When working any job, employees are entitled to sick leaves. Since the term is relatively generic, most companies have been granting these leaves for employees who are not feeling well on a physical level only. And even though the brain is a physical organ, rarely do companies give any mental health days for employees who are in need of it. The same way any person might have some kind of physical pain, such as stomach ache, they are also prone to having some “bad” mental health days. And therefore, it is instrumental that companies start integrating mental health leave days into their systems.
“I pray for the day where we won’t have to call it “mental” and “physical” health and we can call it “health.”” - Dr. Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist
Many employees take sick leaves for physical reasons when in reality they are taking it to take care of their mental health. And the reason many are still not open about mental health is because there is still so much stigma and taboo surrounding it. The society still perceives it as a sign of weakness, and this might potentially make employees afraid of talking about it. However, just because employees do not openly talk about it, it does not mean it doesn’t exist. As an employer or leader, it is imperative that you create a safe space for everyone at the company to be able to talk about their mental health. By creating conversation around it and supporting it, you're not just helping improve your work environment, but you are also demonstrating the quality of a real leader.
Now that we have established the importance of talking about mental health, let us dig deep into what mental health leave days really are.
We all go through difficult times and feel like we need a break, and mental health leave days are instrumental to help employees take a step back and readjust. However, mental health leave days are also essential for people suffering from mental illness in which they might need to take some time off to take care of their mental wellbeing and work through it. A work environment that does not support and encourage mental wellbeing might potentially impact its employees mental health negatively. And this does not only affect the employees’ productivity at work, but it can also impact the overall wellbeing of employees. Granting employees mental health leave days is necessary for their mental and emotional wellbeing today more than ever, especially with the negative impact the pandemic has had on our mental health. According to a survey of 1000 employees in the US, UK, UAE and Singapore, 51.7% of employees diagnosed with a mental illness say they lied about the reason for the day off and 47.1% of employees do not take days off if they are suffering from stress. These numbers are alarming and point to the fact that the employee-employer relationship still lacks transparency and trust when it comes to mental health. Therefore, normalizing the conversation and using mental health leave days can be a great start to show support and create an environment that fosters mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
The good news is that some countries already have mental health leave days as part of their policies:
With its open attitude towards mental health, employees in New Zealand might find it easier to bring up mental health leaves in a country that openly speaks up about it. According to an official platform, it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure their employees are in good health and stress-free. In case stress amounts to an illness, employees are entitled to a sick leave. However, if an employee feels like they need more leave for their stress or any mental health issue then they should negotiate it with their employer, as it is not a legal right.
Netherlands is also another country that believes in the importance of their employees’ mental health. Employees there can also take up to two years and still get 70% of their salaries.
In Germany, anyone is entitled for a sick leave regardless of whether they are facing physical or mental issues.
While many companies are actively working toward providing their employees with access to mental health tools during the pandemic, it is important that more is done in this area. It is the company’s responsibility to ensure a safe environment for all employees in terms of both physical and mental health. Integrating mental health leave days into a company’s rulebook is only the first step, and hopefully one day there will no longer be a need to distinguish between sick leaves and mental health leave days, and instead just have sick leaves that encompasses both.
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