Male sleeping in bed

Why workplaces need more doona days

How this mental health initiative improves productivity in the workplace

4 minute read
Male sleeping in bed

Imagine being able to skip your alarm in the morning to enjoy a well-needed sleep-in before a day of rest and recuperation – no questions asked.

This workplace phenomenon is known as a doona day – a company-approved mental health initiative allowing employees to recharge their batteries when they feel they are running on empty.

While doona days have taken off across the world, Health and Community Psychologist Marny Lishman said Australia was only just catching up, with companies slowly warming up to the idea.

“Doona days aren’t as common as they should be – people are certainly taking days like this but not calling it that,” Dr Lishman said.

“It’s often known as a mental health day or wellness day, but even then, you need to make sure it works with your workload and get it approved quite far in advance.

“People don’t often feel safe to say they need a doona day to recharge. There’s still a stigma there; people feel guilty about taking a day off when they’re feeling burnt out, so they might tell a fib and say they’re feeling physically unwell with a cold or flu.”

Netflix binge or errand catch-up?

Need a day dedicated to getting a haircut or catching up on that dental appointment you have been avoiding?

Or perhaps you have been meaning to mow the lawn, or can’t seem to escape your favourite Netflix show.

A doona day looks different to everyone.

To make the best use of a doona day, Dr Lishman said employees should question what their bodies and minds need to perform better.

“Having that day to either rest and relax or to play a bit of catch up on your life commitments enables you to get back on track and remove some of the pressure and mental load, so when you do come back, you’re performing at your best and your stress levels are lower,” she said.

“When our stress levels are lower, we’re more connected to our work. We’re also more creative and happier which, in turn, makes us more productive and nicer to our colleagues when we have those moments of recharge.”

Outlined in Deloitte’s Operating in the New Normal report, one in three Australian professionals felt fatigued or stressed by work every week, while Allianz Australia’s Allianz Future Thriving Workplaces study of more than 1500 Australian workers found 80 per cent wanted more resources and initiatives to address mental health in the workplace.

“One of the best things is to ask your staff what they might want. It all depends on the line of work too,” Dr Lishman said.

“If it’s taxing on the body versus the mind, some different proactive strategies are needed.

“For some, it might mean a doona day, while to others it might be a four-day week.

“It’s about asking yourself what your staff need to be mentally and physically well.”

The proof is in the pudding

Contributing to their wellbeing initiatives, Carman’s Kitchen offers employees two doona days per year.

It is one of the reasons why the company was ranked fifth in the Australian Financial Review’s BOSS Best Places to Work awards in 2021.

“It stemmed from bringing some honesty to the conversation that our staff sometimes just need a break,” Carman’s Kitchen Chief People Officer Lainie Tayler said.

“That moved to us allowing employees to access two personal leave days per year, which they don’t have to explain.

“They can just say, ‘I’m having a doona day’.

“There doesn’t need to be any notice and we celebrate that.

“When people take a doona day, we say, ‘we hope you have a good restful day and we’ll see you tomorrow’.”

Ms Tayler said doona days allowed staff to engage in activities promoting relaxation and rejuvenation.

“Lots of people take it easy and potter around the house, binge Netflix or some people like to book a spa day, and then go shopping in the afternoon,” she said.

“It’s about taking time to do what you need to do for yourself individually, as opposed to running around for other people or family.”

Ms Tayler said doona days encouraged better productivity and wellbeing within the workplace.

“You can tell people are definitely happier and rejuvenated after a doona day and, in turn, they’re happier at work,” she said.

“It’s about giving employees the space to work how they work best.

“It’s great to see the growing recognition of the importance of mental health initiatives and self-care because it makes workplaces better for everyone.”