The concept of taking a “mental health day” is pretty widespread, and becoming more and more accepted, but most employees still just call out sick. Nicole Lapin, author of Becoming Super Woman, shares why you should talk about mental health at work.
Until I took my first mental health day, I bought into the stigma that they are "just an excuse" to skip work. I was launching a company and working full-steam ahead, running myself down as a result. When I finally took a much-needed day off, I realized what I’d been missing: my cadence, or a greater sense of my internal rhythm. I ultimately went back to work feeling rejuvenated.
Being familiar with the concept of a mental health day isn’t the same as embracing it for yourself. Do you ever take a mental health day when you need one? And, if you do, do you tell others that’s what it is? You should!
Case in point: A few years back, a woman in Michigan named Madalyn emailed her boss and coworkers saying, “Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully, I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.” The CEO of the company (granted, it was a small company, but still) wrote her back: “Hey Madalyn, I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health—I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”
Madalyn shared the exchange on social media and broke the internet, with people thanking her for being unapologetic and honest about using her personal time for mental health and calling her company’s CEO the “Boss of the Year.” Hey, I agree. Ben Congleton, you get my vote. But the internet explosion only highlighted the need for more of us to be brave enough to advocate for ourselves.
You don’t have to be a lawyer or consultant to think of yourself as having billable hours. Remember, the personal/vacation days that you take or leave on the table are all part of your overall compensation package. Use this simple equation to figure out just how valuable those mental health days are: Your annual salary / Total hours worked = Your hourly wage. Notice that the more of your hard-earned days off that you actually take off, the higher that hourly wage climbs.
Ignoring your mental health can be costly for yourself and your career; look at taking a day off when needed as an investment in both. And, if you’re a manager, empower those who work with or under you to take the time they need, too. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and Hewlett-Packard, is one of a growing number of executives who are reminding companies of the importance of providing mental health days, extended insurance coverage for mental health, and more open forums to talk about issues. And that’s not just because she’s a good person; it’s good business. Depression alone, whether situational or chronic, costs US companies an estimated $210 billion a year—yes, BILLION, with a big “B”—half of which is in workplace costs, including missed days and reduced productivity and performance.
While all bosses should follow Meg’s lead and be open to their employees taking mental health days, I am well aware that many of them are not. The key to asking for a day off is to not be wishy-washy or embarrassed about it. Be assertive about what you need. If you know that asking for a “mental health day” won’t go over well, don’t fake a cold or lie. Instead, go with “personal reasons.” And leave it at that. Your employer cannot ethically or even legally ask for more information.
Remember: Good health is not just physical, it’s also mental. And if you are not in tip-top mental shape, you are about as effective as you would be if you had the flu. If you can, take a mental health day when you need it. Your brain will benefit from the new perspective, and your colleagues will appreciate not being exposed to any bad vibes. I know I would. It’s your time to take, so take it. And set the tone for others around you to do the same.
Nicole Lapin is the New York Times Bestselling author of Rich Bitch and Boss Bitch. She is the host of the nationally syndicated business reality competition show, “Hatched.” She has been an anchor on CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg. Her new book, Becoming Super Woman, is out now.
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