Imagine breaking your leg one night, then hobbling into work the next day in agony. Or imagine catching the flu and coming into work with a 103 degree fever. Seems ridiculous, right? It’s obvious that the best option in these scenarios would be to stay home or go to the hospital. Taking a sick day for a physical illness is widely accepted. A mental health day is just as important as a sick day. Mental health is a very complex subject, but it influences our productivity at work and the energy and attitude we bring to the table.
Just like how coming to work with a fever puts other employees at risk of infection, coming to work feeling burned out or depressed affects the outlook and productivity of your entire team. Mental health is something that employees need to take care of just as much as physical health. By not acknowledging the benefits of a mental health day, employers are putting their employees at risk of burnout, and more serious issues later on.
Mental health is a topic that is often surrounded by stigma. Yet, it affects our happiness and productivity at work just as much as physical health. Taking a mental health day can boost happiness and productivity, and can reduce instances of employee burnout and depression.
When should you take a mental health day?
They should be taken if you feel exceptionally stressed, overwhelmed, or physically exhausted. These feelings can stem from a major life change such as a divorce or death of a loved one. They can provide opportunities for your mind and body to recharge and make you ultimately more productive at work.
What should you do during a mental health day?
As tempting as it can be to stay in bed all day watching Game of Thrones and eating chips, there is a much better way to relax and recharge. Stanford researchers have found quantifiable evidence that exposure to nature can improve mental health markers. Researchers made people walk along a traffic heavy four lane highway, and another group walk along a grassland area with oaks and shrubs for 90 minutes. They found that heart and respiration rates, brain scans, and questionnaire responses of participants showed much better results after a nature walk than after the highway walk.
How often should you take a mental health day?
Ideally, they should be taken rarely. If you constantly feel extreme fatigue, depression, or stress, it may be time to see a licensed psychologist outside work hours. Talking to your boss about options for flexible hours and working from home can also help reduce stress and decrease the risk of burnout.
Who recommends mental health days?
The benefits of mental health days are becoming well known in the mainstream. Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark Live Chat, received praise after his response to an employee taking one went viral on Twitter. He commended her openness and willingness to talk about it and remove the stigma surrounding it. Ruth C. White PhD, a clinical associate professor at University of Southern California’s School of Social Work and author of two books says, “Employers should provide employees with the health information they need to take care of themselves psychologically and emotionally, instead of waiting until there is a problem that requires a HR response or a medical intervention”. Furthermore, according to a PwC report from 2014, for every dollar spent on workplace mental health there is a return of $2.30.
Implementing a practicing wellness regularly and occasionally using a sick day as a mental health day can create a culture where mental health is not stigmatized and is used as a way to create better corporate culture.