We Gave Employees One Day Off Per Month. Here’s What Happened.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, our expert goes in-depth about how she prioritizes her employees’ mental health for better outcomes all around.

Written by Hanneke Willenborg
Published on May. 08, 2024
We Gave Employees One Day Off Per Month. Here’s What Happened.
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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In the last five years, America’s mental health crisis reached an all-time high. Roughly 615 million people live with a mental illness, and 60 percent of those people don’t get the help they need.

As a chief executive officer in today’s corporate America, I see a great opportunity to make real changes in this crisis, especially in the workplace, and hope to inspire others to join in the conversation. I have seen first-hand the effect that mental health has had on friends, family and coworkers.

As the leader of a company that touts whole-body healthcare as our core mission, this rising crisis inspired me to prioritize mental health as our north star. I’ve learned that real, measurable action can only happen if the company gets real about the issue at hand and works to actively dismantle decades of societal stigmatization.

Mental Health in Employees: Statistics

According to a recent study from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 52 percent of nationally polled employees in the U.S. reported experiencing burnout in the last year, while 36 percent said their mental health suffered because of demands at work.

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How Does More Time Off Impact Performance?

For OLLY, this work started several years ago, and includes just one of our efforts to prioritize mental health in our workplace by reducing the team’s overall work hours through our Mental Health Fridays.

We tackled this by first analyzing our internal ways of working and ultimately lessened our total monthly hours, giving the full company an extra day off every month, in addition to four weeks of annual paid time off and holidays.

This is nowhere near a solution to the workplace mental health problem in the U.S., but we’ve seen this tactic have a positive impact on our employees, creating more of a work-life balance while having zero impact on overall company performance. It shows our team that while we value our business, we also value taking time for yourself so you can show up to work as your best self.

In response to the work we are doing, I am sharing a few key strategies my team uses to reimagine the traditional work month structure and prioritize important conversations in favor of mental health.

I encourage every leader to take a hard look at their team’s mental health and ask themselves what it would take to cultivate an environment where mental health was not just acknowledged but prioritized.


Model the Behavior You Want to See

One of my biggest goals as CEO is to foster a culture of openness around mental health.

When we set out on this journey, I knew we could not ask our team to be open about their struggles without first demonstrating that behavior with our leadership team. We started by openly sharing mental health resources and our own experiences, creating a safe space for the team to provide feedback on the impact of workload on mental health, and honoring our monthly Mental Health Fridays as a true day off.

I’ve been genuinely surprised at the positive impact this guilt-free time has had on our team and my own mental well-being. Having the permission and privilege to unplug and turn inward has become a treasured benefit.

Positive actions must be modeled, not preached. If we want to see tangible mental health change, we as leaders must first prioritize our own mental health by accepting time off and encouraging our team to do the same.


Use Real Data to Make Cultural Change 

In nearly every aspect of running a business, we use data to inform our decisions. We need to use similar data tools to inform office cultural decisions that impact mental health.

Just like you would develop a strategy for a new product launch, develop a comprehensive approach to mental health that includes time off, benefits and work norms.

In the last 12 months, we’ve executed two mental health discovery assessments around employees’ experiences with mental health, work and organizational culture. We’re asking tough questions about bandwidth, emotionally draining work, mental health symptoms and more. These results allow us to track year-over-year progress, both positively and where we can improve.

Our 2024 progress update revealed that 80 percent of employees felt that the additional time off with Mental Health Fridays was the biggest improvement OLLY had made towards mental health in the last year.

On the flip side, we also heard from the team that workloads could be better adjusted, which we were able to do because of these assessments. We also received feedback from our team that hosting Mental Health Friday at the end of the month was causing more stress for roles with end-of-month priorities and reporting.

We took this feedback seriously and adjusted our schedule to have a day off in the middle of the month, which better suits the needs of our whole team. We’re not afraid to make tough decisions when our team lets us know they need more support.

Collecting ongoing data and feedback about our progress is an important tool in continuing to show up for our team in the ways they need most. If this is a challenge you are similarly looking to take on, I encourage you to start real open conversations with your team, listen to feedback and track progress over time.


Ask for Support From Professionals

But what’s next? We cannot become stagnant in our work to destigmatize mental health, so we are constantly looking inward to see what we can tweak, big or small.

We just kicked off our first internal Mental Health Advisory Committee to bring even more voices into the conversation and regularly work with expert partners like NAMI, Mind Share Partners and SeekHer to give us guidance when we need it. I recommend finding experts in the field to support your company’s goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for support.

We also regularly incorporate mental health trainings for the entire staff to keep this top of mind in everything we do.

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A Healthy Workplace: the New Normal

At my company, reimagining the structure of a traditional work month is just one piece of our work transforming this issue and making small steps toward change.

My hope for fellow leaders is that this inspires you to reconsider what a healthy workplace looks like and whether you are fostering one. Work to create welcoming, supportive workplace environments free of mental health stigma.

Let’s let that be the new normal.

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