Employer Branding

Why You Should Give Your Staff a Mental Health Day Off Work

Your leave policies may include sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, compassionate leave and even bereavement leave. But does it include mental health sick leave?

We all know the mental health of our employees is paramount and a lot of companies are being proactive and robust about the way they deal with employees’ mental health. Some of the things companies are doing include providing a healthy work environment, supporting employees with mental health issues and talking to staff a lot more.

But did you know you could allow your staff to take a mental health sick day? That’s exactly what Madalyn Parker did and the response she got from her boss went viral.

So why should you be offering mental health sick days as part of your leave policy?

Well because mental health is  just as important as a person’s overall health. If your employees don’t proactively address their mental health, they won’t be able to perform at their best. In fact, the Center for Prevention and Health estimates mental illness and substance abuse issues cost employers up to $105 billion annually. Reduced productivity, absenteeism and increased healthcare costs are just a few of the ways mental health issues cost employers money.

It’s estimated that only 17% of the U.S. population is functioning at optimal mental health, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates. And 1 in 5 people experience a diagnosable mental health condition at any given time.

In the UK, according to Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey statistics, last year, Britons took 137 million sick days. Of these, 15.8 million days were for a stated mental health issue – whether that is stress, depression, anxiety or a more serious condition such as manic depression and schizophrenia – By contrast, 34 million days were “lost” to minor illnesses, like coughs and colds.

But there is no legal difference between taking a mental health sick day and a day off for a physical problem like a back problem. Employers are legally required to protect the health and safety of those at work – and this includes mental health problem if it affects a person’s day-to-day life.

A “mental health day” is where an employee does not come to work and takes a sick day for reasons other than physical illness and are more common place in countries like America and New Zealand. Some people may consider a mental health day to be when someone simply does not feel like coming in to work, but the most accurate use of this term is related to true mental illness rather than a desire to skip work.

The difficulty with most mental illnesses is that they don’t show any outwardly physical symptoms like a broken limb or sickness. And while we do know some employees do feign illness to blag a day off work, it’s not always a good idea to doubt an employee’s sickness.

We also know that there is a huge stigma around mental health and quite a lot of ignorance from other members of staff and managers when it comes to dealing with an employee’s mental health so it’s even more important that those who suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression are fully supported at work, or even while they’re taking time off work to recover instead of being judged.

Jessica Williams, Managing Director of Sidekicks said:

Giving your staff the time and space they need to feel well is very important. You hire people because they add value to your business, so valuing their mental health and respecting their needs at challenging times is beneficial to everyone; employer and employee alike.
Overcoming the challenges of mental health in the workplace is something we’re very aware of at Sidekicks. Our not-for-profit programme, Work to Recover, supports people returning to work after mental illness by providing them with practical support and coaching, so it is something we have thought about more or less from day one.

The mental health charity Mind has lots of advice and a guide to improving mental health at work which can be accessed by anyone. After all, unless you’re a medic, no-one is an expert and you’ll be surprised just what little effort it takes to make sure your employees are well both physically and mentally.

By Ushma Mistry

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