There is a lot of negativity around the concept of the “sick days” and “personal days”. Modern culture dictates that we should work hard for as many designated hours as possible, earning to our full potential even when we feel under the weather.
Some feel that sick days are for the contagious and those individuals that cannot physically make it in. There are some that would dispute the worth of taking a sick day for a common cold if it means reduced pay and company productivity. This modern attitude means that there is an even worse reaction to the notion of a personal day off for mental health.
Attitudes to mental health within the workplace are behind the times in many nations and large corporations. There is still the sense that mental health is not as important or influential as physical health. Therefore, mental health issues are easier for workers, colleagues, and bosses to ignore.
The problem is that this isn’t the case at all. Mental health is as important as physical health for several reasons, and we cannot continue to sweep it under the rug as a taboo subject.
In this article about mental health and the concept of mental health days, we will discuss these issues further.
First of all, we will look at the true importance of mental health on our mental and physical states. This includes stress, related illnesses, emotional issue and the impact on workplace motivation and productivity.
We will then look at the concept of the mental health day. What is a mental health day? Why is it such a controversial topic? We will also look at the possible need to encourage more workers to take mental health days and to separate this need from the usual sick day. Finally, we will discuss measures that companies can employ to help with day to day mental health.
The Link Between Mental Health And Physical Health
There has long been a greater focus on the problems of physical health than mental health. It receives more funding and facilities, and there is the simple fact that healthcare providers are more inclined to listen to physical issues.
Mental health is often relegated as a lesser issue. However, mental health plays a vital role in physical health, emotional health and our ability to function. Some may dismiss workplace stress as a weakness that we should not admit to. This stress can lead to physical symptoms, sickness, related illnesses, psychological issues and suicidal thoughts. There is the potential for a snowball effect that we cannot ignore.
This issue is clear in the workplace. We become stressed by deadlines, financial issues, and colleagues. Those that ignore it risk making the situation much worse. All workers need to take care of their mental health both in and out of the workplace. More importantly, there are times when we simply need to decompress and walk away.
Taking care of ourselves means more than diet, exercise, and good sleep. We need time to ourselves where we don’t think about work, projects, and problems. Instead, we find activities that bring joy and calm the mind.
Our minds and brains are crucial work tools that need care and maintenance. There are many analogies of the brain acting as a computer, so think of the mind in the same way.
Leave a laptop on too long, and it becomes cluttered with data, slows down as it gets overworked and begins to overheat. So what do we do? We shut it down for a while, let it cool down and restart it. When it comes back on, everything is reset in working order, and it is ready to work.
Taking a day off to rest, switch off the mind and focus on gentler tasks has a similar effect. We can take the time to focus on fixing one problem outside of work or paying attention to an emotional need. When we return and restart the mind in work-mode, it is easier to focus on designated tasks at a comfortable pace.
Workers that have the opportunity for a mental health day should look for the following signs.
There are plenty of signals that a mental health day may be in order. It is important that we not only look out for them in our own lives and actions but in the work of others. There are times when mental health issues affect our work directly.
# We face stress from deadlines and problems with projects.
# We find ourselves overruled by emotion, which clouds judgment on key decisions.
# We can become distracted by other issues and lose focus on current tasks.
A mental health day provides a break to deal with these problems. We can take a step back to reorganize a schedule and time manage away from the stress of the office. We can step away to focus on stress-relieving activities, a change of scenery or a little time with family to regulate emotions. We can take a day to focus on non-work related deadlines and problems, so they aren’t hanging over us too much.
There Is An Issue With Attitudes To Mental Health Here
The ability to take a mental health day will depend on two important factors. First, there is the acceptance of the individual, and their own ability to declare this need to their colleagues and bosses.
Acknowledging a need to take a mental health break is just the start. It takes bravery and a strong will to tell other people then. The other factor here is the response of the company and those agreeing to this time off. Does the company or HR manager have the understanding of mental health needs and the empathy required? Some companies will treat these days like any other sick day and respect the employee. Others may not be so understanding.
This Issue Became Clear With The Story Of Madalyn Parker
Madalyn Parker and her boss took the world by storm recently with a simple story about a request for time off. Madalyn didn’t go about her request the usual way. She could have asked for a typical sick day through HR and left it at that. Instead, she emailed her boss and colleagues with an upfront admission about her intentions. She messaged the whole team to say that she would be taking two days to “focus on my mental health.”
