Health optimize

Does your company offer 'mental health days'?

Not all days off can be categorized as sick days or vacation days.

Most companies have time-off days divided into sick days and vacation days. I think that's a little too black and white.

I've always wondered where doctors' appointments fall. What if you're just going in for a check-up? It's technically not a sick day, and it's most definitely not a vacation day. And it always feels a little strange to schedule a "sick" day a week ahead of time. I know it's just paranoid, but I always think there's some HR person whose sole duty is to examine requested days off and when she sees something like that she makes a note in my personnel file, e.g., "Employee knows days in advance that she's going to be sick."

But even if you get past all that, I think there should be a category for those days when you just need to chill. One cool boss I had called these "mental health days."

It would be so much less stressful than having to call in and lie about your smallpox flaring up or fake a raspy, strep throat voice even though you're claiming you sprained your ankle.

I used to take a day off every once in a while when my son was little and was in school and my husband was at work. I would just spend a day alone at home, watching old movies and recharging my batteries. It worked wonders. I think it was more effective at easing tension than going away for a whole week and all the scrambling to complete work before and catch up afterwards that comes with that.

What do you think? Would your bosses be amenable to something like that?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

22 comments
twizzy1031
twizzy1031

because i work in a call center dealing with customers who is mostly upset about trivial things, it tends to get stressful and real taxing mentally. The only way for me to get some type of "mental health day" is go in to the doc and tell him that i am stressed and need the time off. supposedly, we have them, but we have to go thru so much red tape to get it. we have to go thru our short-term disability benefits and even then, they may not accept it. i have heard horror stories about my co-workers needing it and not getting it. Hell, I've seen co-workers grabbing their chest while talking to customers and being led out to the ambulance. if my job was to give us those days, it would be totally awesome. I could use one of those days rite about now.

WishtobeIT
WishtobeIT

I never heard the term "mental health days" used amongst HR--it was always a term us employees used and used it on "the down-low." Some years ago (and some companies still do this), a state employer I once worked with gave us 2 personal days at the beginning of each year that we could use for anything. If you didn't use the time by 12/31, you lost it. You could use it in increments (half day, etc). That way, you didn't have to dip into your sick leave or annual leave. It was also advised that you used these days first. Here it is expected that you use "sick leave" for doctor, dental, medical-related appointments--even though those are scheduled "in advanced." No one thinks about an employer lying, etc. I personally think employees call in sick (example one day) and in their minds, they're using it as a mental health day to relieve burn-out, stress, fatigue. You're right: that one day makes a huge difference.

Zookz1
Zookz1

We don't even get sick days at our company. Yet they don't really want us coming in if we are sick. No, we don't have an HR dept either.

Rayezilla
Rayezilla

more like 'sleep in' days, for me at least

arignote
arignote

I used to work at NIMH. My boss was a psychologist by training. So if I felt stressed out, my boss would let me take the afternoon or next day off as a "mental health" day. Of course I used vacation time, but it was not scheduled two weeks in advance. In my current job I'd like to figure out how to take a mental health sabbatical.

Dknopp
Dknopp

...recognizes the doctors appointment as sick time, but taking a slacker day off ( not being nasty about it just like the sound of it, everyone needs to slack off unless they like high blood pressure and do not mind their kidneys blowing out ) is not official as a sick day. One thing that is new this year is that they are putting statements about balancing your personnel life and work life in our performance goals, and no they do not mean work more. Sounds like they are recognizing the mental health day off paradigm.

john.folkes
john.folkes

My company does not recognize mental health days and you are expected to be sick if you are taking a sick day. I, personally don't get sick very often but sure would appreciate being able to take the occasional day off to regenerate without having to fake an illness. For bad colds and flus I believe it is in everyone's best interest to stay away from the office but my boss is a workaholic who would need to be hospitalized before she would take a day off. A number of companies in the area allow a set number of flex days per year that you can take off with or without notice. Unfortunately, my company does not offer these.

valduboisvert
valduboisvert

At previous job we had 1 mental health day per year but it was something different than what Toni describe in her article. It was used to build up our team spirit. So in a few words it was a fun day for the entire team. Needles to say we had a great team back then and many of us are still friends.

Terri.Wells
Terri.Wells

My employer went from having separate designations for sick time, vacation, and holidays. Now its all lumped into personal time off. I think its better to take the time off and recharge, under whatever you wish to call it. The reason being is if I am exhausted, or fill in the blank, and am not focused enough on my tasks at hand, I could create bigger issues, which would require more time to correct. Additionally, attending medical appointments should be seen as preventative maintenance to keep you healthy and performing at your peak. I work for a health care institution and they see keeping medical/dental appointments as proactive care. Abusing these privleges is a different matter. I always take PTO days when needed. There should be no shame in saying you need time off to regroup and recharge. Life is way too short to not take time to decompress.

ktekker
ktekker

Both my current job and my previous place of employment offered 3 different types of days off: vacation, sick, and personal. Personal days can be scheduled ahead of time if need be, or can be used in the morning to call off for the day. Uses for personal days are essentially unlimited: extend vacation, stay home and chill, doctor's appointments, sick child at home, snow day, etc... I worked for a few years at a place that lumped all days together as PTO (paid time off). You had one bank of x days, and could use all for vacation, all for sick, or all for personal, or any combination. I am satisfied with what I'm getting now - 10 days vacation, 5 personal days, and "unlimited" sick days. (We know that "unlimited" comes at a price, and execs will probably hold it against us for using more than 3 or so a year).

leon.croombs
leon.croombs

While I like the concept... I'm sure weekends are the perfect time to gather your thoughts or switch off your brain.

