What is Stress Leave?

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck May 14, 2024

Stress, to a certain degree, is normal in the workplace. But when it gets too much, stress leave can help.

Life, work, or a bit of both, might get to be a bit much for someone, and begin to affect their performance, motivation, attitude, and build long-term physical and mental health issues.

Stress leave can prevent this happening and nip issues in the bud before they develop into something worse. Read on to learn all you need to know about stress leave, and how to manage it in your business.

Key Takeaways:

  • A rising number of companies are choosing to provide stress leave from work as a specific leave type.
  • Stress leave is used when an employee is struggling to cope with their current stress levels, and needs a day or two to disconnect and recharge.
  • If your company offers stress leave, use Flamingo to give employees a quick, convenient and easy way to ask for a day off when they’re really struggling.

What is Stress Leave?

Stress leave is a type of medical leave, provided for times when an employee is feeling overwhelmed and struggling to deal with their current levels of stress.

Not all businesses provide stress leave as a standalone leave type, though some allow employees to take sick leave to cover stress-related illnesses, or simply for high bouts of stress.

Some companies provide mental health days, which may be used for the same purpose as stress leave.

There are few laws that specifically refer to stress leave, so how it works is kind of all over the map. It could be paid or unpaid, and employees could have a yearly allowance for stress leave, or it could be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

When Is Stress Leave Necessary?

It’s not easy to know when an employee needs a day off due to stress. They may not even know themselves.

Generally, an employee may need to take stress leave when they:

In these situations, a short leave of absence can be enough to allow the employee to briefly disconnect from the stressors of work and come back refreshed, recharged and in a positive state of mind.

Is Stress Leave Required By Law

If you’re in the United States, then you might be required to provide sick leave by law if your company is eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Severe stress, or other stress-related conditions like insomnia, nausea, digestive issues, etc., could all qualify for sick leave under FMLA. But typically, your employee’s doctor would have to recommend stress leave in these circumstances. 

Employees are eligible for sick leave (which may include stress leave with a doctor’s diagnosis) through FMLA if the following are true. 

Note that FMLA does not require that you provide paid stress leave. But eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical reasons, and you have to guarantee that their position will be there for them when they return.

If your company does not fall under FMLA regulations, offering your staff a paid leave of absence for stress or mental health issues is up to you. Though not legally bound, it might still make sense for you to offer stress leave to your employees, as we will discuss below. 

Why You Should Offer Employees Stress Leave

Here are some reasons why you should consider including stress leave as part of your leave policy.

Stress is a Real & Serious Health Condition

When stress is severe enough, it should fall under the category of sick leave and medical leave. 

Many of us tend to think of stress as something that’s “just mental” and we don’t recognize it for what it is. Stress can be a serious health condition, that affects various systems in the body. 

Here are just a few examples of illnesses that can be caused, or exacerbated, by stress and similar mental health issues:

Needless to say, it’s tough to focus on work when one is dealing with these physical symptoms. 

Over time, unchecked stress levels lead to more serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression. 

Today, more and more companies are recognizing that severe work-related stress should not be treated any differently than other health condition, like the flu or a migraine.

Happier Employees Are More Engaged, More Productive Employees

You already know that your employees do their best work when they’re feeling good, and full of confidence and excitement.

That’s impossible when an employee is dealing with mental and physical fatigue, and feeling burned out

When working through periods of great stress, many employees will perform at a fraction of their potential, and you’ll be paying for their dip in productivity this whole time.

Stress leave from work can provide them with enough of a break to seek the help they need to recover both mentally and physically. Oftentimes the employee will return to work after their leave of absence free from stress, and ready to give their all to the job again.

Stressed Employees Are Contagious

Just like you wouldn’t want someone with the flu to show up at work, you also don’t want someone dealing with severe stress to bring their negativity to the workplace. 

It might not be an airborne disease, but stress and mental health often affects those around us. Letting one team member continue to work while suffering from severe stress tends to bring the rest of the team down, and can result in more widespread medical issues in your team.

Don’t treat the staff member like a leper. But understand that stress is a medical condition that can spread and infect your whole team if you’re not careful.

Prevention vs. Cure: How to Prevent the Need for Stress Leave

It’s a good idea to offer stress leave to promote wellbeing in your workplace. But it’s better if you can prevent stress from becoming a problem in the first place.

It’s not just because of the cost of having employees away on stress leave. It’s that stress leave indicates deeper problems in the workplace. And if acute bouts of stress happen once, they’re likely to happen again.

Here are some tips to creating a positive and stress-free workplace.

Provide a Generous Leave Allowance

Providing a generous paid time off allowance will reduce stress and burnout and prevent long employee absences within your team.

Let employees take time off as they need it, rather than working for long periods without a break. More frequent vacations or short breaks may prevent the need for stress leave to begin with.

Also ensure you encourage employees to take leave, and that it’s easy for them to do so. A leave management software like Flamingo is a great tool for reducing friction in the leave request process.

Try Flamingo for free and get set up in five minutes.

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Help Employees Maintain a Work-Life Balance

Recognize that your employees are unique individuals, and they each have their own passions, interests, and social commitments. 

Employers should understand that people are happier and more productive when they have time to spend with their family and friends, or to pursue interests outside of work.

Don’t push your staff to work too much overtime, or insist on unrealistic work hours on a consistent basis. Also consider adopting flexible work schedules or hybrid/remote working arrangements.

The right work-life balance will result in happier, less stressed employees.

Manage Employees’ Workloads

Try to make sure that no employee gets overloaded with too many tasks and responsibilities.

If there are times when one team member has too much to do, maybe because he or she excels at a certain type of task, be sure to allow them some time off later and have the rest of the team pitch in to make up for it. 

Balancing the workload evenly among your team will make sure everyone’s workload remains manageable, which means they’re less likely to get overwhelmed. It will keep employees happy and prevent the need for stress leave.

Trending Article: Learn all about Presenteeism: the $150 billion condition afflicting more and more of today’s workforce.

Create a Positive Work Environment

Last but not least, try to create a positive work environment.

A place of work that is full of people that are driven and motivated to perform at their best, but also ones that are optimistic, have a can-do attitude, and are generally pleasant to be around.

Enthusiasm and a positive outlook are infectious. And when you have an entire team of people that encouraging each other, supporting each other, and challenging each other to be better, you can expect good things to happen.

A lot of this comes down to the people you hire in the first place. But you can also provide training, team-building exercises and outings, and social events to create a bond between your employees.

Final Thoughts on Stress Leave

Stress-related illness is a real illness, just like the flu, food poisoning or a migraine. And as an employer, you should recognize the need for leave to recover from these illnesses.

If your company falls under FMLA, then you may be required by law to provide stress leave, if recommended by your employee’s doctor.

Even if you don’t fall under FMLA, it is still be a good idea to allow stress leave to promote employee wellbeing. 

The best strategy, however, is to minimize stress in the first place so there is less need for staff to take stress leave. You can do this by building a positive work environment, not overworking your staff, and giving ample opportunity for your team members to take leave, refresh, and maintain a positive work/life balance.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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