Face it: There are days when you just don’t want to go to work. According to a 2015 survey from the job website CareerBuilder, 38% of employees said they’ve called in sick even though they felt well, up from 28% in 2014. Of the employees who feigned being sick, 27% said they just didn't feel like going, 26% needed to relax, and 21% wanted to catch up on sleep.
To combat this, companies may want to get rid of sick days and instead implement "duvet days," paid time off that can be used for any personal reason, says Karen A. Young, author of Stop Knocking on My Door: Drama Free HR to Help Grow Your Business.
"It’s a matter of semantics, but calling them ‘sick days’ as opposed to ‘personal days’ tends to make employees fib," she says. "Sometimes we all need a mental health day away from work," explains Young. "From an employee relations standpoint, there is a stronger sense of freedom if I have time to use for personal reasons," she says.
The change in name brings benefits that go beyond eliminating white lies.
"The new name makes them feel more like vacation or recuperative time," says Sherri Mitchell, the cofounder and president of the staffing franchise All About People. "Employees might be more likely to use more of their personal days than they would with just sick days."
Paid time off can prevent burnout, reduce turnover, and foster happy and productive employees, according to studies. At companies that encourage taking time off, 36% of employees report low stress levels at work and 55% report being extremely happy at work, according to a study by Project: Time Off, a nonprofit coalition that promotes the value of time off.
Time off can be considered part of an employee wellness program, says Claire Bissot, managing director of CBIZ HR Solutions, a human resources outsourcing firm. "The time off helps reduce a lot of issues that cause medical claims down the line," she says.
A mental health day lets you recharge and reset. Brandon Smith, a leadership and workplace communication expert at The Workplace Therapist, calls the practice a risk management strategy.
"If you don’t attend to your stress, anxiety, or depression, it can affect your work performance and composure in the workplace—which could result in a layoff—and even cause physical ailments, which can obviously damage your career and life," he told Shape magazine.
Pooling sick and personal time off into one category is easier for a company’s HR department, says David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm.
"The advantage is that this streamlines things administratively," he says.
Personal time is often driven by company culture, and the use of paid time off instead of sick days can encourage employees to feel more comfortable taking days away, says David Barron, a labor and employment attorney for Cozen O'Connor, a Philadelphia-based law firm.
"In some companies, taking time off is viewed as a necessary part of healthy living, and actively encouraged," he says. "In other cultures, absent employees are a real hardship, and time off is frowned upon unless absolutely necessary," Barron says. "The key is to find a happy medium where employees are allowed to use time off without interfering with the operational needs of the company," he advises.
Companies should encourage employees to take time away, but few see it as a priority. Nearly six in 10 employees report a lack of support from their boss, and more than half report that their colleagues aren’t supportive either, according to Project: Time Off.
The findings indicate, "There is a direct correlation between employees who feel strong support from their bosses and colleagues and employee engagement. The more support an employee feels, the more likely they are to report higher levels of happiness."