Business Insurance

The Pros and Cons of Offering Mental Health Day

February 20, 2024

Employee stress has reached record highs. Nearly 60% of employees say they are burned out, reports the management software company The World Health Organization estimates depression and anxiety cost employers $1 trillion a year globally.

It’s little wonder mental health is a top priority for employers across industries. In recent years, more organizations have been implementing mental health days. This benefit lets employees take time off to rest, restore and address mental health issues.

A mental health day can be paid or unpaid, rolled into vacation or sick time, or granted as a separate benefit. The goal is to empower employees to address their mental health. The desired result is for employees to feel more energized and engaged at work and at home.

Mental health days have their advocates and critics. Let’s examine the pros and cons, as well as strategies for implementation.


Granting mental health days acknowledges the work and life pressures facing your employees. This benefit can normalize mental health challenges and jump-start conversations about mental health in the workplace. It can also get leaders to examine your organization’s broader mental health resources and strategies.

Employees who use mental health days report improvements in stress and productivity, reports Forbes. The flexible nature of this benefit lets employees decide when and how to use their mental health days. They may decide to rest in bed, connect with friends or family, volunteer for a charitable cause, pursue a hobby, or read for personal or professional growth.

Addressing mental health proactively through time off can reduce long-term illnesses and absences, according to Business News Daily. It also formalizes a long-standing but hidden practice. Mental health days have been around as long as there have been sick days. Forbes reports 95% of employees who have used sick time to deal with mental stress told their employers it was due to a physical ailment such as a stomachache or headache.

Adding mental health days to your benefit offerings demonstrates you care about your employees’ well-being. It can increase job satisfaction, engagement and retention, according to the law firm Dentons. Enhanced employee wellness also boosts long-term productivity.


Mental health days can also come with challenges. Providing extra days off presents an immediate expense. Even if you offer unpaid mental health days, you’ll still have scheduling and productivity costs.

Furthermore, companies have seen some employees underutilize mental health days, while other employees overutilize them. This imbalance can create resentment and negatively impact workplace culture.

Office culture itself can negate the benefits of mental health days. Employees often avoid using them for fear of judgment or repercussions. Less than 30% of employees would talk to their manager about mental health challenges. And just 25% would speak to HR, reports Forbes.

Employees don’t want to be viewed as less committed. And they don’t want to be passed over for bonuses, raises or promotions. If your culture doesn’t support the use of mental health days, offering them could harm your culture or exacerbate mental health challenges.

Mental health days may be an inadequate solution for more significant issues at work or at home. For example, if you have a toxic office environment or unmanageable workloads, or your employees need counseling, medication or mental health treatment, offering mental health days could backfire. Employees may get upset if they feel like mental health days don’t address the root cause of their stress or aren’t part of a broader strategy to improve workplace mental health.

Even when employees use them, mental health days may be too little, too late. Employees often take mental health days as a reactionary measure when they’re already suffering symptoms of more significant issues. Critics note a single day of rest won’t cure long-term challenges of stress, anxiety or burnout.

And the effects of mental health days tend to be short-lived. According to Forbes, 66% of employees say the benefits of mental health days wear off after a few days.

Strategies to make the most of mental health days

Proper implementation, communication and support can mitigate many of these challenges. Use the following strategies to enhance your approach.

Define mental health days for your organization. The service provider Complete Payroll Solutions recommends communicating clear guidelines such as:

  • The purpose of mental health days
  • Eligibility rules
  • How many days are available each year
  • Whether mental health days are paid or unpaid
  • How to request a mental health day
  • Expectations such as not checking phones, computers, emails or other work-related matters

Include this information in your employee handbook and company communications. Talk about mental health days during the onboarding phase, and encourage proactive and preventive use. In communications about mental health days, connect employees to additional resources such as your employee assistance program and employee resource groups.

Highlighting strategies for employees to use on mental health days shows thought and encourages usage. For example, you might recommend employees:

  • Focus on thoughts, feelings and root causes of mental distress
  • Practice self-care such as sleeping, reading, hiking, doing yoga, meeting friends or getting a massage
  • Make an appointment with a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist

Business News Daily recommends making mental health days part of a larger strategy to improve mental health. They should be a tool, not the entire solution. Examine issues such as the affordability of mental health benefits, accessibility to mental health professionals, flexibility and autonomy in the workplace, meaningful work and psychological safety.

Provide mental health education and training. Work with employees to proactively address health issues. Train supervisors to identify early signs of burnout. Encourage employees to take breaks, use time off to recharge, and manage work issues affecting their mental health.

Support from company leaders and supervisors is essential. They should set an example by letting employees know when they use mental health days and discussing personal benefits.

Get employee feedback. Survey employees before implementation to capture their thoughts on your time-off policy and their comfort with discussing mental health. Complete Payroll Solutions also suggests surveying employees a year into your implementation process. In addition to comparing employees’ views a year later, ask about the effectiveness of your mental health day policy and potential improvements.

Your mental health strategy

For more information on mental health days and how they fit into your larger benefits strategy, talk to your benefits adviser. They can help you maximize this benefit, including implementation, communication, training and follow-up surveys.

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