Traditionally, employee benefits have meant 401K plans, health/life insurance, paid time off, etc., then the “cool companies” added perks like on-site day care, break rooms with ping pong tables and flextime. A recent TalentLMS and BambooHR survey found that a whopping 82% of employed Gen Z employees want mental health days—a concept that may not have shown up on an HR manager’s radar just a decade ago.
The October 2018 American Psychological Association report “Stress in America Generation Z” finds that “Gen Z is significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor, with 27 percent saying this is the case.” Thankfully, the report also suggests that stigmas around discussing mental health challenges and seeking help have diminished. “Overall, the younger generations are significantly more likely to receive or have received treatment or therapy from a psychologist or other mental health professional, with more than one-third of both Gen Z (37 percent) and Millennials (35 percent) reporting they have received such help,” the report finds. Beyond “mental health days,” the survey finds that more than half of respondents want to receive mental health training as well.
Consistent with the desire for mental health days, survey respondents listed “burnout/lack of work-life balance” as the #2 reason why Gen Zers would quit their job—surpassed only by the top response “unsatisfactory salary.” Another stressor could be the lack of face to face interaction during this extended time of pandemic-induce remote working. “When it comes to the workplace, 7 in 10 Gen Zs find it important to have in-person socialization with their colleagues, while 59% feel the same for virtual socialization,” the report concludes. Indeed, today’s early career professionals haven’t had the benefit of traditional company orientation sessions, team building events and professional conference networking that are critical for novices trying to learn the ropes and build their professional networks. In fact, 44% of respondents reported that remote work can make them feel lonely and disconnected. “For a big chunk of entry-level employees who entered the workforce after March 2020, remote work is all they know. It can be one of the reasons that 73% of Gen Zs report feeling alone sometimes or always,” the report asserts.
Indeed, younger workers are stressed, and they want their workplaces to support their full being, including their mental health. So, what do “mental health days” look like in practice?
“These are days that are specifically geared towards stress relief and burnout prevention,” this Monster.com article explains. “While one or two days off will not solve severe underlying issues, they can still offer workers with that much needed break to pause, recharge, and come back with a fresh new perspective.” While “mental health days” can be designated as additional time away beyond earned vacation time, some organizations choose to encourage mental health breaks by requiring employees to take all available vacation days each year. Other companies have closed operations across the board giving everyone a mental health break at a company determined time. (This latter approach can be particularly helpful providing breaks for employees who may not otherwise take the time off on their own.)
In April 2021 LinkedIn gave the entire company a paid week off (deemed RestUp! Week) reportedly to prevent burnout and provide an opportunity for everyone to rest and recharge amid the ongoing pandemic. Beyond the RestUp! Week, the company also implemented an initiative called LiftUp! designed to support employee well being. Bumble and Hootsuite have similarly shut down operations to provide employees a paid week off.
Director of People Operations at Epignosis, Christina Gialleli explains that a mental health day should in fact be more than just another day off. “A mental health day is an opportunity to give employees a day to relax, decompress, take care of themselves and not engage with major sources of stress or frustration that relate to work,” she explains. “Before taking a mental health day, employees should reflect and ask, ‘What do I need most to relieve my stress?’ Whether that be going on a hike, spending time with loved ones, reading a book or simply staying home and watching movies, it should involve activities that make employees feel grounded and in control.”
While mental health days clearly offer individual employees tangible, immediate benefit, arguably they may also boost organizational morale and long term productivity. The acknowledgment and implementation of these types of benefits also serves to further destigmatize mental health in the workplace. Clearly, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has created significant levels of stress and burnout forcing workplaces to prioritize mental health support and education as they’ve not done so previously. Mental health days may be just one simple manifestation of this broader shift.