Traditionally, employee benefits have meant 401K plans, health/life insurance, paid time off, etc., then the “cool companies” added perks like on-site childcare, break rooms with ping pong tables, and flexible time. A recent TalentLMS and BambooHR survey found that a whopping 82% of Gen Z employees want mental health on-duty days—a concept that may not have appeared on an HR executive’s radar a decade ago.
The October 2018 American Psychological Association report “Stress in America Generation Z” finds that “Gen Z are significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor, with 27 percent saying they do.” Fortunately, the report also suggests that stigma around discussing mental health issues and seeking help has decreased. Overall, the younger generations are significantly more likely to receive or have had treatment or therapy from a psychologist or other mental health professional, with more than a third of both Gen Z (37 percent) and millennials ( 35 percent) say they receive such assistance,” the report finds. In addition to “mental health days,” the survey finds that more than half of respondents also want to receive mental health education.
Consistent with the desire for mental health days, respondents cited “burnout/imbalance work-life balance” as the #2 reason Gen Zers would quit their jobs – surpassed only by the top response “unsatisfactory salary.” Another stressor could be the lack of face-to-face interaction during this long period of remote work that is causing a pandemic. “When it comes to the workplace, 7 in 10 Gen Zs think it’s important to have face-to-face contact with their colleagues, while 59% feel the same way about virtual socialization,” the report concludes. Indeed, today’s professionals have not had the benefit of traditional business orientation sessions, team building events and professional conference networks which are vital for beginners looking to learn the ropes and build their professional networks. In fact, 44% of respondents reported that working remotely can make them feel lonely and disconnected. “For a large proportion of entry-level workers who entered the job market after March 2020, working remotely is all they know. It may be one of the reasons that 73% of Gen Zs report feeling alone sometimes or all the time,” the report states.
Younger workers are indeed stressed and they want their workplace to support their entire being, including their mental health. So, what do “mental health days” look like in practice?
“These are days specifically focused on stress relief and burnout prevention,” explains this Monster.com article. “While one or two days off won’t solve the serious underlying issues, they can still provide workers with that much-needed break to pause, recharge, and come back with a fresh new perspective.” While “mental health days” can be classified as additional time outside of 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 their operations across the board, giving everyone a break in their mental health at a company-specified time. (The latter approach can be particularly helpful in providing breaks for employees who would otherwise not be taking time off alone.)
In April 2021, LinkedIn released a paid week (regarded as RestUp! Week) across the company reportedly to prevent burnout and give everyone an opportunity to rest and recharge amid the ongoing pandemic. Beyond the RestUp! Week, the company also implemented an initiative called LiftUp! designed to support worker well-being. Bumble and Hootsuite have similarly shut down to give employees a paid week off.
Director of People Operations at Epignosis, Christina Gialleli, explains that a mental health day should be more than just a day off. “A mental health day is a chance to give employees a day to relax, decompress, take care of themselves, and not deal with major sources of stress or frustration associated with work,” she explains. . “Before taking a mental health day, employees should think and ask, ‘What do I need most to relieve my stress?’ Whether that’s taking a walk, spending time with loved ones, reading a book, or just staying home and watching movies, it should include activities that help employees feel grounded and in control.”
While mental health days clearly provide tangible, immediate benefits to individual employees, they can arguably also boost organizational morale and long-term productivity. The recognition and implementation of these types of benefits also serves to further destigmatize mental health in the workplace. It is clear that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has created significant levels of stress and burnout, forcing workplaces to prioritize mental health support and education as they have not done before. Mental health days may be just a simple manifestation of this broader shift.