Why you should allow staff to take a mental health sick day

In my role as online content editor for REBA I get to read all the comment that is submitted to go up on our blog. I have learnt lots from the thought leadership our Associate Members and Professional Members share. But am I normally moved enough to write my own piece as a result?

I have to admit: not often.


But today is one of those days and it's a simple one liner from a post coming up in our November spotlight from Sodexo which has really struck a personal chord with me.

In their blog the company's director of employee benefits James Malia says: "Let employees know that a mental health sick day is as important as a physical one".

It's such a simple concept but how many employers are progressive enough to allow it, and indeed encourage it? And how many of us as employees are brave enough to ask for it?

When I was 26 my mum died very suddenly from cancer. I literally had to do the mercy dash from my office to go home and she died a week later. Work colleagues were great, and were supportive over the coming months as I tried to deal with my loss.

But I was also working in a stressful role as a news reporter on a highly respected business title. Sometimes the stress of that, combined with the stress of losing my mum, was just too much. Did I phone in and say: "I'm really sorry but I just can't cope with life today. Do you mind if I stay home and I'll be back tomorrow"? 

No. I put on my best 'I feel a bit icky voice' and feigned a sickie, feeling awful for letting my colleagues down as a result (and frankly terrified that they would see through my little white lie and think me a bad person).

Did they see through my excuses and realise I simply wasn't coping very well? I don't know. They may have done but it was a bit of a taboo subject that people didn't really talk about.

I only ever did it a handful of times but how nice would it have been not to have felt guilty but to have simply had the courage to phone up and say "I'm really sorry but mentally I'm just feeling really fragile and just need a day to be kind to myself". 

So be brave employers and heed James' words of wisdom. Realise the importance of not just looking after your employees' physical health but their mental health too. If they need to take a sick day because today is a day that they simply can't cope, then allow them to. 

Liz Morrell is a freelance journalist, and online editor for REBA.

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