Need A Mental Health Day? Here's How To Negotiate One With Your Boss

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Woman stressed out by work

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Tanya Tarr
Tanya Tarr10
Back in June, a set of tweets between a CEO and his employee went viral when the CEO applauded his staff person for taking mental health days as sick days. While this type of leadership is encouraging, not all supervisors will be as open and affirming. It's important to think strategically about your own situation.
Maintaining mental health at work is an essential part of wellness and work-life balance. I talked to a work-life expert, a mental health activist and a therapist to find out their advice for preparing to negotiate for a mental health day.  Here's what they suggested:
1. Consider your manager's needs.
Work-life expert Rachael Ellison coaches her clients to be aware of the pain points driving the need for a mental health day, but to not let that pain frame the request. Instead, she suggests considering what your manager might be thinking and feeling. The manager's perspective can help you craft a more strategic request that centers on general productivity.
"Speak from a place of confidence and calm," Ellison suggests, "because you know it is what you need in order to be your best at work. Frame your request in terms of effectiveness and collaboration, which is something you know they will appreciate." Using open-ended questions with your manager can help you get the details you need to construct a truly collaborative request. These questions might include "what can I prepare to make sure there is no interruption in the project?" or "what would you like me to prioritize before I leave?" Listening carefully to your manager's answers can help you target her top priorities so that you can take action to prepare and support them.
2. Know what you're going to say and document everything.

"It's important to prepare what you're going to say before you reach out to human resources or your supervisor," suggests Dior Vargas, a leading Millennial Latina mental health activist. She suggests using first person language that communicates how a mental health day can help boost productivity.
"It's important to be in the mindset that you are deserving of a mental health day if you're overwhelmed. It also helps to word your request as something that would benefit the company. An example might be, 'I wanted to discuss taking a mental health day. Since working on our current project, I've been feeling that my productivity isn't at the level that I would like it to be at. Taking a day off would help me refresh and better achieve the goals I have for this position.'" Vargas also suggests following up via email after the meeting with details from your conversation so everyone can stay accountable to the agreed-upon next steps.
3. Set your privacy boundaries.
"Ultimately, mental health days shouldn't be any different than a day off for physical health reasons," says Ariane Corcoran, a licensed marriage and family therapist. "If people are working in an environment where they have a sense of safety and feel supported by supervisors, they may choose to disclose the reason for needing a day off from their job. But if they don't feel that sense of safety and support, they may benefit from using less transparency."
Corcoran notes that being more protective of privacy around mental health issues can be a more strategic approach in cases where leadership's views on mental health are less clear. "This isn't because there is anything wrong with needing and using a day off for mental health reasons. It's because not all employers may be equally informed and understanding," Corcoran says. She suggests that individuals should navigate in the way that is necessary to get the care they need, while still feeling secure in their privacy. 
Many organizations will roll mental health days into their leave policy or sick day policy, or provide a floating holiday. It's best to consult your employer's policy and think strategically about how you will prepare for asking for a mental health day, including rehearsing the conversation with a friend to boost your confidence. Joining your mental health with the best interests of your employer and firm preparation is a successful way to create a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Tanya Tarr helps people build strategic plans for their lives and businesses and helps them stay healthy in the process. Tanya has a master of science in performance measurement from Carnegie Mellon University and is a certified health coach. She is currently writing a manual and curriculum on negotiation technique and adaptive leadership skills. She believes that bringing our whole selves to work means operating from a healthy, balanced center. A version of this post appeared in Women@Forbes.