A day off work, no questions asked: Would you take a ‘doona day’?

Woman in bed with dog

An increasing number of employers are introducing ‘doona days’, a day off work to allow staff to take care of their mental health, with no leave application or medical certificate required.

The term ‘duvet days’ was first written about in 1998 by UK company Text 100, which offered staff two days off a year when they simply could not face going to work.

A few years later, British PR company August.One announced it was introducing duvet days “because we realise that everyone has those days when they just cannot face work”. 

Katherine Nicholls, HR Manager of August.One, said, “In the past, these may have been days when people would have called in sick or they may have had to be pre-planned as a holiday. 

The concept has also been taken up in Australia, and since COVID-19 there has been a renewed focus on looking after staff mental health.

Muesli business Carman’s Kitchen offers staff two doona days per year, a factor that contributed to the company being named ‘Most outstanding practice – employee wellbeing’ in the AFR’s 2021 Boss Best Places to Work awards.

“Sometimes we just need a day off,” Lainie Tayler, head of HR at Carman’s Kitchen, told The Guardian.

“Doona days are a vehicle that encourages employees to take personal accountability for their wellbeing,” she said. 

“They also help to create a culture of honesty and trust.” 

In 2016, HSBC Australia conducted a 12-month trial of doona days, and when 1,400 of its 1,800 employees took up the offer, the company introduced one “wellness day” per year, increasing to three days after five years of service, as part of HSBC’s employee packages.  

In July 2021, Unilever gave all its Australian and New Zealand staff a doona day – a Friday off as a reward for persevering through the challenges of the pandemic. Employees could spend the day doing anything they liked, but they were encouraged to use the time to “rejuvenate”.

A report by Deloitte’s last year found that every week, one in three Australian workers feel “fatigued or stressed” at the thought of facing another working day, and 35% feel frustrated by work.

A study by Allianz late in 2020 found 80% of Australian workers say they would like their employers to introduce resources or initiatives in the future to properly address mental health in the workplace.

More than one-third – 38% – said they want additional paid leave, including mental health leave. 

More than 60% of Australian workers said their employers had introduced mental health initiatives, including flexible work options and times, open conversations and employee check-ins and workplace wellbeing programs.

Clearly there is ample opportunity for workplaces to evolve and cater better to the needs of employee’s mental health.

In the last 12 months, Seek has recorded 61% growth in aged care and disability job ads, however, application numbers per job ad are down 20% over the year, showing there is strong demand for applicants.

Aged care organisations should position themselves as purpose driven to appeal to employees, James Duncan, National Healthcare Manager at Seek, told HelloCare.

“There is still a lot of stigma around mental health,” Madelyn Geldenhuys, Associate Professor of Organisational Psychology at the Australian College of Applied Psychology, told The Guardian

“If someone asks for a doona day or expresses their mental health struggles, they may have their ability to function cognitively or emotionally thrown into question.”

No-questions-asked leave days can open up conversations and send a “strong message … that employees facing mental health challenges will not be judged or discriminated against,” she said.

But Geldenhuys cautions that the occasional day off is not a cure-all for a culture of overwork. Doona days should be used “in combination” with other strategies such as “managers regularly checking in with staff regarding their workloads and general wellbeing”.

“In the long-term, we should all ideally aim to choose a workplace that protects and values our mental health,” she said.

In the aged care sector, approximately 20% of residential aged care workers and 30% of home care workers are employed as casuals or contractors, often without even a day’s annual leave, meaning that entitlements such as doona days are likely to remain elusive.

In addition, with so many aged care homes also already working short-staffed, offering staff such flexibility to take time off might not be practical.

What do you think? Would you like to see your workplace introduce ‘doona days’ – time off for your mental health, no questions asked? Share your thoughts below. 

 

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  1. workers are getting to the stage where they want to be paid for no work, who do you think pays for this. I feel for business. The unions have a lot to answer to.

  2. Who are the Doona Days for? Certainly not the Aged Care industry I can assure you. Government jobs and wealthy businesses that value their staff yes, but until they encourage people into this sector by way of better conditions and pay forget the Doona Days off. They are already struggling with keeping the staff they have because of the heavy workloads the lack of respect for staff and the dreadful pay rates.Try sitting on a hard plastic chair under fluorescent lighting if you can manage to find a seat in the over crowded staffroom with lockers filling the place up! Not even a lounge to relax on in your break if you manage to get one in. This is my experience. I can only hope that most aged Care places have given their staff a little bit of luxury to relax in a quiet comfortable room large enough for up to 20. This is not the case at my place of employment. Not even an outdoor area for the staff unless you want to stand under the trees in the car park. Or sit in your car in your breaks. Most night staff sit in their cars for their breaks being that the staffroom is so uncomfortable. Disgusting yes. But don’t fool yourselves about the aged care industry. They can put out all the media rubbish they want to get people roped in but until you actually work for some of these people you don’t really know what you’re in for. I wonder if I will be one of the people that my company owes money to? Myself and so many have signed off half abhor or an hour later with no overtime offered. it is so common that a lot do it because they are afraid of getting that phone call at home asking why the paper work/computer work wasn’t completed. All the times over the years I have had on average one day off sick a year and have not been paid for it as they want a Doctors certificate. And yet in our Enterprise bargaining Agreement it states we are allowed 3 on their own single days off a year without a Doctors certificate. Most staff just accept it as they are too exhausted to fight a system that is deliberately working against their own laws to punish staff. I would never point someone in the direction of the Aged Care industry. the only ones taking up the challenge are foreigners keen to get a foot in the door of Australia for residency. this will always keep conditions and wages down for the rest of us in Australia and not just in Aged Care. They are taken advantage of by signing contracts to stay with the companies for 3 years or more in a lot of circumstances. I have heard some companies are offering to pay for foreign students 14 days of isolation accomodation. So no incentives to make the aged care or other industries appealing to the people already living here. Greed.

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