Why employers should prioritise mental health days for workers

A manager sitting at a desk and talking with his employees  during a meeting at the office.
Employers must understand how important mental health is and keep employees' wellbeing at top of mind. (Getty Images)

Employers are starting to get a bigger picture of how poor mental health impacts the work performance and productivity of their employees, and it’s time to pay attention to the shifting landscape.

Recent research showed that young Britons are losing at least one day of work a week because of mental health problems, leading to a “productivity crisis”.

In January, analysis by Vitality found that only six days are taken off formally as sick days, but people who are struggling with their mental health are unable to concentrate or perform to the best of their ability when they do go to work because of stress, burnout, and insomnia.

People under the age of 30 - most of whom are Generation Z - were significantly more likely to report being unproductive at work. Vitality surveyed 4,000 staff and their employers to determine how much absence and presenteeism affects the amount of time people actually work.

‘Mental health days’ were introduced fairly recently to accommodate workers who need to take time to care for their mental wellbeing. This type of day off gives employees the chance to use their sick leave to address their emotional and mental health needs.

In fact, mental health has become one of the biggest reasons for sick days. According to research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), the main reasons for sick days were minor illnesses, followed by musculoskeletal injuries and poor mental health.


Why should ‘mental health days’ be important to employers?

Although mental health days are not a legal requirement for employers to provide, some may choose to offer them as a contractual benefit. In some cases, they are called ‘personal days’.

According to Dr George Sik, chartered psychologist and director of assessment at workplace experts eras, employers should prioritise the mental health of their employees for a myriad of reasons.

For starters, it helps to attract top talent to the company as 87% of Gen Z workers consider mental health benefits important when they are evaluating a job offer.

Workers whose mental health is well-taken care of can also be more productive. "Studies have shown a direct correlation between employee wellbeing and company performance," Dr Sik said.

"Mental health days help prevent burnout and reduce the impact of stress on work performance."

Offering these benefits also helps to reduce stigma and contribute to an open and inclusive work environment where employees feel comfortable seeking support when they need it.

Lastly, it can help reduce absenteeism, which is a pattern of absence without reason. "By addressing mental health concerns proactively, businesses can potentially reduce absenteeism related to stress or burnout, leading to a more consistent and reliable workforce."

How can companies adapt?

Businesswoman shaking hands to close a deal with clients in the office
Offering mental health days to employees can make for a happier, healthier workforce. (Getty Images)

To help companies cope with the changing needs of employees and offer the best conditions to attract the best people, Dr Sik provided his top four tips to employers.

Offer flexible work

"Offering flexible work schedules, remote work options, and paid time off for mental health can empower employees to manage their well-being proactively."

Encourage supportive culture

"Building a supportive company culture involves creating an environment where employees feel safe taking mental health days without facing judgement or hindering their career."

Provide mental health resources

"Offer mental health resources such as counselling services, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and online mental health platforms."

Regularly evaluate policies

"Assess and adjust mental health policies and initiatives based on employee feedback and evolving best practices."

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