Questionable costs of mental-health days

I love last pages of magazines that are silly in one way or another, an honored tradition too often now absent. Fast Company is one of those that still honors the tradition–with the “Numerology” page. The April 2010 page was called “Under Pressure” and was about stress.

There are seven textual segments. One of the seven includes the following:

In Sweden, mental illness, including stress and anxiety, accounts for 41% of total sick pay, up from 15% in 1990. The nation has one of the world’s most generous sick-leave laws–workers can get up to 75% of their salary for years.

One in four Americans admits to having taken a “mental-health day” to cope with stress. This costs employers $602 per worker per year.

I’m not going to comment on the Swedish situation.

As to the second one, however, I question the item–indeed, my immediate response has to do with bovine excrement.

Oh, not the first sentence–if anything, I’m surprised that it’s that low. (Is that one in four American workers in jobs that have sick leave, or one in four Americans overall?)

What I question: “This costs employers $602 per worker per year.”


I would bet that, for most employees to take a mental health day when they really need one, those days save the employers real money, particularly if you include productivity (including efficiency and effectiveness for white-collar workers).

I’m guessing that one mental health day totally away from the office and its stresses can easily replace oh, a week or more of half-efficiency days at work–or, for that matter, help fend off real stress-related sickness that results in much more lost time.

It’s like the old (and not so old) figures as to how many billions of dollars of wages were (are) “lost” to people checking social networks at work, or having non-work conversations at the water cooler, or doing anything other than slaving away every single minute from the time you clock in (you do clock in, right) until the time you clock out.

If employees are machines with flesh, then maybe those numbers make sense. If employees are people, they don’t.

And Fast Company, more than most business-related magazines, should know better.

4 Responses to “Questionable costs of mental-health days”

  1. sharon Says:


  2. Paul Says:

    I wonder if by taking sick leave you return to work in a better state of mind which would obviously be benificial or is it because people are not valued or shown how much they are valued their reduced self esteem causes problems leading to sick leave and the constant downward spiraling to more and longer sick leave.

  3. GeekChic Says:

    No argument from this quarter. When I was a supervisor (lo these many years ago) I explicitly told staff that “being sick of work was sick” and was a perfectly valid use of sick leave in my opinion (former place of work did not have personal days). I never had anyone abuse it.

  4. Adam Says:

    A conversation from the workroom today went along these lines.

    M: Jon called out sick today.
    A: He picked a nice day for it.
    M: He sure did.
    A: Everyone should do that once in a while, they should be encouraged.
    M: Yes, imagine what it would do for morale.

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