Simon Blake: Should employers offer extra days off to support employees’ wellbeing?

Mental ill health costs employers £2.4 billion per year, and that’s without taking into account the impact of the past 18 months. The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has seen staff stress levels rise as people face uncertainty and job insecurity. So it’s no surprise that despite life starting to feel a bit more normal people are exhausted, with more than half of employees reporting they feel burned out.

Rest and recuperation are key to self-care and employers are right to consider offering wellbeing days on top of annual leave to help support employees. Self-care is an important part of protecting our wellbeing and gives people the time to evaluate how they’re feeling, discover the coping mechanisms that work best for them and enjoy time off with family and friends.

At Mental Health First Aid England, our wellbeing strategy includes two total office close-down periods, one in the summer and one in the winter. The emphasis on total is important as when the whole organisation closes down for the week, our staff can be assured that projects won’t be left unattended or deadlines missed. Therefore, the temptation to check in on tasks and emails is greatly reduced, meaning employees really do engage in proper downtime. We purposefully ensure that all staff are off at the same time so that no one fears returning to a full inbox and a to-do list that cancels out any benefits of a break from work.

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The most important thing, whether an employer is offering a wellbeing day or a full wellbeing week, is that it needs to be built into an organisation-wide approach to wellbeing. Wellbeing breaks should not be seen as a bolt on, instead they should be part of a relentless focus on building the right culture and ensuring a mental health and wellbeing strategy is properly implemented. From designing the stress out of processes and systems, to putting healthy job design first and meeting flexible working needs, all of these things help to create a more mentally healthy workplace.

Simon Blake is the chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England