Health Care and Human Resources

Supporting mental health days

July 31, 2017
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When a Michigan-based software developer took time off of work to focus on her mental health, the CEO of her company responded, and his response went viral — for all the right reasons.

Her boss applauded her efforts to take care of herself and thanked her for being an example to the rest of the company, quickly becoming an example himself. His response triggered a discussion across the internet about addressing mental health at work, something we all should be talking about.

This email exchange shows that the stigma surrounding mental health is starting to come down and some organizations are realizing the importance of encouraging their employees to not only take care of themselves physically, but mentally as well.

In a 2015 study, the National Institute of Mental Health found that an estimated 16.1-million adults in the U.S. experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year. That doesn’t just turn off when they come to work. So how can other CEOs and business leaders show the same compassion and support that the CEO and co-founder of Olark did? By simply changing the attitude surrounding mental health within their companies.

Change the conversation

Emotional well-being and mental health support should be a part of leadership culture within a company. While many employees are reluctant to discuss feelings of depression, a survey by Employee Benefit News magazine revealed 31 percent of respondents choose mental illness as the number-one cause of lost productivity, increased absenteeism and other indirect costs. These numbers link directly to a company’s bottom line.

The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that depression can result in approximately five missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months for an individual.

Given these numbers, there’s no reason that corporate leadership wouldn’t want to support a healthy mental state for their employees. And when leadership is open and shows they have ways to help those who are struggling, employees will feel more comfortable asking for help. This could include not only standing behind employees who use sick days for mental health, but setting an example that employees can follow

Corporations need to get to a point where it’s OK for employees to say, “I need to take a day of just to take care of me, not because I have the flu, but because I just need it.”

Take action

Leaders within an organization can begin to change the conversation around mental health by:

  • Starting a conversation: be seen talking about things like mental health days and encouraging employees to take them
  • Being open: use your culture to spark conversation and discussion 
  • Implementing programs like yoga or mental health workshops
  • Offering access to counselors, clinicians and employee-assistance programs
  • Offering trainings and information sessions for leadership teams and managers, so they understand mental health (Check out Mental Health First Aid for tips!)
  • Taking their own mental health days
  • Encouraging employees to disconnect when out of the office

Leadership attitudes trickle down to the rest of organization. When CEOs like Ben Congleton of Olark support their employees and encourage them to take care of themselves, employees will find themselves more relaxed, happier and more productive.

How corporate wellness providers can help

Understanding how to handle the emotional well-being of others can be a lot to wrap your head around. Look into corporate wellness programs for guidance and educational resources on how to navigate the murky waters of mental health and lift the stigma surrounding mental illness in your workplace.

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