'We wanted to create a positive culture surrounding mental health'

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Charlie HR, a firm which offers support packages for UK SMEs, introduced mental health or 'personal days' after a mental health audit revealed that half their team were using sick days to take time off for mental health reasons.

Further, over 70 percent of their team were not telling managers that mental health issues were the real reason for the time they took off.

The findings were the catalyst for the business to introduce mental health sick days. The days are categorised as ‘personal days,’ can be taken whenever needed and are deliberately made public to the whole organisation (via Slack) in an attempt to tackle the stigma of mental health and so colleagues can be made aware.

Safety Management spoke to Luula Abdulkadir, HR Advice Team Lead at Charlie HR, to find out more.

Why did you create the mental health day?

We wanted to create a positive culture surrounding mental health; one where it’s not seen as taboo but as something we all have to deal with to varying degrees - we all have mental health, some days it’s good some days it’s bad.

We believe that it’s important to not just pay lip service to supporting your team’s mental health and we wanted to implement something that will allow us to drive real change in our behaviours and create a safe environment where we can destigmatise mental health in the workplace.

Luula Abdulkadir: "We wanted to create a positive culture surrounding mental health."

How does it work?

We allow our team to book off a ‘personal day’ whenever they feel like they’re not in the right headspace and work isn’t a priority that day and they need to take the time to reset/focus on themselves and do whatever it takes to feel better. Our personal days are uncapped to make sure we’re being as supportive as we can be.

If someone takes lots of ‘personal days’ this will be an indicator for their line manager to make sure they’re doing whatever they can to best support them and ensure they’re having these conversations in their one to ones e.g if we need to consider any reasonable adjustments. 

Do staff support the idea?

In the beginning staff were really cautious in booking these days. However, with time this has drastically changed and it really makes a world of difference knowing that you can just book a personal day whenever you need it - life gets hard at times and we truly believe you can’t just leave your personal issues at the door and the team really appreciate having these days.

Reflecting wider trends in UK workplaces, 78 percent of staff at Charlie HR told the audit they had come into work when they felt their mental health was not up to it. Photograph: iStock

How important is it do you think that we should support people with mental health conditions to remain in work as well as feel free to take time off

There definitely needs to be a balance between giving people the time/space to be off work but also depending on the issue or situation you’ll have to consider managing it on a case by case basis.

As some people would rather be working to occupy their minds and keep ‘busy’ and that might give them a bit of distraction and allow them to focus on something else - whereas others might opt to just have the time off. We don’t think there's a one size fits all approach for this and it’s important to consider each individual circumstance to be able to be as supportive as you can and provide the right support.

Don't miss our February issue of Safety Management in which we discuss how new approaches to sickness absence can help boost wellbeing and productivity. 


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