This article is part of Hive’s Mental Health Week initiative. To celebrate World Mental Health Day on October 10th, we’re hosting a panel all about mental health at work. To compliment that panel, we’re releasing articles throughout the week about mental health in an effort to open and improve dialogue around mental health.

The following is a guest post from Cake HR, an HR company with an easy-to-use tool for keeping track of your businesses challenges. This piece is written by Lenmark Anthony Baltazar, a chemist-writer hybrid who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship and HR whenever he is not tinkering with chemicals in the lab. Today, he is part of the content management team at HR software company CakeHR.

Stress is inevitable, no matter how well you balance work and your personal life. Studies show that work can cause the highest amounts of stress in a person’s life — this stress can stem from an upcoming major deadline, disagreement with a co-worker, or riffs with a manager. Sometimes, the workplace environment itself can also pose a serious threat. That’s where stress leave comes in.

What is stress leave?

Stress leave is an extended period of time that an employee takes off work to deal with or recover from stress-related illnesses, injuries, and other predicaments. Laws regarding stress leave vary from country to country, but the US has a law called FMLA, or “family medical leave act,” which can “guarantee certain employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of job loss.”

Stress leave is required when the situation is so serious it can’t be fixed by a few days break or short vacation. Some of the signs that may require stress leave include:

  • Inability to perform your duties
  • Stress levels affecting your ability to work effectively
  • Work-related stress affecting your personal life or home
  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety, as confirmed by your doctor

Why do employees apply for stress leave?

There are many reasons why employees apply for stress leave. And some are more common than others:

1. Too heavy of a workload

It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed out when you have too many things to do. The pressure of maintaining good performance at work, and the inability to say no to a colleague or boss, is oftentimes a trigger for stress.

2. Lack of work-life balance

Emails, phone calls, and texts all disrupt the work-life balance. Checking emails from work first thing in the morning and before you sleep at night isn’t unusual, but are not helpful if you’re striving for a balanced, healthy life.

3. In-office issues

Office politics, gossiping, bullying, and harassment are just some of the many conflicts that exist in the workplace. Most of the time, our happiness at work depends on the people we are dealing with. If you constantly deal with toxic individuals, then chances go up that you’ll be increasingly stressed.

Steps on how to get a stress leave

Stress leave is a significant period of recovery and must be used carefully. Below are the steps you need to take in order to successfully file for a stress leave at work:

Step 1: Consult your doctor

Many employees procrastinate seeing their doctor. Don’t be one of them. Waiting until your stress escalates could affect your ability to recover. So, if you think you are experiencing symptoms that may require a stress leave, then go and book an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can.

During the consultation, be 100% honest about what you are feeling. This will help the doctor make the right diagnosis and recommendations for your recovery.

Step 2: Get your doctor’s note for stress leave

Many feel uneasy about asking their doctor for time off from work. Don’t be. Remember that your doctor is here to help you. They have the experience and training to deal with situations like this. Below are some key points to remember when talking to your doctor about stress leave:

  • Be open about your symptoms
  • Be upfront about your feelings. Don’t leave out any details.
  • Listen to your doctor’s advice
  • If needed, book follow-up appointments
  • Explain your situation clearly and what you feel triggers your predicament

Step 3: Tell your employer

By this time, you should have a note from your doctor stating that you qualify for a stress leave at work. How will you tell your employer?

Many employees don’t feel comfortable explaining to their employers why they need some time off work. Remember that stress leave is a very common situation in the workplace. And chances are, it’s not your employer’s first time dealing with it. So, go ahead and speak directly with your HR team or manager and explain:

  • Your stress levels are preventing you to work effectively.
  • A doctor has given his recommendation for sick leave.
  • Key details about your condition (you don’t have to explain everything).

Many employees find it easier to speak with a close friend or family member first before speaking to their manager. We actually recommend this, as it will help you verbalize what you are feeling.

Don’t feel intimidated when talking to your manager face to face. Remember that your wellbeing is much more important than work. After explaining your situation, discuss with your employer the amount of time you need for time off and the sick leave note from your doctor.

A lot of employees worry about the impact of stress leave on their job. But remember that legally, employers are obligated to care for your wellbeing in the workplace. Laws about stress leave vary from country to country. To minimize the impact of sick leave on your job security, consider these:

  • Communication with your employer to help manage their expectations.
  • Always be clear and upfront in your communications

Step 4: Focus on your recovery

Now that your stress leave is approved, it’s time to talk about recovery so you can get back to health in no time. Below are some of our tips:

  • Switch off from work – answering work emails and phone call whilst on sick leave is not advised. Remember that this is a period of recovery, so keep your work-related communications to a minimum (preferably to occasional updates about your condition to your boss).
  • Address the root cause of your burnout – is it the lack of sleep? The absence of entertainment? Whatever your problem is, it is best to identify the root cause of your burnout and then resolving them. Remember, burnout doesn’t get better on its own.
  • Take care of your body – stress can affect you physically. While you are on stress leave, take good care of your body. Exercise lightly, eat balanced meals, drink lots of fluid and eat nutritious foods.
  • Be patient – if recovering from severe stress, you might feel that you’re never going to live a normal life again. But just be patient. You will eventually recover, but there is no guarantee as to when. Keep in touch with your doctor and keep an open line of communication with your close family and friends.

Step 5: Returning to work

Returning to work after a stress leave can be an overwhelming experience. When returning to work, we advise a “phased return.” It’s easier to ease back into things, and start working a few hours a week, then move on to a few half days. Monitor what you are feeling and make adjustments as necessary. Work closely with your doctor and employer during this period of transition.

How about dealing with your colleagues? Getting questions about why you took stress leave from your co-workers is inevitable. You are not obliged to explain everything in detail to them. You know who you work with, so we’ll leave your response up to you.

Step 6: Managing stress at work

Again, stress at work is inevitable. Because prevention is better than curing it after the fact, we’ll talk about how you can minimize the amount of stress you feel at work:

  • Talk to your manager about how to improve your work situation.
  • Ask your employer to reduce your current workload by temporarily reallocating tasks you find stressful, switching to a less demanding position, or reducing your work hours.
  • Changing your lifestyle — exercising, meditating, improving your diet, reducing the time you spend with electronic devices, avoiding toxic relationships, etc.
  • Acknowledge that you will have rough days. Not everything will go according to plan. Just take a step back, relax, and accept things as they are.

If your condition doesn’t seem to improve, it’s probably best to look for a new employer.

The Role of HR Software in Requesting Stress Leave at Work

HR Software, like CakeHR, is designed to make time-off requests easier for you. Without the hassle or spreadsheets and paper forms, you can apply for a leave on the web, CakeHR’s mobile app, and even from Slack! This self-service feature also enables your HR team or manager to approve your request in real-time without dealing with piles of paperwork.

Conclusion

Love yourself first. Remember that at the end of the day, it’s your wellbeing that matters first — not your work. Stress leave is crucial recovery period designed to help you maintain your health. If you feel you a need for a stress leave, don’t forget these steps:

  • Consult your doctor
  • Get your doctor’s note for stress leave
  • Tell your employer
  • Focus on your recovery
  • Return to work gradually
  • Manage stress at work more effectively
  • Use an HR Software to ease out your leave stress application process