How to Normalize Mental Health Days for Your Company

Written by Lindsay Heneger

Mental health is just as important as physical health; it’s not a new idea, but how it’s being embraced in the workforce is. More and more research shows that not only is the mental health of employees directly related to a company’s bottom line but there are significant ways that companies can shift how they do business to have an even more productive staff.


One of these ways is by offering more mental health days. Mental health days, personal days, and shorter workweeks help to reduce job stress. It combats burnout and shows employees that the company they work for values their well-being. This alone can improve the mental wellness of your employees


But making mental health days work for your business takes more than simply offering them as a benefit. Let’s take a look at how to implement mental health days as an effective tool for promoting productivity, performance, and employee well-being. 


How Mental Health Days Benefit Your Bottom Line


Research shows that mental health days improve performance and that failing to address the mental health crisis of our time is costing 200 billion lost workdays and between 17 billion and 44 billion annually. In light of this data, providing adequate paid time off is an investment you can’t afford not to make. 


Mental health days combat burnout, an occupational hazard recognized by the World Health Organization. Burnout leads to mental health issues like anxiety and depression and happens when employees are overworked, not compensated fairly, or working with unrealistic expectations. 


Burnout results in employees feeling depleted, unmotivated, overwhelmed, withdrawn from the job, and cynical. It can cause employees to miss more work than they normally would and to be mentally absent on the job. 


Offering mental health days to employees can increase productivity and attendance. It may sound counterintuitive to reduce hours in order to get more work done, but research shows that shorter hours will show an increase in productivity, while longer hours yield a lower output


43% of workers left their jobs due to not having benefits like paid time off in 2021. More and more employees are leaving their current jobs in search of positions that offer a stronger work-life balance. Offering mental health days is a great way to increase employee retention and attract new talent. 


Leadership’s Role in Implementing Mental Health Days


The fear and stigma of taking paid mental health days can stop your employees from actually taking advantage of the benefit when it’s offered. Leadership must be proactive about destigmatizing mental health in the workplace so that employees will feel free to take personal days without fear of being reprimanded or shamed. 


The most significant way that team leaders can do this is by simply taking mental health days. Let employees see that you’re supportive of the benefit and plan on taking advantage of it yourself. Second, don’t be secretive about it. Being secretive about prioritizing your mental health perpetuates the shame that comes from the stigma. 


Instead, openly talk about taking personal days in an appropriate manner. Rather than announcing exactly why you took a mental health day, just mention to your team that you took a mental health day and express that you’re glad you did. If you feel comfortable, share how it benefited you and how you felt better when you returned to work. 


Encourage Your Team to Take Personal Days 


Make sure that your team knows the policy about paid time off and let them know that the company understands that research shows that their mental health is correlated with productivity. Taking a science-based approach to the company policy takes the personal charge out of the concept of mental health and can make employees feel more comfortable taking advantage of it. 


Another way to encourage employees to take mental health days is by using a no-questions-asked approach. When the time comes to take a personal day, employees can feel distressed by the thought of asking leadership about it, and this can deter them. They might worry about having to divulge information they don’t want to, or they might be concerned that it will affect their standing with upper management. 


Keep in mind that people who suffer from anxiety disorder might be overly worried about approaching you about this. Keep the conversation light and professional. Simply grant them the time they’re allowed and don’t ask questions. 


If you sense that an employee is taking time off because they’re in crisis, it can be helpful to follow up when they return to work in a non-invasive way. Ask them if they feel ready to return to work and if there’s anything that you can do to lighten their workload if they’re under a lot of stress. 


Teach your team about when to take a personal day. Here are some of the symptoms of burnout:


  • Loss of enthusiasm for work
  • Withdrawal 
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Loss of sleep or oversleeping
  • Feeling exhausted or depleted
  • Feeling unmotivated


Reduce the Workweek or Offer Extra Paid Time Off


The World Health Organization reported a 26% increase in deaths due to stroke and heart disease that resulted from working at least 55 hours a week in 2016. To give employees access to more mental health days, consider following the example of other companies who have reduced the workweek or offered extra paid weeks off. 


If that’s not possible, consider offering half days, last Fridays or more paid leave benefits to improve morale and combat burnout. 

Embrace Mental Wellness at Work


Employees will feel encouraged to take advantage of mental health benefits if they feel that the company culture genuinely supports mental wellness. On the other hand, employees who feel that the stigma of mental health influences how management operates won’t take mental health days. They might feel that they’ll be shamed, judged, misunderstood, viewed as weak, or even risk losing their job. 


But ignoring the signs of burnout can compound mental health issues that might be arising. So it’s up to HR professionals and senior leaders to be proactive about establishing a positive tone around mental wellness. Doing this will normalize mental health and will make employees feel more likely to take care of themselves. 


Provide mental health benefits to team members, including a preventative mental health program. This shows your team members that you mean it when you say, “take care of your mental health”. But it also trains them to recognize the signs of burnout and mental health issues, so they can recognize when they need to take a personal day. 


This is a strategy of implementing preventative mental health measures at work to keep your staff healthy and your business running smoothly. 


Mental Health Is an Investment


The great resignation of 2021 will go down in history as the moment a pandemic allowed the American workforce to re-examine ways of doing business that before might have seemed impossible. Mental health has been brought to the forefront of the conversation. Most adults spend half of their life at work, and it’s time to accept that things that happen in their personal lives affect how they function at work. 


Offering mental health days is one step towards supporting the mental wellness of employees during a time when mental health issues like depression and anxiety are skyrocketing. When implemented correctly, they can support healthy company culture, attract new talent, and improve a company’s return.


Mental Health & Wellbeing
Written by Lindsay Heneger


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