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Question: A couple of weeks ago, I felt — off. Not sick, exactly, but not like myself. I was unfocused and exhausted. I’d worked a series of six-day weeks, was drowning in emails, and couldn’t seem to muster up the motivation to tackle anything. I messaged my boss to say that I wasn’t feeling well and needed to take the day off. I packed some snacks and drove myself and my dog to the park where I spent the day reading, doing some yoga, and playing ball with the dog. The next day, I felt good enough to return to work, and my boss told me that someone had seen me in the park. I was mortified. I hadn’t lied, but I hadn’t been clear that I needed to take a break for my mental health and getting outside away from screens was what I needed most. Fortunately, my boss let it go, but I’m writing to ask what advice you have to request a day off in a way that won’t make my boss question my commitment?

Answer: Mental health days are an increasingly accepted fact of modern work life. It’s simply a day off to recuperate and recharge. The reason could be a diagnosable mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, but it could also be something more nebulous, like feeling stressed, exhausted, or burned-out.

waiting for meeting with boss

For most workers, taking a day off requires someone else’s approval, and many — 55% in a recent survey — worry they’ll be punished for requesting one. While stigmas around mental health are changing, their existence can make it daunting to flag to your workplace that your mental health needs tending to.

Here are some recommendations about how to request your day off in a way that feels comfortable, protects your privacy, and won’t make your boss question your commitment.

  1. Acknowledge that you deserve the day. This will make it easier to communicate your needs to your boss and make your intentions clear. There is power in naming your stressors, and you’ll have a concrete idea of what you need to address during your time off.
  2. Consider your workplace leave policies. If your employer has 50 or more employees or you’re under federal contract, you are protected by federal labor and anti-discrimination laws that prevent your employer from penalizing you for taking time off for mental health. Depending on your workplace, asking for a mental health day can be as simple as requesting a sick day. Familiarize yourself with your rights prior to requesting a mental health day.
  3. Share only what you’re comfortable with. Don’t feel the need to over-explain yourself. But, if you’re comfortable telling your boss why you’re taking the day off, go ahead (see #1). Let your boss know ahead of time that spending a day at the park with your dog last time was exactly what you needed to get back to work the next day, and you want to be up front about what works for you.
  4. Remember that your day is for you. Once your request is approved, you can focus on what you need to decompress and take care of yourself. Getting outside is a great option if the weather allows but remember that the day is specifically for you to recoup from the stressors of work. If you need to sit on the couch all day, do it!

Remember, you deserve to take a breath and re-center yourself. Doing so with a clear conscious will help you return to work feeling refreshed and ready.




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