It’s still a rarity for companies in Singapore to offer employees mental health days. This is why I think it should be the norm.
A mental health day from work? What’s that? If you’ve been raised in old-fashioned (but still highly prevalent) ways of working, the idea of having leave days allotted for the sake of your well-being seems unreal. Almost ridiculous. At least that was what I thought when I joined Honeycombers and they told me about their doona day policy (sorry, HR). I even resolved that I wouldn’t need it. But nine months into the job, I finally caved – and it was the best decision I made for myself and my productivity. In light of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, I thought I’d share my experience.
But first, a quick lowdown on doona days. If you’re from Singapore, you’re probably wondering what the heck it is. It’s simple. It’s a day off work you can take without advance notice for your mental health or well-being. The term originated in 1997 in the UK, where it was known as a duvet day (or blanket day) to signify a day of rest in bed. In recent years, it’s become more prominent in Australia, and it’s now seeping its way into our little red dot – hurrah!
What I did on my mental health day
As part of our doona day policy, I don’t have to provide an explanation for my day off. But I’ll do so for the sake of this article: I’d been suffering from a bout of insomnia for almost two weeks, and I was extremely exhausted. In fact, I was up at 4am with no sleep, deciding if I should text my editor.
Even though I’ve always felt strongly about protecting my mental health at work, I admit that even I had to overcome some internal biases. I wondered if taking a doona day off at such short notice would reflect badly on me and my professionalism at work. But eventually, I took the plunge.
In the morning, I pinged my editor on our work chat to get my doona day approved. She did so immediately, no questions asked, and we did a quick handover for the day. I wanted to hop online quickly to finish up some pending work, but she assured me it would all be taken care of. I even got called out immediately for accepting a meeting invite in the middle of the day with a text that read, “What are you doing online on your off day?” (oops).
I spent the rest of my day trying to take a nap and chilling out in the living room with my mum and dog. It was super uneventful, yet it was exactly what I needed. When 6pm rolled around, I replied to some emails and cleared small tasks I’d been putting on the backburner for the longest time. The moment I did that, I felt so free and so prepared to go back to work. My to-do list was once again in order, and my mind wasn’t clouded with exhaustion.
Most of all, I loved how protected, seen and trusted I felt. Knowing that my personal well-being was important to the company made me feel motivated to do better for them.
Mental health days should be a norm
I’m glad there’s more awareness of mental health in Singapore. But there’s still a ton of work to be done. Especially regarding efforts to increase empathy and understanding amongst the local community.
A recent government survey held earlier in the year found two in five Singaporeans struggle with their mental health. That’s a high statistic. Yet, there’s still so much discourse about how imperative it is to make changes in our environment. Think along the lines of ‘the Great Resignation’ and the recent spat on ‘quiet quitting’. Those who champion well-being are still deemed as slackers by many in the population.
Even with more companies advocating for work-life balance, there are plenty of naysayers unable to let go of past expectations. Especially the one where a good work ethic is defined as overextending yourself and clocking in overtime. Case in point: I spoke about doona days to an acquaintance the other day. He said (a little condescendingly), “I don’t know about your generation, but back in my day, there was no such thing as mental health.”
Perhaps I’m just a spoiled millennial who thinks mental health days should be the norm. But there’s got to be a reason why Singapore had the unhappiest workforce in the world in a 2021 global survey. After taking a doona day, I realise it’s not just about mental health or the trust between employee and employer. It’s about recognising every worker is a human being with their own personal struggles, and making space for that.
We’re all deserving of a healthy work life
If you’re contemplating introducing mental health days (or doona days) into your company leave policy, perhaps this is your sign. I mean, we once thought we wouldn’t survive on a hybrid or remote working system. But plenty of companies that implemented this during the pandemic continue to thrive.
I totally get if the topic of mental health at work is something new to you, especially if you’re a business owner or manager who’s been on the scene for a while now. The changes we’ve seen in the last few years have been drastic due to the increased focus on well-being. We’re all scared of things we aren’t familiar with. But let’s not stop healthy change out of fear.
There’s a lot of talk about how focusing on mental health will help companies increase employee retention. And everyone has a bunch of probable solutions to the equation. But maybe the best way to do what’s right is to just believe in this: everyone deserves an environment that makes them feel safe and supported – even yourself.
I took a doona day and the world didn’t fall apart. Trust me, it’ll be okay.