Talent War - Doona days and wellness warriors becoming mainstream in agencies

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 10 August 2022
Source: Mahyar Motebassem via Unsplash

Agencies have responded with initiatves for employee mental health and wellbeing to meet stresses heightened by the pandemic.

85% of workers report their wellbeing fell through the various lockdowns over the past two years. A global study from Coursera cited worker burnout as the number one reason for resignation. 

According to PwC’s What Workers Want report, when asked to rank their preferences based on what they value most from an employer, the top result was financial incentives at 25%. Second was wellbeing support with 22% wanting mental health support, work-life balance and wellness benefits such as gym membership. 

And since more than one-third of workers (37%) consider their workplace the main source of mental health support, it's clear that employers have a role to play.

Employers who can’t accommodate will have a more difficult time attracting top talent.

“Organisations must continually review efforts and reallocate investment to give employees access to the most appropriate and comprehensive wellbeing offering,” says the report.

“This means fostering a sense of social connection, creating safe spaces to share personal stories, enabling greater flexibility around how and when work is done, building interpersonal skills and wellbeing capability beyond named leaders, and driving access to a variety of evidence-based support services.

“We used to think about an employer’s duty of care ending the moment someone walked out the door, but now it’s so much broader and less easily defined.”

As the great resignation ramps up, providing a safe work environment that fosters mental health and wellbeing perks such as doona days and wellness warriors is necessary to retain and attract staff.

What is a doona day?

Separate from sick days and annual leave, doona days are paid leave days to care for mental wellbeing without needing notice in advance or submitting a doctor’s certificate. 

While the terminology doona day is not industry standard, the idea of giving staff additional paid leave for mental health and wellbeing is becoming common. AdNews spoke to six agencies about doona day policies.

Bek Agius, senior brand and marketing manager at independent digital marketing agency Alpha Digital, told AdNews: “Every employee is entitled to a doona day, which is an additional day of leave per year that they can use to help relieve stress or overwhelm, or to simply recharge. 

“There is no notice or explanation required and the employee’s manager will ensure the workload for that person is covered for that day to allow them to rest and get back to themselves.”

Independent marketing agency WiredCo offers what it calls supercharged leave' which includes unlimited doona days, unlimited mental health days, unlimited period/pregnancy leave and unlimited compassionate leave.

GroupM, under WPP’s network wide policy gives all employees a four-day weekend - from Friday July 8 to Monday July 11 - “to make space, recharge, reset and celebrate”. 

At dentsu, employees are entitled to three annual wellness days, allowing them to “switch off and properly disconnect”.

Publicis Groupe closes for World Mental Health Day for “mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma”, and offers 10 days per year of paid wellbeing leave.

Pauly Grant, Publicis Groupe ANZ’s chief talent officer, told AdNews: “Last year, as part of our new mental health policy – we made the conscious shift from changing personal and carer’s leave to ‘wellbeing leave’, a more holistic term that reflects the need to support both people’s physical and mental health. 

“Wellbeing leave is for our people to use when they need time to reset so that they can be their best selves.”

Creative agency The Works, part of Capgemini, has two additional leave days “for the whole team to take stock, rest, recuperate and really focus on their mental health,” including an annual switch-off day every September which coincides with #RUOKDay and an annual family day which marks The Works' birthday.

Melanie Gillam, principal consultant at NewyTechPeople & RemoteTechPeople, told AdNews: “The concept of doona days - taking an unscheduled, company-approved day off to recharge - felt like a ground-breaking step in the right direction when it was first launched, particularly as there was so much stigma around mental health.

"Thankfully, things have evolved and companies are now demonstrating their commitment to employee wellbeing with a broader range of initiatives and a higher level of commitment.  

“I personally think doona days which correlate to a mental health awareness event such as #RUOKDay and World Mental Health Day sends a stronger message as it opens up the conversation about mental health and wellbeing and all employees, including leaders, participate.

“I think that if you look at the statistics you’d find that not everyone who has access to them utilises doona days. 

“I’ve never had a candidate ask if a company offers donna days but they are very interested in hearing what companies do to support employee wellbeing and how seriously they take it.” 

What is a workplace wellness warrior?

