Should Mental-Health Days Be Company Policy?
Yes Cassey Chambers Operations director at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)
Wouldn’t it be nice if mental health was taken as seriously as other health conditions? Most companies have special policies to assist employees with potential health problems – but how many companies have workplace policies to help employees who suffer from depression or anxiety?
Mental health in the workplace is still very stigmatised. A 2017 SADAG survey found that 69% of employees had received negative responses from their managers when disclosing their mental-health issues. As a result, many employees are reluctant to disclose their status out of fear of being discriminated against.
We know that depression has an effect on cognitive abilities such as concentration levels, decision-making and multitasking skills. So while an employee with depression might be at work, they are not necessarily able to perform optimally.
Because of increased pressure in the workplace, people are working harder to ensure job security, and stress can cause employees to take more sick days. Yet the concept of a mental-health day is almost unheard of in South Africa.
Stress can worsen anxiety and depression, and may lead to suicidal thoughts. If more employers adopted a mentalhealth policy that encouraged employees to take time off, it could lead to more productive working environments and better job satisfaction.
Bottom line? Mental health should matter – even in the workplace.
No Natasha Marillier HR officer at Associated Media Publishing
The intention of mental-health days is to ensure that employees’ wellbeing is looked after. The efforts, however noble, are slightly off the mark, though. Simply providing time off can be useful in coping with stress, but it presents a passive approach that treats the symptoms and not the cause.
A responsible employer should ask the difficult questions – such as, ‘What are the major factors leading to mental exhaustion?’ – and consider how much is being done to prevent these factors at work.
Recognising an employee as a holistic person and not just a resource requires the understanding that one’s mental health could be adversely affected by influences inside and outside of the work environment. It’s the employer’s responsibility to help address this and provide support.
An employer can offer support through counselling, introducing support animals in the office, or the option to take your lunch break however and whenever you need it.
Creating a positive office space is key. As an employer, you can introduce moodenhancing decor such as green, oxygen-producing plants; encourage bite-sized breaks throughout the day to step out of the office; and create meditation pods for time-outs. Simple steps such as these can have a game-changing impact on employees’ mental health, improving overall productivity.
I believe that creating an accommodating, stress-free and positive workplace is far more beneficial than simply offering mental-health days – which do little to help create a healthy work space, where you spend the majority of your time. ■