A recent article in the Chicago Tribune related the story of how a leader provided a strong affirmation to one of his employees who was taking a day off to “focus on my mental health“.
This was interesting because the leader was lauded by many for being supportive when one of his staff informed everyone via email of the reason for her absence from work for a few days. He was quoted as saying that he uses such an example “as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health and that you are an example to us all, and help us cut through the stigma”.
Even Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO, commented that “We need more leaders who encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work”.
Encouraging an employee in such an open way saw the leader be widely acknowledged for what seems like a simple kindness. But just as it is rare for an employee to admit they need a mental health day, it is more unusual for a boss to comment on it openly. This is despite the fact that up to 20% of employees say their jobs are harder to handle than in the past and that creates worries and anxiety.
Employees Are Stretched and Stressed
A recent study showed that employees take only 77% of their vacation days, leaving over 500 million days forfeited, amounting to about $52.4 billion in lost benefits. If people are stretched and stressed in this manner, it’s no wonder few people raise their hand and ask for a day or two to recharge their batteries so they can come back to work refreshed and more productive.
Many employees may not even get sick days and, like the reasons for the lack of use of vacation days, they’re worried about the pile of work they will have to attend to upon return or the pressures to perform just to be able to retain their job.
All of these concerns can cause people to suffer silently, but the impact on their productivity can be profound.
When someone is running a high fever, or has a bad cold, it’s in everybody’s best interest for them to take the time not only to heal but not to potentially infect others that they interact with. You can see sniffles and hear coughs, but you can’t see the dark cloud that lingers around people who are depressed or anxious.
A Culture of Organizational Trust
In every work situation, there are those who will take advantage of any system and that might be one of the reasons that folks are not encouraged to use their sick days in a more flexible manner. It’s also much harder to tell when somebody is over their case of the “blues” or just worn out than if they are over the cold or the flu. I think this is why, for those who do have sick days, they may have less flexibility in how to use them.
More enlightened companies combine vacation and “flex days” and encourage their employees to use them as they see fit. That reflects a culture of organizational trust that simply doesn’t exist in many organizations.
As a leader or an employee, ask yourself:
- Do I have the awareness (and courage) to recognize that I may be overwhelmed and need some time to relax and regroup?
- Have I established good relationships with coworkers or team members that you are comfortable that you have the backup and support to attend to your own needs?
- Do you work in an organization that trusts you to make choices that are good for you and the organization, no matter what the reason?
Here’s hoping that you can stay in touch with your needs which should be just important as the needs of the organization that you serve.