Nowadays, we are all feeling a little stressed. The pandemic has done little to moderate our cortisol stress hormones. While most of us are coping reasonably well, there are times when it all might feel a little too much. Working from home no longer feels as good as it did when the government first insisted on it; it all can get a little tiresome when you find yourself day after day behaving the same four walls trying to be productive while balancing too many balls in the air.
Even before the pandemic, stress was the primary reason for absenteeism. According to the Health and Safety Executive in 2018, work-related stress induced anxiety and depression were responsible for over half of days taken off work due to ill health. There is no doubt that these figures are causing employers many headaches.
Nobody relishes having a worn-out over-stressed employee as a member of their team – even less so one who is so stress-induced burnt out that they have become counter-productive. Fortunately, employers take employee well-being very seriously in the modern workplace, and this extends to remote workers. It is a critical duty of businesses to look after their workers’ mental wellbeing. So much so that many forward-looking bosses are willing to grant their overworked team members employee wellbeing days.
So what is an employee wellbeing day? While some of the more cynical critics of the system call them duvet-days, suggesting that people use them just to skive off work, they are far more than that. Sometimes just a short break from stressful situations can help alleviate all the tensions that accumulate over time and diffuse them before they turn into that dreadful state of burnout when it feels like both your physical and emotional state is on the verge of collapse. So, again, just a little time off the job, resting and not worrying about what you should be doing or fearing that you are missing out on something that you can’t quite put your thumb on.
Wellbeing days are simply time off granted by your employer for you to recover and regain your previous levels of energy, momentum and productivity. Such days are not necessarily best spent lounging around at home or spending under the duvet. Sometimes the best way to recharge your batteries is to get involved in something entirely different from your routine. Unlike a sickness day, as long as your employer is happy that you are looking after your mental and emotional wellbeing, you are free to spend the time doing whatever you please. Of course, there are boundaries, but as long as you turn up ready for work afterwards, a refreshed and renewed you, it is unlikely that you will be asked too many prying questions.
An excellent case study of a business that has successfully introduced wellbeing days is the UK insurer Aviva. The company employs 16,000 people, and each was provided with an additional day off to boost their wellbeing. They can treat it like an extra day of paid leave and can do with the day as they wish.
Aviva’s HR officer Danny Harmer said: “Our people have worked incredibly hard to support our customers throughout what has been a really difficult time for everyone. We want to make this winter a little bit brighter for them and say thank you. So this is an opportunity for colleagues to take a day for themselves.”
Employees will be able to use the extra day of leave as they wish, and it can be taken at any point during the year, on top of their usual annual leave entitlement. That’s fine as long as they remember to include it in their leave planner – otherwise, it could fall by the wayside.
Even if your employer doesn’t intend to follow in Aviva’s excellent footsteps, if you do feel under the weather because of stress, then according to UK employment law, you are entirely free to take time off to take care of your mental health. However, after seven days of absence, you will need a note from your doctor.