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When Amy Vale, a marketing executive in New York, takes ‘a mental health day’ to recharge her batteries, she doesn’t fake a sick day — but she also doesn’t share the reason for her day off with her bosses.

Bosses are realising that they have a completely drained workforce.

Many employees use a mental health day to take a short break from the office, but aren’t physically sick.

“There’s a perception that if you take a mental health day, either you’re playing hooky and there’s nothing really wrong, or you’re really struggling,” said Vale, 32.


Even though many workplaces now pay lip service to helping employees create a better work-life balance, some workers still find that simply asking for a personal day off is intimidating.  Many feel forced to share why they want time off with their managers and nobody wants to declare a personal day meant for mental health. And even when you’ve got a day off, making arrangements to recharge can be another hurdle.

But workplace experts increasingly promote mental health days for stressed-out employees. Unlike holiday or vacations that are often structured around reconnecting with family and friends, mental health days are typically spent solo. These one-off days away from the office can help you relax by distancing yourself from the stress and fuel new ideas once you’re back at your desk.

There’s a perception that if you take a mental health day, either you’re playing hooky and there’s nothing really wrong, or you’re really struggling. 

“A day of rest can result in two weeks of extra productivity,” says Michele Caron, a Toronto-based life coach. “When we get tired, we get sloppy and everything takes longer.”

Vale, for her part, typically spends these ‘me’ days near the beach and uses her downtime to disconnect from the internet and catch up on reading magazines. “The more I’m connected to my mobile device [everyday], the more important these days become a way for me to take a moment and reset.”

Plan ahead

On a personal level, taking a last-minute mental health day is less valuable because it makes it difficult to truly disconnect. Securing the date with colleagues and superiors means there’s less of a chance that you’ll be pulled into a work project or asked to weigh in on an urgent email, said Maggie Mistal, a New York-based executive career coach.

“You have to set expectations with the people around you,” said Mistal. “If you are trying to sneak out for a day, it doesn’t usually work.”

When asking to take the day off, some experts say a direct approach is best. While employees at larger companies can be less forthcoming about their plans for a day away from the office, it pays to be transparent about your need for day off in a smaller firm with a close-knit group. Explain that the day off is meant for you to recharge and refresh to be able to come back working smarter and fresher and you won’t be checking email.

 Rather than being spontaneous on the day, create a schedule ahead of time.

“Just say it with confidence,” said Caron, adding that some executives are even encouraging employees to take a break. “Bosses are realising that they have a completely drained workforce.”

Rather than being spontaneous on the day, create a schedule ahead of time. Choose an activity that’s different enough to help get you out of your daily routine and prevent you from being tempted to catch up on laundry. For some people that could mean getting outside or spending an afternoon at the movies, said Susan Begeman Steiner, a Zurich-based executive coach who guides senior managers at multinational corporations.

“Don’t just expect that you’ll sit around the house and find something to do,” she said. Planning meals can also help create a structure to the day, she added.

Unplugging for better results

When it comes to taking a day off to recharge, taking away the mental health label can help you rest easier asking for the time and using it, said Begeman Steiner who works with large pharmaceutical firms. Most European executives are not familiar with the idea of mental health days, which can confuse employees. Rather she recommends calling it an “unplug day” to help make it easier to discuss with superiors.


Writer, Stephen Fry supports several UK mental health charities. (Credit: Getty Images)

No matter your approach, experts suggest that employees make a big effort to disconnect entirely for their 24 hours away. If it is necessary to monitor emails even on the day of rest, do it sparingly. Otherwise, you physically   “take a day off, but don’t take a day off mentally”, said Caron. “[You] have a day off, but feel guilty at the same time.”

Rather than completely going off the grid, Vale puts her phone in “airplane mode” to disconnect both calls and data but checks for emails and voicemails several times throughout the workday. Knowing she can check her phone makes it easier to feel less stressed about missing work, she said.

Reaping the benefits

Once clients commit to taking one-off days, Begemen Steiner said the results are obvious in both increased productivity for the employee and the benefit of less-stressed employees for the entire company. Even with just one day away from the office, it’s easier to feel less pressure from deadlines once you return, she said.

“It’s a day that you’re helping other people by chilling out yourself,” Begemen Steiner said.

Also key: rather than waiting until you’re stressed out, create an annual mental health schedule. Mistral suggests planning a mental health day once every quarter or after wrapping up a big project. Choosing a time that’s less stressful at the office can make it easier to get away, of course. In general, it’s best to plan ahead for days of rest after an especially difficult period at work.

“You can say to yourself, ‘I give myself four guilt-free days this year’,” she said.

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