) and you take the time to contemplate where you are, where you want to be, what you need to do, and to create an action plan.

Why Managers Should Encourage the Use of Mental Health Days

For managers and employers, there are a couple of key benefits when it comes to offering mental health days as a part of your leave policy. 

Employee performance

As you know, it’s not just about showing up to work and punching the clock. What matters most is what your employees actually do when they’re at work. 

Just like you don’t want employees to show up if they’re physically ill, it’s also not ideal to have team members at work if they’re feeling sluggish, overwhelmed, and stressed. 

Their negativity can rub off on other employees and cause a cascading effect of decreased productivity. 

It’s a much better idea to allow some time off to refresh and re-energize, so your team member can return to work in peak performance shape.

Employee retention

Providing mental health days demonstrates that you really care about your team’s wellbeing, which in turn promotes a sense of loyalty among your employees. 

Also, more time off is one of the top-ranking benefits when it comes to the most desirable employment perks. It’s only second to better healthcare.

So, providing mental health days can not only attract the best talent in your industry, but it can also help create long-lasting relationships with them, based on a mutual interest in each other’s growth and wellbeing. 

How to Fit Mental Health Days in Your Leave Policy

Since there are no laws in the United States (or most other parts of the world for that matter), you have some flexibility on how you want to work them into your leave policy. 

Learn More: how to create a leave policy for your business.

The first option is to designate separate mental health days in your leave policy. For example, each employee gets three paid mental health days each year.

If you go this route, then keep in mind that you might need to encourage some of your team to actually use the mental health days, as not everyone might be naturally inclined to make it a priority. 

You don’t want to end up in a position with several of your employees who have racked up a lot of unused vacation days. 

The simpler option might be to include mental health days as a part of your regular sick leave. You might consider offering additional sick leave days and including mental health as a valid reason to request a sick day off. 

Regardless of how you choose to implement mental health days into your policy, a leave tracking software like Flamingo can help you manage your team’s sick leave calendar, including mental health days, and help you run a more efficient and positive team.

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