Mental Health Days Are Good for You (and Your Organization)
Taking time off for mental health should be normal. How often have you felt like you’ve needed to take time off of work, even for a day, for your mental well-being? Did you feel comfortable asking for it, or did you not even get to that point? Taking sick days when you’re feeling unwell is routine, but not all employers meet it with the same level of acceptance, nor do employees. If you’re sick with a physical illness, you’re often met with understanding. If you’re sick with a mental illness, you’re often met with stigma.
Whether it’s from burnout, stress, a mental illness, or anything that falls within the realm of mental wellness, sometimes you need to step back and take care of yourself. This will benefit not only you, but your employer as well, as you’ll be able to perform better. Here, I dive into why requesting time off for your mental health can be difficult, the importance of doing so, and how it’s good for you and the organization. I’ll also explore how crucial it is to have support between you and your manager.
Asking for time off
Research from the American Heart Association shows that about 3 in 4 employees have struggled with at least one issue affecting their mental health, but 63% of employees do not communicate their mental health challenges with their employers. You should be able to feel safe in communicating these challenges at work, but unfortunately, not everyone is understanding; employees tend to keep quiet about mental health struggles because they fear their managers’ and colleagues’ reactions. When Aetna surveyed 1,000 employees from the U.K., U.S., Singapore, and the UAE to better understand the state of mental health in the workplace, close to one-third of respondents admitted to concealing their stress and mental health issues. The problem exists, but people fear talking about it.
Asking for time off for mental health can be daunting. You might worry about being judged, denied, or even fired. Before you even get to the point of telling your employer you need time off, you might criticize yourself for feeling unwell. You might worry about what your employer may say or think about you. You may wonder if it’s worth even telling them the truth. Should you just say you’re feeling unwell with a bad cold, and leave it at that? Will telling them you’re having a bout of depression risk your job or make them think differently about you? So many thoughts can run through your head, spiraling you into major self-doubt. But what if employers told us that sick days were not only for our physical health but our mental health, as well? That they wouldn’t judge us or hold it against us for needing time off to recoup mentally? What if, instead, they supported us?
Better mental health leads to better productivity
When I started working at Kalamuna, my manager told me that if I felt unwell, whether physically or mentally, I should take time off. I felt that leadership understood that we all have sick days and that by taking them, we’ll be better able to perform our best. Pushing through an illness isn’t good for anyone and isn’t sustainable. It’s important that you not only feel supported by management but that you can ask for support. When I need a day off for my mental health, a voice in my head still tells me it’s not legit or that I’ll be judged for it. When I get past those thoughts and listen to what’s true, I know I should take time off, what I’m feeling is valid, and that my employer has my back. According to numerous studies, working in a mentally healthy work environment increases employees’ job performance and creativity. At Kalamuna, we co-create a safe space to come forward with any issues we may face. We try to create a positive working environment in general, and we can maintain our mental health and increase our productivity. That’s a win-win for everyone.
Listen to your mind and body, not your fear
If you don’t take time off for your mental health, it can worsen things and lead to burnout. Taking care of your well-being should come first. You know your mind and body, and if something isn’t right, say so. Don’t push on and stay silent because you fear how your employer will react. I can’t say that all employers will be understanding, but it is in their best interest to do so. If they don’t listen to or care about what you have to say, they’re in the wrong, not you. You deserve to work with people who respect you for saying you need time off. You, and your mental health, are worth it.
For further reading that supports employees taking time off for mental health, check out these sites:
- WHO: Mental health in the workplace
- Workplace Strategies for Mental Health: Psychological health and safety statistics
For help with what to say to your employer when asking for time off for mental health, check out these articles:
- Choosing Therapy: How to ask your boss for a mental health day off work
- HelloGiggles: How to ask for a mental health day, according to the experts
If you're interested in reading more of our mental health series, check out our post on Mental Health for Remote Workers in the Age of COVID or our post on Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health and Illness.