How to Talk to Your Employer About Mental Health Leave

Published: May 17, 2022

 Productivity       Workplace Issues       
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You’ve taken time to assess your situation at work, and you’re absolutely positive that taking mental health leave is the only feasible solution to the crippling burnout you’ve been suffering for the past several weeks (months, years?). Next, you face your next challenge – talking to your boss about taking leave. Today is your lucky day, since we’ve got this handy article full of tips and strategies to help you in your endeavor. Let’s begin.

It is completely normal to feel nervous about the prospect of approaching your employer about taking mental health leave. For starters, you’re about to reveal personal details to your employer that you likely wouldn’t share under normal circumstances, which can make you feel vulnerable. In addition to this, it’s never “easy” to request time away from work, much less to tend to matters of mental and emotional health. Happily, programs such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) make all of this a bit easier, as they require employers to provide time off under such circumstances, all while protecting your job. If you’d like to learn more about the different types of mental health leave, you can check out our previous blog here.

If you’ve taken my advice and started keeping your own personal records at work, this will be a piece of cake; however, let’s assume that your records are…nonexistent. In this event, take some time to recall when the problems began and make that your starting point. It can sometimes be difficult to remember the root cause, what with the chaotic nature of work and life, and the balance between the two. Perhaps you were overloaded with work after a colleague quit without warning, and now you’re forced to take on more responsibilities than you can handle within the time constraints of normal business hours. If you feel your performance has slipped below acceptable standards, taking time off to rest your nerves and rediscover your passion for your work can be beneficial for you, as well as for your employer.

Now that we’ve identified the pain points, let’s determine exactly how much we are comfortable sharing with our employer. Remember, you are under no obligation whatsoever to share any details of your personal life with anyone, so it’s entirely up to you how far you want to go. The important thing here is including just enough to explain the issue while necessitating the time off. A good rule of thumb is to explain how your situation is hindering your work performance, while leaving out how it has been affecting your personal life.

Next, determine which type of leave best suits your unique situation. When speaking with your employer, it will help to know how long you’d like to take off, and how the leave will benefit both you and your employer. Keep an open mind, as your employer may try to negotiate with you with regards to your leave. Let’s say for example you’re requesting an entire month off and your employer states that your absence will be a major detriment to the company, and then suggests an alternative solution – one week on/one week off for a duration of two months. If you feel that another option such as the example provided would be sufficient, then coming to an agreement with your employer may be the best route to go.

When going over the benefits of your proposed leave, try to provide tangible solutions. For example, if trouble concentrating or completing tasks on time have been major obstacles, explain that the time off will allow you the opportunity to reorganize yourself and your thoughts, and that upon returning to work you will have a renewed sense of purpose and enhanced productivity. An example of a quantifiable solution would be: “Due to burnout, I am only able to complete these tasks within two weeks’ time, but I know I could be completing them much faster if I took a break.” Of course, yours will sound much different than this and may provide more detail, but including metrics makes it easier for your employer to justify the leave. If you’ve been keeping track of your productivity in your personal records, it will be far easier to illustrate this for your employer.

If you don’t feel comfortable going to management about taking leave, you can always visit your Human Resources representative and they will facilitate the meeting in one way or another. HR representatives are also equipped to educate you on what you’re legally obligated to share in order to get the leave you need, while also advising you on what can remain private. This sort of thing can be nerve-racking either way, but just know that if you didn’t feel nervous, there may be a much larger problem lurking beneath the surface. Always remember – you’re human, and this response is totally normal.

When asking for mental health leave, make certain that you’ve done your homework and performed an in-depth analysis of yourself, and your work. Often times, you may just need a short break to spend some time outdoors, but under certain conditions a much longer leave might be necessary for your professional success.