How many of us have worked a job where we felt like we couldn’t use the paid time off or sick time that the company gave us. Wouldn’t it make us look bad if we took time off? Would we get the promotions we wanted?
Once, I had a team member call me and tell me that she was taking the day off, and immediately I said, “Is everything OK? Are you sick?” She said, “no, I’m just having a rough day, and I know I wouldn’t be able to focus on work. It’s better if I stay home and take care of myself.” That statement struck a chord with me because I never heard someone call off work because they were having a bad day. Immediately, my response was, “you absolutely can take today off.” She returned in a fantastic mood the following day and was so grateful that I allowed her that time for herself. Over the next several days, she apologized for taking her time and promised me she would make up the work. She was feeling guilty for taking the time that she needed. Why does she feel the need to apologize? Because, at work, mental health is not prioritized the same way physical health is.
From this moment on, I made it a priority to talk with my team about using their time off for more than just being sick. We talked about the benefits of taking a mental health day. We talked about how it felt after we dedicated paid time off to mental health. As their supervisor, I took some myself to set an example and show them that it was OK. Not only did this allow the team to feel safe taking time off for mental health, but it increased productivity and engagement because my team felt supported and that they mattered.
As we move through our new standards in the workplace and at home, employers must protect their employees’ well-being by providing proactive and preventative mental health support. In Human Resources, we often talk about the “whole-person approach,” which required an investment in personal, professional, and skill-related areas to support mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Choosing this methodology allows companies to improve engagement and performance by providing resources they may need at work and in their personal life.
I’ve recently heard a podcast from Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, called “WorkLife with Adam Grant.” In the podcast titled “we should allow sad days, not just sick days,” he discusses that people are finally paying attention to mental health at work, but some major myths are holding us back. Adam breaks down what we get wrong about mental health at work, what individuals and organizations can do to start getting it right, and why we all need compassion more than empathy. It is worth a listen, so I added the link here!
When considering building a proactive mental well-being strategy, employees must always have access to services. Consider a digital approach to open access to your entire team and give them the autonomy to engage with the resources whenever they need to. Ensure you are using insights to influence your strategy. Empower your leaders and managers to support mental health at work. Companies should train leaders to recognize signs of mental health problems and provide support in those one-on-one conversations. We should prioritize our mental health all the time, just like our physical health. Together, we can build a workplace where mental health is recognized and supported.