Take a mental health day at work. You deserve it. If you’re wondering what’s a mental health day, and why it’s worth taking one every now and again, well consider this: 42% of workers have called in sick when they were really suffering from a mental health issue, like stress, anxiety or depression.
The problem of workplace stress is all too real. That’s why employers are looking for ways to help their workers cope better with stress, achieve a better work-life balance, and minimize these so-called sick days.
Ironically, one of the best strategies to reduce the number of days employees take off due to mental health is giving them more time off, in the form of mental health days. Let’s take a look at why.
What is a mental health day?
A mental health day is a day of leave that you take off from work or school, for the specific purpose of focusing on your personal wellbeing and mental health. Mental health days are not the usual sick days or vacation leave days, which are mandatory by law.
However, some workplaces do offer mental health days as an extra benefit, as part of their strategy of dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.
What to expect from a mental health day?
If you are feeling the need to take a breather at work, it might be time to ask for a mental health day. In the past, an employee who was feeling burnt out might call in sick. Today, many employers are beginning to understand the importance of mental health in the workplace, and asking for a day off to focus on mental health no longer comes with the stigma it once had.
So first, things first: if you have a supportive manager, and you feel you can confide your need for a mental health day, let them know. You don’t need to explain the reasons why; these are personal. But if you can, then being honest about your need to focus on your well-being is a very therapeutic and important part of mental health.
Now it’s time to decide how to spend your mental health day. There are no ‘rules’ about what a mental health day should look like. How you focus on your wellbeing is entirely up to you. Here are some things people might like to do on a mental health day:
- Attend a relaxation class, such as yoga or meditation
- Engage in physical fitness, like swimming laps or going for a nature walk
- Switch off from all chores, errands or commitments, and spend time writing in a journal, or processing your emotions
- Do something fun! Meet up with an old friend, go rollerskating, go to the beach… the list is endless.
Why are mental health days important?
Mental health days are good for employees and good for employers too. For employees, taking a mental health day can be very helpful in managing stress, reducing anxiety and preventing burnout at work, before it sets in.
For employers, providing mental health days to employees can help improve productivity, reduce absenteeism and employee turnover, and increase mental health awareness in the workplace. Let’s take a look at 5 benefits of taking mental health days at work:
1. Destress for everybody
Stress is one of the top drivers of difficulties in the workplace. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress affects 65% of employees, and 10% of these suffer from severe stress at work! The number one priority of mental health days is reducing stress.
Mental health at work is not just a problem for the individual; it’s a collective issue. When a colleague is anxious, burnt out, or otherwise going through a difficult time, this affects the productivity and output of the team.
Twenty-nine percent of employees who are under stress have yelled at a co-worker! Taking time out when needed is one of the mental health initiatives in the workplace that can make a difference.
2. Rest and relax from hard work
Complicated projects, strict deadlines, angry customers, or strenuous physical labor – these are all ways that work can be hard. It is entirely reasonable for employees to have a break every now and again from hard work, and take the time they need to rest, recuperate and replenish their energy stores. And it’s not just reasonable, but necessary: workplace stress has an impact on both physical performance and cognition.
Depression, for example, disrupts a person's ability to perform physical tasks about 20% of the time, while 35% of the time, it reduces cognitive performance.
3. Evaluation of the current situation
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but that is a surefire way to burn out. One of the benefits of taking mental health days at work is the time it allows for self-reflection. Reflecting on one’s self, evaluating our situation, and revisiting our goals and dreams helps to build emotional intelligence, which is key to managing the challenges of work and life.
During a mental health day, the employee has the time and emotional space to evaluate their current situation and identify stressors or pain points that may be contributing to burnout, anxiety, and a host of other issues of mental health at work.
4. New perspectives on the same problems
One-third of your life is spent at work. With so much time in the workplace, it is sometimes hard to get the distance necessary for a new perspective. Problems at work can seem to be constantly repeating themselves, or fraught with consequences, or perhaps even insurmountable.
For example, if you are struggling to get along with your boss, this can be a huge source of stress. Apart from the difficulties interacting, you may worry that you will be passed over for a promotion, or that your work won’t be given the recognition it deserves.
By taking a mental health day, you can create the distance to look at problems with a fresh eye, and perhaps even come up with creative solutions.
5. Awareness of a better work environment
One in four Americans struggle with a form of mental illness, so mental health issues at work are inevitable at every company. Awareness is the first step for how to improve mental health in the workplace. Awareness helps create a better work environment in two key ways.
Firstly, it reduces stigma around mental health. When colleagues are open about their mental health issues, this paves the way for mutual sharing, so the shame and embarrassment around mental health begins to break down.
Secondly, awareness helps to build understanding and empathy.
Co-workers can learn to support one another, which enhances teamwork, and creates a more humane and caring work environment.
Mental health days at work are a gift that every worker deserves
By giving employees the gift of mental health days, employers are not just helping to build awareness of mental health issues; they are actively showing their support for those struggling with mental health, and demonstrating that mental health activities in the workplace are a top priority.
This will certainly lead to reduced stress at work and increased productivity. And it will also lead to a better, healthier and happier world (and therefore great employee well-being).