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How to Encourage Employees to Take a Mental Health Day

A quarter of American adults say their job is the top stressor in their life, while 83% say they have at least some work-related stress. Taking a mental health day can help reduce job-related stress, which is great for your employees and your company.

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What’s a mental health day?

A mental health day is a day you take off from work to prioritize mental well being. During a mental health day, people may practice mindfulness, engage in hobbies or activities that bring joy, spend time with loved ones, exercise, read or simply take time for oneself. It’s a day meant to let people relax, recharge and prevent burnout.

Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive, prolonged stress. Employees are most likely to suffer burnout when they feel overwhelmed or are pushed too hard to meet high demands, meaning that managers should take proactive steps to prevent it from happening.

Why is a mental health day important for employees?

Taking a mental health day does more than reduce or prevent burnout. Since mental and physical health is intricately linked, taking a day off for mental health is beneficial for an employee’s overall wellbeing.

Mental health days offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Think clearer

  • Get better sleep

  • Process their emotions

  • Reduce overall stress

  • Feel more rested

  • Avoid burnout

  • Improve morale

  • Increase productivity

  • Sharpen focus

  • Reduce the risk of injury

  • Take fewer sick days by boosting the immune system

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Increase job satisfaction

What benefits do mental health days provide for companies?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 12 billion workdays globally are lost each year due to anxiety and depression. This amounts to about $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. Since a third of a person’s life is spent at work, it makes sense that promoting a healthy work environment can help significantly decrease job-related stress and improve your employees’ overall well-being.

Although the benefits for employees are obvious, you may not realize all the advantages your company could reap by promoting mental health days. Mental health days could:

  • Prevent burnout company-wide

  • Lower turnover rates and subsequently increase retention rates

  • Increase productivity, allowing more work to be done in less time

  • Reduce healthcare costs

  • Increase employee morale and job satisfaction

  • Decrease risk of work-related injuries

How can you encourage taking a mental health day off for employees?

The American work ethic has traditionally encouraged workers to avoid taking time off and working as many hours of overtime as possible. Unfortunately, this has historically led to high levels of burnout among employees. So, how can you encourage employees who need it to take a mental health day off?

Support employees who need a mental health day off

The most important thing to do is make your employees feel supported in taking a mental health day. Consider including a section on mental health days in your employee training manual. Reach out to employees who haven’t taken a day off in a long time and encourage them to take a well-deserved mental health day.

Some employees may be a little reserved when asking for a mental health day and be put off by the idea of having to explain themselves. To avoid employees not benefiting from mental health days, a positive approach may be to avoid questioning any reasonable requests.

If you notice an employee taking a lot of time off, have HR open a conversation with them about it. You may find that they’re struggling at work or in their personal life, and they may need accommodations beyond a mental health day.

Consider a company-wide mental health day

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, making it the perfect day for a company-wide day off. By giving all of your employees the day off at least once a year, you can be sure everyone is taking a mental health day—even those who may be hesitant about taking one.

Consider working this worldwide mental health day into your list of paid federal holidays and other times your company might be closed throughout the year.

Ensure there’s no retaliation for reasonable time-off requests

Some employees may have felt retaliated against for taking a day off in the past. Retaliation isn’t just unfair; in many cases it may also be illegal. Make sure your HR department and any management personnel understand what retaliation is and how to avoid it.

Teach management to recognize the signs of burnout

Incorporating the signs of burnout into your management training can be highly beneficial. Signs of burnout include:

  • Fatigue

  • Mood changes

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • Depersonalization

  • Cynicism

  • Reduced work performance

  • Disinterest in work or hobbies

You should also have a policy that management can follow when they notice the signs of burnout in an employee. For example, you could offer the employee a paid mental health day on a Friday or Monday so they get a three-day weekend to rest and recharge. Or, you may decide to give burnt-out employees a small gift card to a local yoga studio.

Check your time-off policies

Are your time-off policies conducive to employees taking a day off for mental health? If many employees are suffering from burnout or people rarely take the day off, you may want to revisit your time-off policies. For example, consider whether you’ve given your employees enough paid or unpaid days off so they can afford to take a day off when they need to.

An appropriate amount of time off will look different for every company. Time off can be a combination of different types too. For example, you may give each employee a few paid holidays, sick days, PTO and unpaid time off. Consider adding mental health days as their own thing. For example, you could allot one mental health day each quarter per employee.

Consider more flexible scheduling policies

Taking a mental health day isn’t always about needing time off work. Sometimes an employee simply may not do as well as others in situations where ongoing in-person socialization is necessary. Or maybe their long commute to work and other responsibilities (like picking up the kids or doctors’ appointments) are a strain on them. More flexible scheduling policies can help in such situations.

The importance of mental health days

Supporting employees when they need a day off and considering more flexible scheduling policies are a few ways you can encourage your employees to take a day off for mental health when they need to. The benefits of these mental health days can go a long way in promoting employee well-being and satisfaction.

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