COVID-19 has changed the way the workplace looks and the way employees feel. At a time when 65% of employees have anxiety about returning to the workplace,1 it makes sense to reassess corporate wellness policies.
Forbes points out some organizations are already reassessing wellness and mental health approaches due to remote work and hybrid work models that combine:
- In-office and at-home schedules
- Staggered and flexible hours to accommodate child care
- 4-day workweeks, and
- 5-hour days.2
Another change that Forbes calls “slowly emerging but much needed” is additional vacation time to help employees’ mental, emotional and physical health.
U.S. workers are some of the most overworked in the world, with the majority working more than 40 hours per week.3 According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), “Long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000.” Many strokes and heart disease resulted from working at least 55 hours a week.4
At the same time, 20% of the American workforce is currently living with a diagnosable mental illness, which can affect businesses and employees. Mental illness costs companies an estimated $193 billion per year in lost productivity, plus $201 billion a year companies pay in mental health costs, which is far more expensive than even the most generous of workplace health promotion programs.5
A small and growing number of businesses, including LinkedIn, Hootsuite, Mozilla and Fidelity Investments, are responding to these realities by giving their workers an extra week off as mental health days.6
These mental health days off work are separate from the mental health provisions mandated under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws. Mental health days off work are days offered voluntarily to employees to provide mental and emotional breaks from work stressors—separate from sick days, vacation days and holidays.7
An evolving best practice is making these mental health days at work enterprise-wide. Giving everybody the same days off keeps the work from piling up unevenly and eliminates the self-induced pressure to check in with the office while on leave.8
What are the benefits?
The idea is new enough—and varies from company to company—that there are no quantitative data on the benefits. Based on what we know about the measured benefits of taking time off, however, it’s likely that offering mental health days off work could help your organization in the following ways:9
Align your brand with employee needs. 86% of employees want their employers to build a corporate culture that encourages an open dialogue about mental health. In addition, 80% of employees would consider quitting their jobs for an employer more focused on employee mental health. Establishing mental health days off work as part of your benefits package could effectively attract and retain top talent.
Increase motivation. When employees are burned out, they aren’t motivated. 40% of employees said they were fighting off burnout this past year. Also, 93% of managers reported that taking time off led to increased employee motivation.
Improved productivity. 75% of employees said mental health challenges hurt their job performance during COVID-19 restrictions. Taking days off can give employees the mental break they need to stay productive. In fact, 84% of managers reported employees demonstrated increased productivity after a break.
Reduced sick days. Mental health days off work allow employees to take time off in a controlled, planned, agreed-upon way. Being proactive avoids employee burnout and having to take unplanned sick days or worsening health.10
What’s the catch?
Despite all these stressors and lengthening workweeks, in the last 15 years, Americans have been taking less time off work, often because they feel they can’t. Even when they use vacation days, 41% of employees admit to checking and responding to emails while out of the office.11
Some employers are attempting to counteract this trend by mandating employee use of vacation days, including offering incentives. PwC offers employees a $250 bonus if they take 40 consecutive hours of time off, as frequently as once per quarter, and $1,000 to use for vacation.12
Not every employer can allocate that kind of budget to additional time off, but offering just 1 mental health day can have an impact if paired with effective, free ways to get employees to truly disconnect from work. The most important thing is that leaders model taking mental health days off work and speak out about it.13
“My experience shows that the biggest, most important step business leaders can take is to open up about our own mental health in an honest way,” says Ryan Bonnici, chief marketing officer of G2. “This is particularly true for those of us in the C-suite. Ultimately, it’s the only way to make clear to our employees that they are safe to do the same.”14
CNN Business recommends the additional support of offering wellness apps and subscriptions to employees, as well as increasing the number of counseling sessions workers could receive through their company’s Employee Assistance Program.15
What is always true, according to Forbes, is that companies that show appreciation and take care of their people will have a highly motivated and happier workforce, creating a better atmosphere for both executives and workers.16
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1Christine Schulz, “Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?” Total Brain, last accessed October 28, 2021, https://blog.totalbrain.com/do-work-sponsored-mental-health-days-make-an-impactOpens in new window.
2Jack Kelly, “Companies Are Giving Workers A Free Week Off To Improve Morale, Mental Health And Burnout,” Forbes, last accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/07/27/companies-are-giving-workers-a-free-week-off-to-improve-morale-mental-health-and-burnout/?sh=600527ad2156Opens in new window.
3“Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?”
4“Companies Are Giving Workers A Free Week Off To Improve Morale, Mental Health And Burnout.”
5“Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?”
6“Companies Are Giving Workers A Free Week Off To Improve Morale, Mental Health And Burnout.”
7“Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?”
8Kathryn Vasel, “Mental health days. Meeting-free times. Companies are adding new benefits to help workers cope,” CNN Business, last accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/06/success/mental-health-company-offerings/index.htmlOpens in new window.
9“Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?”
10Brendan McDonald, “Benefits of mental health days: three hidden reasons you didn’t know about,” urevolution.com, last accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.urevolution.com/hidden-benefits-of-mental-health-days/Opens in new window.
11“Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?”
12“Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?”
13“Do Work-Sponsored ‘Mental Health Days’ Make an Impact?”
14Ryan Bonnici, “Workers Are Afraid to Take a Mental Health Day,” Scientific American, last accessed October 28, 2021, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/workers-are-afraid-to-take-a-mental-health-day/Opens in new window.
15“Mental health days. Meeting-free times. Companies are adding new benefits to help workers cope.”
16“Companies Are Giving Workers A Free Week Off To Improve Morale, Mental Health And Burnout.”