The many perks of mental health days

Sometimes all we need is a break, but the weekend seems so far out of reach.
And yet all we can think of is a break from the routine, the workplace, the colleagues, and the mental load.
Sometimes the daily meditation, the breathing exercise, and the break throughout the day have not worked their magic, and we just need some extra time. We are not sick “per se”, not in the usual sense of the word, but taking a day off work feels like what we need the most right now.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
But how many of us are pushing through, thinking “feeling overwhelmed” cannot constitute a valid excuse for missing work? We somehow allow the body to rest when it’s breaking down but we do not extend the same courtesy to our mind.
Mental health days can truly make a difference in these moments and relieve a situation before it becomes a deeper mental health issue.
In this piece, we explore what it means to take a mental health day and the perks it can bring to both the employee and the employer.

Is Mental Health Day a legal requirement?

It really all depends on where you are in the world (meaning which laws you abide by) and what kind of company you are in.
But let’s try and break down some fundamentals. 
Despite seeing improvements in mental health awareness in the last few years, it is still rare for the term “mental health day” to be included in companies’ protocols or even in government laws. It seems that regulations need to catch up with day-to-day practices.
Most companies will consider a mental health day a regular sick day.

What is considered a mental health day?

It is a day an employee will take because they feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, or depressed and feel the need to rest, reset, and focus on their overall well-being. 
It can be triggered by: 
  • conflicts at work/home inducing a lot of emotions
  • feeling overworked
  • stress and anxiety 
  • It can also be used as a proactive measure or a need for reflection 
Once again, it depends on where you are and what the policies are in your company, but employees are usually not required to justify why they are taking a day off (that changes after a certain amount of time, for example, 7 days in the UK for example, after which sick leave is required).

The benefits of offering Mental Health Day

Many companies think they do not need to officially offer “mental health days” as they already accept those under their regular “sick leave” protocol.
However, making the distinction can have many positive impacts on your employees and your company: 
  • It can improve staff retention as it shows the company deeply cares about mental health 
  • In the same way, it can attract talents who want to work for a company that shares their values
  • It can improve the team’s morale and overall well-being to know that these days are available in case they need one 
  • It reduces stigma, which is a real issue in the workplace

Can you deny it? 

Managers aren’t usually able to refuse sick leave, but there are situations that might call for it.
If it is constantly repetitive, creating disturbance… 
In that case, this becomes a delicate situation that needs to be discussed with your HR department.

How do I implement mental health days at work?

Each company will have its own way but in general, it is recommended to:
  • create a clear “Mental Health Day” policy
  • communicate: It is important to make sure employees are aware of the mental health day.
  • Make it easy. It should be simple for employees to take a mental health day. It should not cause extra stress or stigma.
  • train your managers to support employees asking for a mental health day 
  • Use the help of third parties, such as Siffi to raise awareness 

When should staff take a mental health day?

Before it’s too late is a good rule of thumb. 
Those days should be encouraged in order to prevent more severe issues, such as burnout, for example.
After a stressful project ends, when the employee has been working longer hours than usual for a while, they feel their mood, energy, and motivation are shifting.
Sadly, stigma often still prevails, and a number of mental health days are not taken by fear of being seen as weak, a burden, or even worse, a threat.
Mental health days can have a positive impact on your company, both showing that you are nurturing a caring environment and allowing your team members to focus on their mental health.
However, it is important to understand that Mental Health Days can only be short-term support and that more investment must be made to truly reduce serious issues such as chronic stress and burnout.