Behavioral Science

Will You Let Employees Take Mental Health Days?

by . October 9th, 2015

Our scientific understanding of mental health issues has grown a staggering amount in just a few generations. The contemporary workplace however, seems to have an understanding outdated by decades. This problem is exacerbated in countries with an underdeveloped health care systems.

In much of the developed world “mental health days” are days where employees do not come to work and take sick days not related to physical illness.

The concept is totally alien not just to business owners and managers outside postindustrial nations, but many within those as well. Many people flat out do not believe that mental illnesses are as serious as they actually are, even if they themselves suffer directly from them.

There is also a stigma surrounding mental health. This leads to affected employees hiding their condition as many employers and managers might be unwilling to hire them or put them in positions of responsibility, even if their condition is treatable.

But regardless of how real it is for managers, businesses that do not recognize the importance of mental health issues will feel their effects regardless. Studies show about a third of American employees have faked an illness in order to get a day off work due to mental and emotional stress.

Why would they have to fake it? A survey done by AXA PPP Healthcare of 1,000 senior business managers, managing directors, chief executives and owners and 1,000 employees and found that 69 per cent of bosses did not believe mental illness warranted time off work — even as a quarter of managers they themselves suffered from mental illness at some point. There’s also a justified fear associated with sharing mental health issues at work, where a legal recognition of these issues may not directly be of help.

In essence millions, if not billions of people feel compelled to lie in order to find a little breathing space, because they rightly feel most people wouldn’t “get it”– not even those who admit to having the same issues.

It important to recognize that so long as there are days off, employees will take days off for mental health. It’s also critical that employers take a closer look at patterns in general employee behavior that may be causing them avoidable stress and to act accordingly to remove those triggers.

The World Health Organization considers it to be such a problem that for the past few years, it’s held a World Mental Health Day, every 10th of October to help raise awareness of mental health issues.

It’s clear that in and out of work, we are all stakeholders in mental health issues. Most of us will feel periods of psychological distress that will require days off — and then some. For a comparatively small, though still significant number of us, these issues will be for life. Even the healthiest of us will still feel the effects through the actions of our coworkers, bosses, and subordinates.

Left unrecognized, an employee’s mental health issues will inevitably snowball. And if you aren’t worried at all about the physical toll this normally entails, then perhaps you should consider the loss in productivity. There’s no other way going about it. All things being equal, sick workers will always produce less, whether they are sick physically or mentally.

photo credit: Brain Anatomy Hoop Art. Hand Embroidered Wall Decor via photopin (license)
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Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.