IT-b
IT-b

My company just adopted a plan where vacation & sick days are all in one bucket together. We are alloted a few more days per year total, but employees can choose to take all vacation, or save some for sick time. This stinks if you really have a lot of health issues, but we also have work from home opportunities, so many people just "work from home" when they're sick if they can. I don't know if it's the best plan - we're still new at it. But it's definitely flexible, and if I need a mental health day, I can just take it.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I would rather my employee just lump all days off together. We have people who take sick days, two or three in a row, and the employee is really on vacation. I am not a very sickly person, and so I have tons of sick time. When I used to do time for an office in Department of Defense, employees were split half-and-half, half of which had tons of sick days, half of which were at their last 8 hours each month. And I am not talking about sickly people - just people who thought the Fed Gov't owed them a mental health day every month or so. I recharge every once in a while - but I use vacation days to do so.

shalusays
shalusays

Hi Toni, There is nothing wrong to take these days and I think I am surely going to recommend this to my HR department:)

randolphyoung
randolphyoung

When I worked for the Port Of San Diego in 1998 we had it all under one title. Personal Days off. You could use it for anything you wanted. You were suppose to request it three days in avance but had some leeway. Worked real well.

dogknees
dogknees

Is just another part of health. Sick days are appropriate. Keeping them separate just perpetuates the idea that mental illness is somehow different to, or not as important as any other sort of illness.

ggriffin
ggriffin

"I would just spend a day alone at home, watching old movies and recharging my batteries. " That is a holiday (vacation). "recharging your batteries" is what your vacation allowance is for - up to you whether you'd rather take that in week plus chunks or the odd day, but it's all for the same purpose. Taking that as "sick" is what's known as skyving. Medical appointments I'd classify as sick days, but expect them to be scheduled to minimise impact on work (early/late, avoiding important meetings etc).

dboring
dboring

Here in California we are able to legally use sick days as mental health days. We are also allowed to use sick time for medical appointments as well as to care for a sick family member (child, spouse, etc.). My company actually lets us use 2 of our sick day allotment as "personal days" for taking care of personal business without burning vacation days.

daniel-jomara
daniel-jomara

Ms. Bowers (Can I call you Toni?), Mental health days would never fly here at the University of Iowa. It would be considered a benefit and, as a public worker, I have way too many of those, anyway (I hear). Lying is just too much stress for me. Ya can't leave the house. Ya can't go for a drive. Ya can't go to a movie. Ya can't do nuthin' for fear someone will see you out and about and healthy. Then they'll fire you! Vacation is my only option. But I agree, there should be three mental health days a year. Greetings from Iowa, Dan

drj201
drj201

Weekends don't cut it. There are other obligations that need to be done on weekends. The point is to recharge, and that can't happen if you're running around (either at work on a weekday or at home on a weekend). My company allows you to work from home on occasion. Any time I feel like I shouldn't be in the office infecting everyone, I use that option. Unless I'm so sick that I can't even get out of bed or I really can't focus on my work, I don't take sick days. Mental health days are an important part of regenerating between vacations. My company doesn't have mental health days officially, but they do have sick days. And we also have management that understands that people are not machines. They need a break every now and then, including mental breaks from routine. It's ok to use sick days as mental health days.

WishtobeIT
WishtobeIT

My sister's employer switched to lumping sick and vacation all together and you had to use most of it by 12/31 (not unless you had alot of time like she did and only a certain amount could carry over). To me, it does put the EMPLOYEE at a disadvantage because you never know when a health issue may come up. Plus, why should an employee use their hard-earned vacation IF they have a justified illness OR some sort of freak accident occurs that takes them off the docket for months? Thankfully, some employers have a sick bank and/or donated sick leave for those that--due to uncontrollable circumstances--burn out their leave.

al
al

I worked for a major company that lumped all the "days" into one pot. The only distinction between any of them was if they were scheduled at least 72 hours ahead of time (so they could have someone available to temporarily fill your slot or at least cover for you) or if you called in that morning sounding like "death-warmed-over". (In this way they could see trends, etc. in coverage requirements.) This worked great as you didn't have to "hide from the world" on those days you just couldn't drag yourself in. Of course any days in excess of the allotted were non-pay days. Too many of them and then you needed to talk to someone up the chain about what was going on. But that should be expected, in my opinion.