Kiwis need mental health leave – but how do you get your people to take it?

60% of employees are likely to work when sick rather than take leave

Kiwis need mental health leave – but how do you get your people to take it?

Employee wellbeing is now a big focus for employers, with dedicated mental health leave on the rise in the corporate world. But how do you ensure your people actually take it?

That we need to hit pause occasionally isn’t in question; a new Ministry of Health report shows adult psychological distress has increased, and an AUT survey earlier in the year revealed Kiwi workers are at risk of burnout compared to their international peers. And yet New Zealanders seem reluctant to take the time out they need.

“The Southern Cross Workplace Wellness Report (2021) found that 60% of employees are more likely to work from home when sick rather than take leave, so we know that people are choosing not to take leave for their physical or mental health,” Shaun Robinson, chief executive of Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, told HRD.

While you can’t force someone to take leave or seek out mental wellbeing tools, you can give them an encouraging nudge. Employers can make sure employees are aware of the local supports and services available to them, according to Robinson. “Examples include how to access their Employee Assistance Programme, key staff contacts they can talk to, or local health and wellbeing providers. If mental health leave is available, ensure that staff are aware of this and encourage them to use it.” 

An employee is also far more likely to access mental health support and hit pause when they need to if their workplace culture fosters open dialogue about wellbeing. This is also key for ensuring that individuals who are having a hard time don’t go under the radar, and for managers to recognise changes in behaviour, emotions thoughts or reactions, added Robinson.

“It's important that leaders clearly communicate the organisation’s wellbeing policies and objectives to staff, and model mentally healthy behaviours themselves. Employees will feel more comfortable to access the support available to them - and speak openly with their managers about their mental wellbeing - if the organisation has a positive and open approach to mental health.”

The increase in sick leave from five to 10 days earlier this year was a welcome move for employees. However, Robinson believes there is value in designating specific ‘mental health’ leave too.

“Offering designated mental health days can help to reduce the stigma by letting employees know that it’s okay to take time for their mental health.” 

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