Is it mental to take a “Mental Health Day”….?


Over the last 25 years of my working history I'm happy to admit I have taken a couple of “mental health days” from work.

One of those days was suggested by my Manager, as he recognised I wasn’t coping with the relentless workload, the onerous travel associated with my role, and the extra demands on my time in a workplace where labour resources were scant. The other “mental health day” was taken approximately 12 months after the first. I initiated this day, with the support of my Manager, as we both recognised I was near to breaking point with workload.

On both occasions my Manager was understanding and supportive, and was happy to pay for me to have a day off “sick”, despite the fact I was not medically unwell.

Whilst granting a day off was only a temporary Band-Aid to the underlying problem, at the same time, it highlighted the fact that I was completing a role equivalent to that of 2 full time employees, and extra resources were recruited to remedy the situation.

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Having the occasional one off absence throughout your working history for genuine reasons can be deemed acceptable, but having frequent one off absences or pulling a sickie claiming you need a “mental health day” is not. Frequent patterns of absence can be a sign of deeper issues in the workplace or at home, so it is advisable to be aware of these patterns, and address employees of concern in a proactive sensitive way.

Statistically one of the most common reasons for employees taking a “mental health” day is attributed to anxiety, with workers citing too much responsibility, or feeling burnt out.

Sometimes taking a “mental health day”, is the best thing you can do for yourself - I know that this was certainly the case for me. Having a day away from the everyday demands of work allowed for a much-needed break to pause, regroup, and enabled me to come back with a fresh, less-stressed perspective.

Remember, work isn't all there is to life! Balance is the key to happy and productive workers. So when you take an occasional day off, or grant your employee a day off, make it worthwhile and ensure that work really is left at work.

What is most important is to recognise when you (or your employee) need time out, and where possible address the cause. Don’t be afraid to take, or grant a “mental health day”, after all - prevention is much better than cure, and unrelenting stress could lead to more serious issues for both parties.

Check out the WorkSafe New Zealand website for some valuable resources on managing stress and fatigue in the workplace.

by Sally Higgins

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