The mental health of your employees is key to their productivity at work. Taking a mental health day to refocus and regroup may be more beneficial than companies realize, and it has prompted several organizations to begin offering it as an added benefit to workers.
According to a report by the National Business Group on Health, mental illness and substance abuse disorders cost employers an estimated $17 billion each year, in addition to 217 million days of lost work. These numbers show the rising issue of mental health among employees and may be reason enough for companies to offer mental health days to employees that need them.
Fourteen members of Forbes Coaches Council discuss several ways mental health days benefit employees and companies or possibly hinder their activity, as some critics suggest the practice can increase the stigma surrounding mental illness, leading to a deeper sense of alienation and ultimately, poor performance. Here is what they had to say:
All images courtesy of Forbes Councils members.
1. Creating A Strategic Benefit
We are not wired 24/7. Companies that offer mental health days are thinking strategically about their employees and the value they bring to the organization. In a world that moves at an unprecedented speed and intensity, offering personal days not only benefits employees, giving them opportunities to recharge, it also benefits the organization, potentially minimizing costly mistakes and accidents. – Susan Taylor, Generon International
2. Helping Employees Thrive And Be More Productive
Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington highlights the power of resting our bodies (and minds) and the competitive advantage more companies would have if their employees were well-rested. Companies that provide napping pods, mental health days, yoga, meditation and the like will be rewarded with more productive employees with higher mental acuity. Increased employee retention is also likely. – Eddie Turner, Eddie Turner LLC
3. Prioritizing People
Employees are our true stakeholders and we must prioritize them however possible within our organizations. Mental health days are just as important as sick days, vacation, or any other form of paid time off. If it is important for employees to regularly contribute high-impact, high-quality work, it is equally essential they have flexible, paid time to contribute to their whole health and wellness. – Tonyalynne Wildhaber, The Courage Practice
4. Hindering Companies And Employees
I think mental days off would hinder companies and employees. The brain operates based on the information it receives, so if someone wakes up and says “I’m not feeling my best,” the brain takes that information and the body reacts to it. Taking a day off isn’t a tool that would help. Companies would be better off providing meditation rooms, yoga classes, and other wellness programs empowering mental wellness. – MaryAnne Gillespie, Red Apple Coaching
5. Improving Workplace Culture
We have all needed a mental health day, taken one or wished our co-worker had one. Wellness days recognize that we just need to press the pause button on the remote control of our lives. Otherwise, our inside voice will be wishing for the rewind, pause and fast-forward button during conversations. Compensation packages that include these days provide the foundation of wellness for engaging workplace cultures. – Gayle Draper, Intentional Careers and Human Resources
6. Allowing Staff To Focus On Outcomes
Unless a company is managing children, I don’t see the value of controlling when they work or don’t work. Especially exempt are employees not paid by the hour. If someone meets their objectives and deliverables and even contributes above and beyond, why should I care how many or what hours they work? Let project teams work out their norms, but at the end of the day, focus on outcomes, not time spent. – Bill Gardner, Noetic Outcomes Consulting, LLC
7. Improving Creativity
In a world where innovation and doing things differently genuinely matters, mental health is not just nice, it’s necessary. It’s well documented that stress inhibits the creative process — humans in fight or flight aren’t thinking about new ways of doing things, they’re just trying to reduce the pain of stress and overwhelm. Mental health is essential for the creative class to stay creative. – David Butlein, Ph.D., BLUECASE Strategic Partners
8. Giving Employees Time For Personal Care
More and more pressure is on employees to perform at top levels all the time. It’s impossible. Workers should be allowed to flex and flow according to the iterations of their minds and bodies. There must be structure within this, of course, and time off doesn’t need to be labeled “mental” or “sick” or “PTO,” it just needs to be time to accomplish the personal care (self/family/other) we all need. – Kelly Meerbott, You: Loud & Clear
9. Helping To Remove The Stigma
Why can’t a mental health day be fun or positive? Why is it just OK to take a physical health day? Well, we live in our minds just as much as we live in our bodies. Celebrate this and call it a “brain break” or something. Remove any and all stigmas. Colleges have mental health advocates and availability in some dorms now. It’s OK. Let’s embrace these breaks and these days. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
10. Impacting Profit And Leveraging Reciprocity
Creating a culture of care that moves away from the misperception that work and personal life are separate while building on trust and the power of positive relationships showcases a “giving” style that has great impact on profit as well as leveraging reciprocity. I would extend mental health days to the entire workforce as recognition of the importance of mental health. – Valerio Pascotto, IGEOS
11. Creating A Trusting Relationship
My employees have come to work and then said, “I can’t concentrate, can I leave?” and I myself have done it too. It creates a trusting relationship — they don’t feel they have to lie to me and claim they have some place to be. As long as they aren’t taking advantage of it, I’d prefer it this way, and if I felt like they were, I’d just talk to them about it. – Catherine Mattice Zundel, Civility Partners
12. Encouraging Paid Time Off
Categorizing paid time off may be the single largest contributor in the erosion of employer and employee trust. How many days is up to the employer. How to use them is up to the employee. For decades, many countries in Europe have been using mandatory holiday time for their workforce as a necessary component of an employee’s overall health and ability to perform their job at optimum efficiency. – Kevin Leonard, Emerald Bay Performance
13. Allowing Employees To Unplug Guilt-Free
We don’t consider our mental health a part of our physical health. However, as our workplaces shift and the virtual work world continues to expand, we are constantly on the go and glued to our devices. Mental health days give employees an opportunity to unplug guilt- and stigma-free, which ultimately allows them to be more productive when they return to work — an attractive benefit to offer. – Valerie Martinelli, Valerie Martinelli Consulting, LLC
14. Offering An Excuse Not To Do The Work
I don’t think employees need a mental health day. That sounds too formal. It also sounds to me like a sickness. Instead, at our company when our employees need a day off, they just say, “Hey boss, I’m worn out and gonna take the day off.” I never once have said no. Without “mental health” as the reason, I agree we need time off to clear our heads occasionally. – Ryan Stewman, Hardcore Closer LLC