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Blue @ Work

The importance of providing mental health days

They're a valid reason to stay home.

In 2017, Madalyn Parker — then employed at an IT company called Olark — sent an email to her colleagues letting them know she was taking a few days off to focus on her mental health. “Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%,” she wrote.

Her boss and Olark CEO Ben Congleton, replied to personally thank her for being so candid and honest. “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work,” he wrote. Madalyn posted their exchange on Twitter External Site and it quickly went viral, prompting discussion about how more companies should take their employees’ mental health seriously.

Here’s our take.

What's the problem with mental illness?

Mental illness isn’t going away, and ignoring it is going to cost you. Let’s say you employ 50 people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health External Site, around 10 of them — one-fifth of your workforce — suffer from a diagnosable mental illness like anxiety and depression. A recent Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® External Site shows that six of the top-10 conditions affecting millennials, who are forecasted to represent half of the workforce by 2020, are related to behavioral health.

Just like other chronic illnesses, mental illness directly impacts your company with reduced productivity, increased health care costs, and reduced attendance at work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention External Site, depression alone is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year — costing U.S. employers anywhere from $17 to $44 billion. Plus, employees who stay at work when they’re not fully productive — also known as presenteeism — cost you nearly double External Site what they would if they had simply stayed home.

Thankfully, the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to go away. Employees with mental illness used to suffer in silence or make up excuses for taking a sick day. Now, more people feel comfortable speaking out about their needs, but there’s always more that employers can do to support them. If you’re already providing other wellness resources to your employees, like on-site health screenings, programs to help them quit smoking, workout facilities or reimbursement for gym memberships, it’s time to get on board with mental health days.

What solutions are available to address mental health in the workplace?

While there isn’t just one thing you can do to completely alleviate the impact of mental illness in your workplace, openly accepting the use of sick days or paid-time off for mental health reasons Opens in a new window is a good start. Just like your employees are allowed or encouraged to stay home when they’re feeling physically under the weather, they should be able to take a day or two to deal with and recover from stress, work-related burnout, or more serious issues like chronic anxiety and depression.

Mental health days, at the very least, make your employees feel valued. Some might use them to unplug from the high-stress environment of constant emails and phone calls at their desk. Others use the time off to take care of stressful personal responsibilities, like managing or establishing their budget, dealing with home repairs, or caring for an ailing family member.

Did you know?

Sixty percent of individuals aren't receiving the treatment they need for mental health? When you add Doctor on Demand® mental health options Opens in a new window as a part of your medical benefits, your employees can connect with a licensed therapist — or psychiatrist for more complex issues — to listen and help them find the solutions. All information is confidential, and your employees can enjoy this from the comfort of their home.

Three benefits of mental health days

By taking time to focus on their mental health, your employees will be able to come back to work with renewed energy — making them more productive upon their return than if they’d continued to work with little to no motivation. Here are a few things to consider when adjusting your sick leave or paid-time off policy to accommodate mental health days:

  1. Facilitate open conversations about mental health. Let your employees know that you support them and their needs, no matter what they are. Provide resources and education about mental health awareness on your company intranet, and communicate any updates or changes to your leave policy with employees.
  2. Adopt a no-questions-asked policy. Mental health days come in all shapes and sizes. Whether your employees ask for a day or two off, block off an hour or two for a therapy appointment, call in with little to no notice, or need to leave work unexpectedly, show support by first asking if they’re OK — and then allow the time off with no other questions. If you feel like an employee might be taking advantage of the policy, evaluate their performance first and meet with them about your concerns separately.
  3. Follow up with your employees after time off. Though your employees may not want to discuss their reasons for taking a mental health day, you can check in with them while still respecting their privacy. Ask them if they’re feeling rested and back to 100 percent, or if they would like any additional support — such as a temporarily lighter workload, especially if their stress is work-related. Even if they don’t, they’ll likely appreciate the thoughtfulness.

In addition to adopting a policy for mental health days, you can follow these tips to help end the stigma surrounding mental health in your workplace.

How can you end the mental health stigma?

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield is committed to creating an environment in your workplace that promotes healthy behaviors. Through our employer consulting and well-being services, we look beyond your employees' claims and provide a variety of evidence-based programs that address the six elements of well-being: social, emotional, physical, community, financial and career.

Our services can provide you with tools and resources to help you create a desired workplace culture that:

  1. Aligns health and well-being to your organization's overall mission and vision.
  2. Expands on the definition of traditional physical wellness to include the six elements of well-being.
  3. Emphasized engagement over participation.

If you think your workplace could benefit from these programs, contact your authorized Wellmark account representative to get started, or email us at blueatwork@wellmark.com Send Email.

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