Some events in life affect us in ways that trudging to the office and making it through a productive work day seems like an impossible task. But while certain events might be covered by leave, others aren’t exactly seen as cause for a sick day. Consider things like a break-up, or perhaps your pet is sick and you might be looking to put it down, for any individual it would be enough to require time off, but in the work space, most employers tend to want you to exercise the adage: keep calm and carry on. It’s not surprising then, that for many the concept of a Doona Day is one to be celebrated.
The idea behind Doona Day is simple: an unscheduled, company-approved day off for wellbeing or mental health. In Britain, the concept has been around since at least 1997 with many employers now offering it to employees, some even encouraging them to take one doona day per quarter. Here in Australia though, the idea is more novel but for the few staff members around the country who might be lucky enough to receive it, they believe it to be a welcome perk.
In 2016, HSBC Australia ran a 12-month trial where 1,400 out of 1,800 employees across Australia took a doona day, and the trial was declared an overwhelming success. Following the trial, “wellness days” became part of the HSBC employee offering - one per year, increasing to three per year after five years of service. Carman’s Kitchen offers two doona days per year, something that contributed to the company being named “Most Outstanding Practice - Employee Wellbeing” in the AFR Boss Best Places to Work awards for 2021.
In an interview with The Guardian, Lainie Tayler who heads HR at Carman’s explained: “Doona days are a vehicle that encourages employees to take personal accountability for their wellbeing. They also help to create a culture of honesty and trust. Sometimes we just need a day off, so instead of calling in and telling fibs to get some headspace, our employees can simply call out ‘I need a doona day.’ We hope this creates open and honest dialogue and builds trust.”
At a time where the global pandemic has seen many of us trade the office for the home space, many employees find themselves working harder and longer. We’re not constantly plugged-in and, unable to see people in the office and share that connection, we feel like we must be visible online so as not to be seen as slacking off. It’s led to an increase in burnout and exhaustion, which begs the question: why aren’t more Australian companies offering doona days, especially now?
While some put it down to the stigma surrounding mental health, others believe asking for a doona day could see their employers question their emotionality or cognitive function. But as many believe, the ability to have a doona day doesn’t just offer a chance to reset and recharge, but it encourages people to open up about their struggles. Asking for a doona day isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s an understanding that we’re human and not invincible robots.