When my daughter was at primary school, I used to take her out on what I called "well days".

About twice a year, I would turn up at school having informed the principal that I had to take Kate for a (totally fictitious) appointment and I would whisk her away from the classroom.

We would spend the day doing whatever we fancied. They were glorious, fun, stolen days and whether it was movies and shopping at the mall, or picnics and swimming at the beach, the best thing about the days was that we had the luxury of time.

I was a working single mother and most of our life was spent rushing.


To be able to enjoy one another's company, to have the time to go for a wander and find the source of the water that had turned the road into a river or to stay at the library all day rather than making a quick selection, was priceless.

I've always felt sick days were for being sick. Well days were an entirely different proposition.

Over time, Kate grew out of well days. The stated reason was that she didn't want to miss school but I suspect it was that she didn't want to hang out with her mother, which is entirely reasonable.

I think they were an early version of mental health days, which have been in the news this week thanks to an email conversation doing the rounds on social media.

A web developer in the States set up an automatic email response on her work computer that read, "I'm taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I'll be back next week, refreshed and 100 per cent."

It was her employer's response that had everybody talking.

"Every time [you send an email like this] I use it as a reminder of using sick days for mental health," wrote CEO Ben Congleton. "I can't believe this is not standard practice across all organisations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work."

The employee posted the email from her boss on Twitter and it went, in that much over-used term, viral.

Sick days were for being sick. Well days were an entirely different proposition.


The debate that followed was interesting. A number of callers on our afternoon show on ZB took mental health days - generally in careers that involved life and death - when they were completely strung out emotionally.

Others told us they wished they, or their loved one, had taken mental health days. It may have prevented a total breakdown in one case, and a suicide in the other.

Both were men who ran their own companies but who also ran themselves into the ground, refusing to take time off as they battled with the pressure that comes with having your house on the line, a number of employees depending on you for their livelihoods and the ups and downs of doing business.

And predictably, there were those who sniffed dismissively at the whole notion of looking after your mental health and were of the "take a concrete pill" school of thought.

Any employer worth their salt understands the importance of flexibility when it comes to time off and it's not just the big corporates who can afford it - I was pleased to see Business NZ has produced a booklet on how small to medium businesses can manage a more adaptable workplace.

And any employee worth their salt understands the importance of not abusing the allowances offered by decent bosses.

It's give and take, but most employees who are treated as valuable members of a team will respond by going above and beyond their contractual duties for an accommodating employer.

• Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, Monday to Friday, noon-4pm.