UK employees are taking more sick days now than at any time across the past decade, new data has found.
Research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that British workers took an average of 7.8 days of sick leave over the past year, compared to 5.8 days before the pandemic.
The research, which analysed the absence rate of 6.5 million employees across 900 organisations found that minor illnesses were the main reason for sick days, followed by musculoskeletal injuries and ill mental health.
It mimics a survey done in 2019 before the pandemic by Statista that found minor illnesses accounted for 27% of sick leave absences, while musculoskeletal problems was the reason for 20% of absences and mental health accounted for 12%.
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Taking a day of sick leave from work for mental health reasons is a relatively new concept, with social media coining it a "mental health day", often to relieve yourself from the stress and pressure you're facing at work.
What is a ‘mental health day’?
"A 'mental health day' is a day taken off from work or other responsibilities to prioritise and address your mental and emotional well-being," Kelly Tucker, managing director of HR Star tells Yahoo UK.
"It is a self-care practice where individuals recognise the need to rest, recharge, and manage their mental health. During a mental health day, people may engage in activities that reduce stress, improve mental clarity, and promote emotional stability, such as meditation, exercise, therapy, or simply taking a break from work-related stressors."
Emma O’Connor, Director and Head of HR Training, at Boyes Turner says it can be useful for people with depression, anxiety or chronic stress to help them manage their symptoms.
"The aim of such a day would be to help someone reduce feelings of overwhelm by minimising work commitments and responsibility, so that they have space to recalibrate, reset," she explains.
O’Connor adds that some companies already offer "duvet days" - when an employee just wants to stay in bed all day and recoup - while some US companies offer "personal days" that allow an employee to "simply take a day to regroup and focus on themselves".
Is there a difference between a sick day and a mental health day?
At present, there is no legal distinction between whether you’re off work sick for a physical reason or for a mental health reason, O’Connor explains.
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"For statutory sick pay purposes, you are either fit to work or unfit – the reason for that is not distinguished," she adds.
Increasing number of people taking mental health sick days
Tucker says that there has been an increasing number of people taking sick leave for mental health reasons in recent years.
"Many individuals recognise the importance of addressing their mental well-being alongside physical health," she says. "However, the frequency of mental health-related sick days has also increased - the reasons for this can vary depending on factors such as workplace culture, individual awareness, and employer policies."
Tucker adds that the stigma around taking a mental health day has also reduced, and that there has been a growing understanding and acceptance of mental health issues.
"Some companies have started promoting mental health as part of their workplace culture, which can encourage employees to take mental health days when needed," she says.
"The COVID-19 pandemic also heightened awareness of mental health challenges, leading more people to recognise the need for self-care."
How to take a sick day for mental health reasons
Tucker says that the best way to go about taking a mental health day is to be open and honest with your employer, plan ahead if you can, follow company procedures, and use your time off wisely.
"On your mental health day, engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, whether it's meditation, spending time in nature, seeking therapy, or simply resting," she advises.
Ultimately, it's up to you whether you expressly tell your employer that you're taking a sick day for your mental health or not.
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"When requesting the day off, you can choose to specify that it's for mental health reasons if you feel comfortable. Otherwise, you can simply state that you need a sick day," she adds.
O'Connor says that most employers still have a linear approach to sick days: you're either well or unwell.
"If you need to take a mental health day, I'd encourage transparency and openness with your manager, HR, or another advocate within your organisation," she says. "It may be that there's a wider issue like burnout that requires a more permanent adjustment to your role or work patterns to support your mental health and wellbeing in a more sustainable way."
If you are in need of support, you can call the Samaritans day or night, 365 days a year for free on 116 123, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
Mind's helpline is 0300 123 3393, their email address is email@example.com and their website is www.mind.org.uk.
If you think you may be suffering from mental health problems, you are also advised to speak to your GP.
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