American Workers Are Afraid To Take Time Off, New Study Finds

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but a growing number of American workers are taking a guilt trip instead of a vacation. After pandemic quarantine and isolation, all of us deserve time off from work. Studies show overworking long days on a weekly basis make us more stressed and less productive, while detaching from work […]

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Photo by Chen-Mizrach on Unsplash
Photo by Chen-Mizrach on Unsplash

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but a growing number of American workers are taking a guilt trip instead of a vacation. After pandemic quarantine and isolation, all of us deserve time off from work. Studies show overworking long days on a weekly basis make us more stressed and less productive, while detaching from work makes us more energetic and resilient and boosts our productivity and the company’s bottom line. Still, despite the fact that nearly half of U.S. workers experienced mental health issues since the pandemic began, employees say mental health isn’t a valid reason to take PTO. Employees have so much PTO anxiety that they completely avoid scheduling medical appointments four times a year because they don’t want to have to ask for time off. Many are afraid they’ll be perceived as a slacker, get passed over for job promotions or that someone might be angling for their job.

Bad News For Mental Health Days

A study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Learn to Live, found that 62% of American workers are worried their bosses would judge them for taking mental health days. The study polled 2,000 employed American workers, 57% of whom said mental health isn’t good enough reason to take time off. Seven in 10 respondents said they’d rather take an entire day off work than a few hours—all to avoid telling their supervisor why they’re taking the time. An additional 67% said they’re more likely to keep it vague and just tell their employer they have “an appointment” if they have to take time off for mental health care. Over half (56%) of respondents also felt like their employer would think they’re unable to perform their job if they requested time off for mental health care. Those surveyed on salary were the most likely to agree with this statement at 62%, versus 48% of hourly workers polled. Nearly three in five respondents currently receive care for their mental health, and 55% of these respondents said they’ve been using more mental health services since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The study also found 57% of respondents said the pandemic was the gentle push they needed to start caring more for their mental health—with salaried workers agreeing most at 65%, versus 50% of hourly workers.

With these barriers to seek care, it’s not surprising 64% of respondents wished they had more mental health care options outside of traditional therapy, either in-person or virtually. “It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, to learn that the stigma around mental health in and out of the workplace still exists,” said Dale Cook, CEO of Learn to Live. “However, with more access to digital and remote solutions, individuals looking for mental and behavioral health support can work it into their life very seamlessly.”

Perhaps because they struggled to find time for mental health care in the past, 58% of those surveyed believe employers should give employees paid time off specifically for mental health services—and they should grant their employees three hours a month. Half of the respondents also said they wouldn’t even need PTO, but rather they’d feel more productive if they could utilize their lunch break for their mental health needs. As respondents are working from home—and even when it comes time to return to their normal schedules—60% worry about their privacy when seeking mental health care virtually. “We all know how hectic our lives can be,” Cook said. “This is why it’s so important for mental health care and support to be there when you need it. By offering 24/7 access to our secure and privacy-protected platform, individuals can progress through the lessons and exercises at their own pace.”

More Good News On The Horizon

There’s more good news on the horizon. One company’s innovative approach has re-imaged the traditional office experience, replacing sick days with well days and making sure PTO is actually used instead of piling up. MikMak, an enterprise software company that counts Hershey’s, L’Oreal, Colgate, Unilever and Heinekenas clients, closed its NYC office in July, offering remote working indefinitely. Current and prospective employees can move anywhere in the U.S. and work remotely, permanently, without having their salaries reduced. With the closure of the office, MikMak was then able to fully cover health insurance for employees and dependents.

To further support its employees’ health and well-being and combat burnout, MikMak, in partnership with its internal mental health coalition, has instituted the following new policies:

  • Company-wide office closure from July 5—July 9, to encourage employees to take care of themselves without the pressure of work in the background.
  • Unlimited “health days” in place of sick days, which focus on mental well-being and allow employees to take days off without an explanation. 

“Health days was a policy our employees advocated for, as traditional sick days imply you have to be physically unwell to miss work,” said MikMak founder and CEO Rachel Tipograph. “We all know, however, that our mental health is as important to physical health, and we needed a policy that empowered employees to miss work for all forms of holistic health to protect their own well-being.”

Power Digital Marketing also has joined the StigmaFree Pledge to end the stigma around mental health and encourage Corporate Social Responsibility. Power Digital’s Founder and CEO, Grayson Lafrenz understands that in order to be a successful company, one must be a company with a culture of openness, acceptance, and understanding about employee’s overall health and well-being. LaFrenz encourages employees to do the following:

  • Protect Your Most Productive Hours: He encourages employees to protect a block of hours for “deep uninterrupted work” and most critical items for the week. He says this is when he is most creative. 
  • Exercise Daily: Find what mind and body exercise works for you. Exercising your mind and body or getting time in nature helps put into perspective how passing your professional or personal problems can be. It’s a good mental reset to start the day or whenever you feel overwhelmed. 
  • Shut Down Electronics by 6:00 p.m.: In today’s industry, constantly being accessible can be exhausting.  Protect the energy of your team by committing to a culture that values off time. Encourage teams to put away computers and cellphones by 6:00 p.m. each day. This is crucial since the start of the pandemic due to the lack of separation between work and home. 

A Final Word

If you’re like most people, on top of regular job demands, you probably have unease over the state of the nation and world with all the unexpected events in the first half of the year. More companies are trying to eliminate fears of taking time off by encouraging PTO and self-care. By all means, take a leisure break that fits best with your interests and lifestyle. Unplug from the office now and then even if it’s just for a day or even a few hours. Your body and brain will appreciate the pause and your well-being and productivity will pay you back. “One thing I truly believe we have to do as leaders is open up to our employees,” Tipograph said. “Be human. Tell them about things you’ve gone through, tell them what you’re going through now. It’s not a sign of weakness, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is how we connect as people.”

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