No-questions-asked break day for psychological well being and wellbeing
Mark Johnson first came across the concept of an unscheduled, company-approved wellness day when he was living in London more than 10 years ago. Known as “Duvet Day” in the UK, it sounded like a good idea to Johnson that he would have appreciated as a busy recruiter.
But it was offered by a competing company and wasn’t an option for him. When he founded Edwin George Merchant and Partners (EGM), a recruitment and recruitment consultancy in Adelaide, in 2016, Johnson made Doona Days part of his corporate culture. Employees are encouraged to take one Doona day per quarter.
A Doona day is a wellbeing or mental health break that does not require prior notice. The concept has been around in the UK since at least 1997. However, in Australia, Doona Days is a more recent development.
Sometimes we just need a day off. So instead of calling and telling the Fibs to have some headroom, our staff can just shout “I need a Doona day”.
Carman’s Kitchen, the cereal company, offers two Doona days a year, and the staff say it’s a welcome perk. It also helped Carman be recognized for Most Outstanding Practice – Employee Wellbeing at the AFR Boss Best Places to Work Awards 2021.
Other Australian companies have added Doona days to their wellness program. HSBC Australia ran a 12 month test in 2016 – 1,400 out of 1,800 employees across Australia took a day and the test was declared a success. After the process, HSBC employees now also offer “wellness days” – one per year, and three per year after five years of service.
Last July, Unilever gave all Australian and New Zealand employees a Friday off, calling it Doona Day, as a reward for sticking through the challenges of Covid-19. The employees could spend what they wanted – but they were encouraged to use the long weekend to regenerate.
“Doona Days are a tool that encourages employees to take personal responsibility for their wellbeing,” said Lainie Tayler, Human Resources Director at Carman’s. “They also help create a culture of honesty and trust. Sometimes we just need a day off. So instead of calling and telling the Fibs to have some headroom, our staff can just shout “I need a Doona day”. We hope that this will lead to an open and honest dialogue and build trust. “
Johnson shares this view. “It’s about raising your hand and saying, ‘I just can’t come in today’ instead of pretending we’re invincible. A Doona day is not meant for something like moving house, but rather for mental health. If you’re about to run out of steam, use it to recharge. “
Australian workforce calls for more mental health support – a report by Deloitte found that one in three Australian workers felt tired or stressed from work every week. A study by Allianz Australia of more than 1,500 Australian workers found that 80 percent wanted more resources and initiatives to tackle mental health in the workplace. More than a third wanted additional paid vacation, including mental health vacation, and a third wanted their employers to introduce wellbeing programs.
Talking openly about how companies can better support the whole person at work is a good place to start
Why aren’t more Australian companies offering Doona Days?
“Mental health is still very stigmatized,” said Madelyn Geldenhuys, associate professor of organizational psychology at the Australian College of Applied Psychology. “When someone asks for a Doona day or expresses their mental health problems, their ability to function cognitively or emotionally is called into question.”
Geldenhuys believes that vacation days “can lead to conversation” without questions. “It also sends a strong message … that employees facing mental health problems will not be judged or discriminated against.”
Tayler is also committed to open dialogue: “Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to work more flexibly, but it can be difficult for employees to make sure they have the right boundaries to achieve a balance. Talking openly about how companies can better support the whole person at work is a good start. “
But the occasional day off is not an adequate patch for a general overhaul culture. Geldenhuys says they should “be used in combination with other proactive strategies … such as managers checking regularly with employees about their workload and general well-being”.
“In the long term, ideally, we should all aim to choose a job that protects and values our mental health.” – Wächter