She added that she hoped the time would allow her to be “refreshed and back to 100%” the following week. This blunt honesty is refreshing for all those trying to break the stigma of mental health in the workplace. She later went further in her explanation to the press, talking about her insomnia and suicidal thoughts.
The story went viral – more because of the reaction of her boss than her actions. Many praise Madalyn for her actions and decision not to hide her intentions. However, the response of her boss caught many by surprise. Her boss accepted the situation and the need for mental health care in the workplace.
Furthermore, he commended his employee for raising the issue. His reply talks about the need for mental health sick days as standard practice and the need to “bring our whole selves to work.” The reply is encouraging, but also rare.
The fact that it went viral on Twitter and beyond is indicative of this. Users would not bat an eye if it were standard practice. Instead, their celebration highlights the idea that they might not be so lucky if they were to approach their boss with a similar request.
Why Are There So Many Negative Attitudes To Mental Health Awareness In The Workplace?
Negative attitudes and misunderstanding often trace back to ideas of invisible illness and clear signs of problems. An employee with the flu, a stomach bug or major injury has a clear sign of illness and distress. This registers with colleagues and time off is acceptable.
Invisible illness and disorders are more problematic. Bosses and colleagues cannot see pain, cognitive dysfunction or mental anguish until it breaks through into physical manifestations. Essentially, an employee may have to reach a breaking point with stress, anxiety or other mental health issues for others to understand.
Nobody should reach the point where they are physically breaking down and crying at work because of they, and others around them, neglect their mental health needs. A big problem in this divide between physical and mental health is the old-fashioned views on issues like depression and anxiety.
Sufferers of depression cannot simply “get over” the problem with a quick course of pills or a stronger will. Men with the flu would hate to hear the same and face expectations to return to work the next day.
The good news is that companies are turning a corner. It is all about breaking stigma, opening the lines of communication and appreciating mental health as an influential part of life. The acceptance of mental health days and other factors that workplaces can employ to ease mental health issues is crucial here.
It is in the best interests of companies to aid workers with mental health. The Center for Prevention and Health estimates mental illness costs employers as much as $105 billion annually due to related issues with productivity, absenteeism and health insurance.
Creating A Better Environment For Improved Mental Health In The Workplace
Ideally, companies would provide better environments, flexibility in working hours and other efforts to reduce the need for these mental health days. There are calls in many countries to create shorter working weeks to provide that work/life balance that many workers can’t achieve. The idea here is that workers work for four days and maintain their mental health and physical health on their days off.
Some companies dislike the idea of losing working hours and time within the office. However, some feel that workers would be more productive on a well-managed four-day cycle if they have this time for mental health. There is a choice here between losing time to sickness and risking bigger health issues or allowing this extra day for rest and focus.
The other potential aid here is to create better, calmer work environments where workers are less likely to develop the stress and anxiety at the root of these problems. This means the chance for flexible break times as they suit the worker and project, flexible work areas and areas to go for a mental health break.
Flexible break times are a problem in shift work and other jobs with high productivity. We cannot dictate precisely when we will feel the need to walk away from a difficult task and get some fresh air. Flexible work environments also offer great control for the employee.
Many major companies now offer a variety of work environments to suit the needs of users. They range from high-energy, communal hot desk areas to quiet individual areas for personal projects.
Then there are the facilities within the workplace that employees can use to improve their current state of mind, talk over the problem and relax. Most employees would appreciate the chance to enter a quiet room somewhere in the facility. This room could offer a place to sit and read without the frantic noises of the office or queries from a colleague.
Some companies may even allow for meditation spaces to help workers improve their state of mind. Others now add cafe areas for the chance of coffee with colleagues. This has a social benefit and the opportunity to discuss issues in a more comfortable environment. Then there are little touches like adding artwork to the walls or maintaining green, sensory garden areas.
Companies can learn a lot from the actions of Madalyn Parker and her boss.
The viral tweet of Madalyn Parker’s request, and her boss.’
The response has the potential to act as a catalyst in a much larger situation. The simple acceptance of the need for mental health days and improved attitudes is encouraging. The online reaction shows that the many other companies have a long way to go to catch up.
There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and mental weakness in the workplace. There is no doubt that these simple measures for improving mental health care, and greater acceptance of this mental health sick day, could benefit both sides.