The concept of taking a “mental health day” is pretty widespread and becoming more and more accepted (it’s even legally protected, in most cases, as a totally acceptable reason to take a sick day). But being familiar with the concept isn’t the same as embracing it for your employees and even yourself. Do you ever take a mental health day when you need one? Do your employees tell you if they are taking one? It’s time to start a conversation about burnout in your office because once it hits, it gets really bad really quick. When you support your employee’s mental health, you’re creating a workspace where everyone will thrive, including you.
Case in point: A few years back, a woman in Michigan named Madalyn Parker 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 and support our work family.
And don’t think that just because you’re the boss that you don’t have the right to take a mental health day when you need it. 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. And if you work for yourself, there’s still a huge value in allowing yourself a day to refuel. 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. 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 U.S. 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 are not. Even if you’re open to the idea, your employees might not be comfortable talking about their mental health or burnout at work. So why not start the conversation? Remind employees that they are allowed to use sick days for their mental health care. Lead by example and take one for yourself. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next “Boss of the Year” to break the internet.
A version of this article was originally published on Thrive.