Employee Mental Health Leave Requests Skyrocketing

If you’ve noticed a lot of employees asking for time off for a “mental health day,” you aren’t alone.

A recent study found that the number of mental health leave-of-absence requests has grown by a third since the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from ComPsych, a provider of employee assistance programs (EAPs), shows that such leave requests have skyrocketed by more than 300% in the past six years.

Roughly seven out of 10 leave requests for mental health reasons are from women — in part but not entirely because of the burden and added stress of childcare.

Poor mental health is a serious problem in the workplace. Stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse lead to reduced focus and concentration, increased absenteeism and presenteeism, higher turnover costs, and more dangerous workplace accidents.

If you’re seeing a broad increase in the number of mental health-related absences, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong.

What Employers Can Do

  1. Destigmatize mental health problems. Create a culture where it’s okay to discuss mental health issues and to seek help.
  2. Establish an EAP. Workers can use this program to get confidential counseling treatment for a variety of issues.
  3. Invest in mental health training for managers. Your leaders need training on how to recognize and sensitively deal with workers experiencing mental health problems.
  4. Offer flexible work schedules. Many minor issues can be dealt with by allowing employees more control over their work-life balance. Working from home, flex hours, job-sharing programs, and generous paid-time-off policies can all help.
  5. Create a less stressful workplace. Work to reduce unrealistic deadlines, spread the workload, and maintain adequate staffing levels. Reassign or eliminate “toxic” managers.
  6. Address cost barriers to care. Many employees can’t afford to see a doctor or counselor, even with insurance. Consider adding a direct primary care benefit, which allows workers and covered family members unlimited appointments with their primary care physician with no out-of-pocket costs.
  7. Offer mental health or sick day leave. Employers nationwide are responding to the employee mental health crisis by expanding their leave programs. In 2024, over 50% of organizations plan to add paid parental leave, paid mental health days, and flexible time off programs. Additionally, 49% are adding bereavement leave, and 37% are adding paid caregiver leave as an employee benefit.

The Takeaway

Employers have a number of tools they can access to help employees who are dealing with stress and anxiety. Work can also be a cause of stress, so it’s important that your staff should feel comfortable approaching their supervisors or managers if they are having trouble coping.

You can’t prevent all mental health problems. But you can alleviate work stressors and provide support so that small problems don’t metastasize into mental health crises.