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You Can't Dictate A Mental Health Break


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Any recognition of mental health needs is a good thing and any attempt at improving mental health deserves praise. Still, as more companies shut down for a week to give employees a mental health break, we have to wonder if it is actually benefitting the employees. Can one week off be equally beneficial for hundreds or thousands of people? Is this a one-time thing or the start of overhauling how we treat mental health in the workplace? Only time will tell.

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Closing the office

We are hearing more stories lately of corporations closing their offices for a week to give employees mental health breaks. At first glance, this seems like a massive win and a move in the right direction. If massive companies can finally recognize the importance of mental health and give employees a much needed break, it might help set the precedent for what may one day become the norm.

However, the more I saw these stories, the more I questioned how beneficial it actually was for employees. For me, the one thought I just couldn't shake was that a mental health break is often only beneficial if it is taken on my own terms. That, and it proves something we've known all along:

These companies can shut down, give breaks, and take care of employees without ruining their business. Thus, what they do going forward will show us whether this week off was just for show or the turning point of radical change.

A good time for you might not be good for me

For some, a forced week off work might be an absolute blessing. It might be the perfect break they need to unwind, clear their heads, and decompress - a mental health break that accomplishes exactly what it was intended to do. For some, they might not need a mental health break but enjoy the time off anyway to relax and spend time with family and friends.

For others, however, it might be the exact opposite. If you enjoy your work and like your coworkers, going to the office might actually be beneficial to your mental health. Perhaps you use work as a distraction from stresses at home. Maybe completing work projects helps you feel better about yourself while falling asleep every night. In these cases, not having the option of working could be detrimental rather than helpful.

What about other times?

If shutting down the entire office for a mental health break becomes news, it suggests that this is a rare thing and a big decision. If that is true, it seems unlikely to be a regular occurrence, which begs the question: What if I need a mental health break at some other point during the year? Will it be met with the same understanding and urgency?

Mental health, like physical health, is unique to every individual. Even if work has been stressful for everyone lately, someone might be feeling unusually chipper and eager to work on the week the office is closed. That might be the one week of the year they don't actually need or want a break.

If mental health breaks are to become the norm, we would hope they become more plentiful and flexible, allowing individuals to take them when they need them most.

Preventative measures and self-reflection

It is notable for a large corporation to be able to admit that their staff likely need a mental health break and be willing to give that to them. Though, it's only praiseworthy if that is the first step of many to truly recognizing and working to improve mental health in the workplace. Shutting down the office for a week won't solve anything long term, but it does make it clear that you recognize the importance of mental health.

So, what comes after that? Ideally, the leaders of these companies are thoroughly inspecting every aspect of their organization to see where they might be contributing to their employees' need for a mental health break. Naturally, society in general makes a lot of us not want to get out of bed sometimes, but for far too many people, work itself is the biggest source of stress.

By admitting to the world that they are recognizing mental health, we hope they are taking it seriously and doing what they can internally to improve the mental health of their employees. There are many things a company can do, including giving more time off, improving leadership, lessening the pressure of burdening deadlines and workloads, providing mental health services as a covered benefit.

Try this: Allow more time off for mental health, but strive to create an environment where employees don't feel the need to take mental health breaks as often because their workplace supports, empowers, and energizes them.


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