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Work-Life Balance: Mental Health Days - Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Mental Health Days

Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Mental Health Days

A Dilbert strip many years ago showed Dilbert calling his pointy-haired boss on the phone, to explain that he wasn’t coming to the office because he was sick. He affected a stuffy-nose “I hab a code” voice to communicate the severity of his illness. When the boss asked if Dilbert had a flu, Dilbert answered, “No, actually I have a stomach ache, but I don’t know how to make it sound convincing over the phone.”

We’ve all done it: we run through the list of our symptoms, uninvited, as if our simply saying, “I’m not well enough to come in” weren’t enough justification to take a sick day. Our parents drilled it into our work ethic at early ages: there’s “sick enough to stay home” and “well enough to power through the day.” It’s an unhealthy way of looking at managing our jobs and our health, and in the past many years we’ve been told it’s also an unhealthy way to be a good team player. Coming into to do one’s work when one is not feeling top-notch is noble, but spreading germs around the office is inconsiderate, at least according to today’s office cultures.

Dilbert’s problem is that the illness he’s suffering from will definitely prevent him from doing his job well, but he doesn’t have the kind of illness people can see or hear. Whether it’s the culture at his workplace or his attitudes about taking sick days, he feels obligated to be convincing.

Translate the issue to mental health in the same workplaces and personal attitudes, and you’ve got an even bigger problem. Our colleagues can’t see anxiety, depression, stress, or whatever we call that feeling of gradual loss of control over our lives, but it’s real, and where our parents and bosses might have once upon a time simply powered through, there’s no reason for it in business culture today. We know enough today to understand that such afflictions are not flaws in our character or weaknesses in our work ethic, but important conditions of existence that can be managed, in ways similar to managing life in a wheelchair.

Yet the importance of managing mental health is not limited to those of us with diagnosed conditions. Any of us can have bouts of depression, anxiety, or stress, the way any of us can have this year’s flu bug. In these cases, those of us without diagnoses may have the disadvantage: people with clinical depression (for example) are usually in tune with their mental health, always aware of it and ready to manage it, while those of us blessed enough not to have diagnoses may find ourselves caught off-guard. Here is where the temptation to power through often comes into play.

In a recent Psychology Today article, licensed clinical social worker Amy Morin offers three suggested moments when a mental health day may be in order: when you’re distracted by something you need to address (such as falling behind on bills, or other important tasks), when you’ve been neglecting yourself (when alone-time and self care can help), and when you need to attend appointments to care for your mental health. We’ll go one step further--or begin one step ahead--and suggest that preventative mental health days may be in order, to forestall these days when we already feel these days coming on.

Our mental well-being isn’t as simple sometimes as our physical well-being. Sometimes, it’s better to come in. Morin, for Forbes.com, suggests three situations where staying home might be more harmful than beneficial: when you plan to stay in all day (get up and get moving instead), when you’re anxious about a workplace issue (take a few deep breaths and convince yourself to face the music), and when you don’t feel like socializing (smile at your co-workers even when you don’t feel like it, and proactively increase the chances you’ll have positive interactions). Yes, it’s a confusing creature, our mental health, and unlike our physical bodies, it can sometimes get better by coming in than by staying out.

Blanket generalizations are seldom useful in the real world, which may also complicate the issue, but we do need to take a healthier approach to our mental well-being in order to keep our professional lives and personal lives together, in as close to balance as we can achieve. And our workplaces need to understand that the healther we are, physically and mentally, the more valuable we are to them. The time has come for us all to forget about doctors’ notes and showing up every day, and to adopt the long game, the marathons of our lives and the long-term maintenance of ourselves.

Reference Links:
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201707/how-know-when-take-mental-health-day
Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/07/27/if-the-reason-you-want-to-take-a-mental-health-day-falls-into-any-of-these-3-categories-go-to-work


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Work-Life Balance: Mental Health Days - Executive Leadership Articles

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