Why leaders should take a 'mental health day'

Employees are constantly urged to take a break amidst a stressful year — are leaders doing the same?

Why leaders should take a 'mental health day'

The world is currently facing a mental health crisis, said the World Health Organisation (WHO). Even people without prior conditions are struggling to cope with the debilitating impact of a pandemic.

New waves of the virus, a deep economic recession, and continued feelings of isolation are hitting the best of us. While companies are rolling out well-being policies for their employees, as well as encouraging staff to take a break, are leaders doing the same to take care of themselves?

Read more: Why COVID-19 is aggravating leadership burnout

World Mental Health Awareness Day falls on October 10 this year. In the spirit of this, HRD reached out to Brendan O’Keefe, mental health advocate and founder of I am Taking a Mental Health Day, to get some crucial insights.

HRD: There are plenty of tips floating around encouraging employees to take a ‘mental health day’. How can leaders do the same and take a mental health day?

BO: Knowing when and how to take a mental health day is all about self-awareness and giving yourself permission to do what is required to invest in your mental well-being.

One key way that leaders can make it easy for them to take either self-care or mental health days is to set up a team of people you can trust and empower them to make the decisions to keep the organisation on track.

Plan ahead so that you and your team are confident that time out for mental health wont negatively affect the work you do or the requirements of the organisation in the short term.

Do all you can to reduce stigma about taking these kinds of days while incorporating strategies to ensure that when you or your employees take days off, there is a structure in place to support the absences.

Schedule time in advance if you can. Make your mental well-being a business priority and mirror this throughout your organisation.

Let people know you need time-out and ask for their understanding and support, and be sure to build into your organisational culture the freedom to speak freely about mental health in the workplace.

Read more: Mental health: How to lead by example

HRD: Why should leaders take a mental health day, as opposed to a normal day off? Is there a difference between the two?

BO: In this day and age, we should be able to speak the truth and let people know we need a mental health day. Its not really about calling it a mental health day, its about being okay with showing vulnerability at work without fear of judgement or stigma, and knowing we will be supported.

Whether we’re struggling to cope, burnt out, or developing a mental illness, we should be able to disclose without fear of judgement or stigma.

Both sick days and mental health days are about illness or being unwell, but we simply shouldnt have to lie about what is going on with our health or mental health. This does no one a service, and it simply perpetuates lies, guilt, shame and stigma.

Being vulnerable to what life can deal us is not a sign of weakness, it is a strength to be self aware enough to recognise the need for self-care. This proactive approach can positively impact our well-being in the longer term and make us a better person, better employee and create a stronger, more trusting team.

Leaders should decide if they want to set the tone, and let their team or organisation know that it is okay to state the truth and ask for support.

Mentally healthy workplaces are spaces where employees at all levels feel psychologically safe, and not have to lie when asking for the leave that they need to look after their well-being.

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