The global pandemic was tough on everyone. It was a time when many people’s mental health suffered. Lockdowns, a lack of social interaction, working from home—things that would make some people anxious at the best of times. Then we had the ‘return to normality’ that, if we’re completely honest, we’re still in the midst of and is anything but normal.
The great return to the office was somewhat hindered by the rise of the omicron variant which, as you can imagine, sent anxiety levels through the roof. Here we had a new variant of the virus at the same time that the government and employers were pushing for a return to the office.
All of this combined to bring mental health to the fore and get people talking a little more about a topic that we really shouldn’t be afraid to discuss. It’s one of the few benefits we can take from living through the pandemic—people are now much more open about their mental health.
However, as much as we have progressed, there is still a stigma attached to the words ‘mental health’ and it’s about time this stopped.
Mental health days and sick leave
A few years ago, an email interaction between an employee and a CEO on the topic of mental health went viral for all the right reasons. Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark responded to an email from Madalyn Parker stating that she was taking a day off to focus on her mental health. Congleton praised the employee for being open and honest about the need for a break and thanked her for reminding him and all of her colleagues that mental health was a hugely important aspect of one’s well being.
Yet, five years later, the fact remains that many companies do not consider mental health as an appropriate reason for sick leave. This is due to the stigma attached to the words and that many people wrongly assume that those suffering with their mental health are only those with depression. What they fail to realise is that mental health issues can include everything from work-related stress to anxiety about returning to an office after so long at home.
While some employers are extremely quick to take action and offer support to those that need it, there is still that stigma attached to mental health. And it’s that stigma that perhaps makes employees feel that they cannot mention mental health when taking sick leave.
The importance of mental health in the workplace
As we just mentioned, mental health can cover everything from stress over an ongoing project to anxiety about working in a busy office. And it goes without saying that these things can have a hugely detrimental effect on both the employee and their ability to carry out their work.
There is a common misconception that people can just work through their mental health issues and just soldier on. This is true of both the employer and the employee suffering from anxiety or stress. But this is the wrong approach to take. Mental health issues should be met with an open mind and discussed much like any physical issue. Would an employer question an employee taking a break due to a bad back? No, and neither should they question an employee taking a break due to stress.
But employees need to be met halfway. They need to know that there will be no negative repercussions should they take time off for mental health.
This is why it’s so important for a company to implement a mental health policy in the workplace. A policy that welcomes discussion on the topic and outlines the support that is available for those with mental health issues. While there is no doubt that many employers will support their employees should they need to take time off, the employees need to know that this would be the case. Hence the need for a defined mental health policy.
Happiness helps everyone
It goes without saying that the ability to take time off due to rest and recover from work-related or even personal stress helps the sufferer. But that’s not where it ends. A happy employee is more productive, more likely to achieve their personal career goals, and has a positive effect on those around them. In other words, offering them support to get back on their feet is extremely beneficial for the employer.
That may seem like a slightly callous angle to take on the topic of mental health, but it’s merely another reason to remove the stigma attached to mental health.
Mental health days are not a benefit
We are now in a candidate-driven market where employers need to work hard to attract the best talent in their industry. To do this, many will offer opportunities for career development, better benefits, the ability to work remotely if needed, and, of course, better pay. However, is it now time to introduce mental health days as a benefit?
Some companies have already introduced ‘duvet days’ into their benefits packages. These are days that an employee can take off without any prior notice for any reason whatsoever. This is great, but it still sweeps the words ‘mental health’ under the carpet.
Surely a better approach would be to clearly indicate in a benefits package that mental health days are included in an employee’s sick leave. This would help to remove the stigma attached to those words and encourage an employee to be more open about any struggles they may be going through.
The simple truth is that good mental health is not and should never be considered a benefit, it is a basic human right. The sooner we can talk about it freely, the better for all concerned.