Workplace wellbeing is becoming a far more important consideration for employers. But can the phenomenon be tackled through wellbeing days?
If there’s one thing the current push towards better workplace wellbeing should achieve, it’s the end of stress and overwork as a virtue.
For too long, working long hours, taking lunch at your desk, and forgoing breaks have been regarded as something worth celebrating. This can cause serious problems: research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests that a heavy workload is the cause of 44% of workplace stress and anxiety, with a lack of support causing a further 14%.
Received wisdom tells us the more people work, the more work they get done. A glance at the Germans, who work fewer hours but are considerably more productive than British workers, should expose that particular myth.
With that in mind, how can employers encourage their staff to take more breaks and work less in order to improve their wellbeing and therefore, their productivity?
What’s the prescription?
To remedy the problem, firms could turn to “wellbeing days” – designated time off for employees to take care of their mental and physical health. These can be requested by the employee.
Not only does this improve employee wellness by promoting time to relax away from the office, but it accepts that stress, anxiety, and depression deserve the same attention given to physical ailments. Indeed, it acknowledges that wellbeing requires its own special remedies.
How do you make it work?
The obvious issue with this idea is that giving employees more days off means they work less. As stated above, the evidence consistently suggests that people are more productive in shorter work weeks, so taking days off for mental wellbeing might improve health and performance.
A good example is the Australian firm Lendlease, which found worker productivity actually increased when they began offering one wellbeing day per quarter. This extra flexibility improved employee health and wellbeing, prevented sickness leave, and improved retention and engagement, making it an enormous success and an easy win for the company.
Another question is whether employers should require their employees to use these days to seek out professional help and guidance, something they can prove they have done. It may be easier to trust employees to use these days as they see best, regardless of whether that means attending a therapy session or simply relaxing.
So what’s the catch?
Wellbeing days only have the same downsides as any other kind of sick day, with the same potential for abuse. However, as mental ill-health is often ‘invisible’, it’s hard to become too prescriptive when approving or rejecting requests for time off.
Communication and education are, as always, key. Employees, as well as employers, should understand their responsibilities, taking leave only when necessary and trying as best as possible not to negatively impact the rest of their team.
But they should also understand that wellbeing days are legitimate and that a team member is acting well within their rights if they choose to take potentially disruptive time off. Health comes first, physical or mental.
What are your thoughts on wellbeing days? Perhaps you have taken one yourself in the past? If so, tell us more in the comments below.