Bek Agius at Alpha Digital said: “Wellbeing warriors are a team of Alpha employees responsible for driving our workplace wellbeing program to support a positive and productive work environment where people feel empowered to succeed.”

Alpha Digital also has 12 accredited mental health first aiders who have undergone training to equip them with the skills to identify and support peers who might be in crisis.

However, more commonly, agencies use wellness warriors in addition to outsourced mental health support with professional therapists.

For example, every Alpha Digital employee also has personal access to their employee assistance program (EAP) called Uprise. 

“This program provides a number of free mental health support resources including counselling services, free webinars and self-learning modules for resilience and capability building.

“Each team member can also make use of three completely confidential coaching or counselling sessions through Uprise, who will connect them with a registered psychologist.”

After all, most people seek help outside working hours, so organisations must factor this into the provision of support, as PwC stated in its report:

“Not all employers will be able to provide around-the-clock support, which can be cost-prohibitive, but all employers can provide pathways to this care, leveraging services offered through Australia’s not-for-profit mental health sector.

“There is strong evidence that digital mental health tools and assisted support is effective, meaning this is a good way to achieve scale cost-effectively.”

Julie Dormand, managing partner at creative agency, The Works, part of Capgemini, told AdNews: “As well as offering an employee assistance program for counselling and life coaching, The Works also has volunteer wellness champions.

"Volunteer wellness champions at The Works benefit from being trained in mental health and are available to our team as and when someone needs an ear. They also organise monthly events such as a team hike and febfast challenge recently.”

Michelle Hampton, managing partner at independent marketing agency WiredCo told AdNews: “On a ‘formal’ level, our quarterly team happiness surveys give us valuable insight into whether our [perk] programs are resonating with our team.

“In our latest team happiness survey, our team said they needed more regular mental health support, so in addition to offering unlimited counselling sessions, we also now run group mental health sessions every other month.”

Scott Laird, chief people officer, GroupM told AdNews: “Every GroupM employee has access to 24/7 confidential counselling through an EAP, LifeWorks. This is available not only when things are tough, but when employees just need to talk out a problem with someone outside their network. 

“There is a manager hotline available for any team specific needs and EAP extends to their immediate family or dependents. The app provides health assessment tools and resources to build wellbeing skillset.”

Ferrah Dagli, chief people officer, dentsu ANZ told AdNews: “All our people have access to mental health support webinars delivered by the Black Dog Institute as well as free resources provided by Calm, including meditation and movement exercises.”

Pauly Grant, Publicis Groupe ANZ’s chief talent officer told AdNews: “We provide our staff access to an EAP which provides a network of fully registered psychologists and social workers who are available for confidential, short term counselling services. 

“We have also further increased our number of staff trained in mental health first aid to become formal MHFA wardens.”

What else are employers doing for staff mental health and wellbeing?

Beyond doona days and wellness warriors being mainstream mental health initiatives, most agencies also offer standard benefits such as gym memberships and free flu shots, but some companies also offer industry-leading perks which are definitely worth noting.

Bek Agius at Alpha Digital said: “We offer a wellbeing budget, where each employee has an annual wellbeing budget to spend on supporting their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. 

“These can be spent on things like massages, fitness memberships, physiotherapy and personal psychologist or counselling appointments, among other things proven to positively impact individual wellbeing.”

Michelle Hampton at WiredCo said: “Over the last twelve months, we have invested 24% of our EBIT to our people & culture program - that’s a lot, but we don’t see our business operating any other way.

“WiredCo offers professional training, in-house fitness and an expanded culture club including secret pick-me-ups, and extra ReWired events (social activities).”

Ferrah Dagli at dentsu said: “Additional wellbeing benefits we offer are discounted gym memberships and onsite flu vaccinations.”

Julie Dormand at The Works said: “We offer subsidised gym, free flu shots and access to the Best Doctors program.”

Pauly Grant at Publicis Groupe said: “We offer a range of initiatives from exercise classes, yoga sessions, nutritional information, mindfulness training, mental health first aid training, unique masterclasses and expert advice on why our downtime is as important as go time.”

Besides the fact that providing mental health and wellbeing initiatives is the right thing to do, there is a clear return to the organisation, PwC stated in its report.

“For every dollar spent by businesses on successful mental health programs, organisations can expect a return on investment of between $1 and $4 for an average return of $2.306.”

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