A mental health day policy can improve productivity and employee well-being. Follow these 4 steps to create yours today.
Here's what you need to know:
- To craft your company’s unique mental health day policy, first, define mental health day options at your organization
- Outline the rules around employee mental health days and create a balanced mental health kit for employees
- Let employees know about the organization's mental health day policy and consider including mental health awareness tips in an employee newsletter
It’s no secret that stress and mental health concerns kill productivity and employee engagement. But it’s also increasingly common.
Studies show that 94% of employees feel stressed at work and nearly as many are concerned about their burnout levels. This is a serious threat to the employee’s well-being and professional aspirations. When mental health issues spiral into depression, for example, an individual’s ability to think clearly can drop by 35%.
There are many reasons to offer mental health days. But where can an employer start?
Mental health day policies are one of the easiest ways to kick-start a mental health support program at the office. But before we dig into how you can design your own, let’s cover what mental health actually means.
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First: What counts as mental health?
What we first think of poor mental health, it’s common to imagine a serious mental illness. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders are common reasons for a sick day. But mental health is actually much broader than that.
Poor mental health can translate into not eating, inability to perform daily tasks, overwhelm, oversleeping, and other conditions. A condition can also be short-term or long-term. For example, after losing a close family member, a worker might fall into depression at work — even months after the fact.
The issue lies in not addressing these smaller signs of a worsening mental condition. All of these warning signs can compound and eventually cause larger mental and physical health problems.
For that reason, it can be helpful to offer mental health days for employees to rest, recover, and avoid long-term issues.
What is a mental health day for employees?
A mental health day is similar to sick leave. It’s a day off of work where an employee can invest in self-care and recover from potential mental health issues. This day can be paid or unpaid.
It’s important to note that the reason for a mental health day may not relate to work. Pressures from outside of work — such as physical illness, family disputes, overwork in domestic chores, and similar issues can contribute to lower mental health and decreasing focus in the office.
A mental health day is a day off of work where an employee can invest in self-care and recover from potential mental health issues. This day can be paid or unpaid.
Providing sick days for mental health gives employees a chance to resolve some of these issues or even just recover from the stress.
How to create a mental health day policy for workers
A mental health day policy can help employees feel less guilty about self-care and help them use their time off wisely. But how you structure your mental health day policy will differ based on your organization’s needs and resources.
To craft your unique mental health day benefit, follow these 4 steps:
1. Define mental health day options at your organization
The 1st thing is to define what a mental health day will look like at your business. Is it paid? Unpaid? Both? How does it fit in with sick leave and vacation time?
Here are some options to choose from:
- Unpaid leave — The easiest, lowest-cost option is to simply allow employees unpaid sick leave on top of any mandatory paid leave policies. If the condition is serious, i.e., requires in-patient care or ongoing treatment, unpaid leave must be offered according to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This downside is that if an employee’s mental health is linked to financial stability, they will likely refuse to take the mental health day.
- Paid time off (PTO) — If you already have a PTO plan in place, just remind your workers that they can use these days for their mental health needs, too.
- Disability coverage — You may provide short-term disability insurance to employees for emergencies, including mental health leave.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — According to the ADA, employers must provide accommodations for workers with disabilities, including mental disorders. Providing sick leave for mental health conditions is 1 way to stay compliant.
Keep in mind that some states have paid leave laws that include mental health conditions. These include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Washington, D.C.
2. Outline the rules around employee mental health days
Once you’ve decided on the general structure and complaint considerations, it’s time to examine the policy itself. At this point, you’ll want to look at:
- Employee eligibility
- Amount of days for mental health leave
- How to request leave
- Whether or not the days are paid or unpaid
Generally, it’s better to apply these days to all employees for a standardized and compliant process. Many employers will likely want to extend this benefit to full-time workers, although you can offer it to part-timers, too.
In addition, it’s important to consider that mental health isn’t something an employee can plan ahead of time. It’s better to assume that this will be an emergency leave. For that reason, keep the reporting process as short and private as possible.
But the big question is, how many days should an employee be able to take off for mental health issues? According to 1 study, employees take about 4 days off for mental health concerns. You may want to extend this to a week.
If you offer unlimited PTO and don’t differentiate between different types of leave, it’s important to let employees know that they can use their days for stress management and mental health recovery.
Finally, it’s best to keep these leave requests as a “no questions asked” policy. Many people don’t want their employers to know the details of their inner lives, especially in difficult moments. This ensures employee privacy and makes it more likely they will take advantage of this benefit.
3. Create a balanced mental health kit for employees
You may have different benefits that contribute to employee mental health. Some examples include:
- Employee assistance programs (EAP) that provide mental health services
- Health insurance that includes mental health coverage
- Create a list of mental health providers that are in your insurance network
- Invest in mental health apps for telemedicine, meditation, or other wellness programs
- Offer flexible work situations to reduce stress
You can distribute this kit or package annually to remind employees of their benefits. And if you’ve digitized your kit, you can simply send your employees a link or ZIP file with all the critical information.
4. Let employees know about the organization’s mental health day policy
Finally, it’s critical that employees know about the mental health benefits you’ve invested in. In 1 recent survey, only 47% of employees knew if their employer offered mental health benefits and what they were.
Your mental health day policy should be included in the employee handbook and benefits documentation.
And while you don’t want to go up to employees who seem to be struggling, you may want to include mental health awareness tips in an employee newsletter every so often, with a reminder that mental health days are valid reasons for short-term leave.
Gain insight into employee well-being with this guide
Employee health and well-being are more important than ever before. If you want to keep your employees engaged and satisfied in the workplace, it’s essential to put their well-being at the forefront of company policies and processes.
The best part? We have a checklist for that.
Download our Employee Well-being Checklist and guide to learn more about employee motivation, tools that will make your job easier, and more.