Whatever happened to the Personal Mental Health Day?

In my first post-college job, every now and again, we’d call in sick but instead of claiming we were ill, we’d call it a Personal Mental Health Day.  A day to just sleep in, run some errands, or even simply chill out…or maybe you just stayed out too late partying after volleyball.

Hi, I”m not coming in today.   Oh are you sick?  No, just taking a PMH day.

This wasn’t an admission of mental illness nor a slight against it.  This was just a coded way of saying I don’t wanna lie to you and say I’m sick when we both know I’m not.  

But it was also a delightfully ingenious form of empowerment. It’s my personal business what I’m doing and I have the right to take a day off now and again, but instead of saying it that way, I’m framing it more graciously.


I know some companies distinguish between sick days and vacation days. When I started in Corporate America, the term was Bank Time. You banked time off so that you could take a vacation or have a sick day when needed. Of course, caps were put in place for reasons. We could only carry over a certain amount each year and get paid out for the rest. I imagine some crafty person back in the day gamed the system and was able to effectively retire several years early while still earning a paycheck from some company. Thanks a lot, Roger for ruining it for the rest of us.

Later it became PTO or Paid Time Off.  Based on my discussions with other privileged peoples, I believe the benefit was that you could borrow against it.  It’s crazy but some people want to go someplace warm in February but might now have enough time saved because they used it for those annoying obligatory trips to visit family during the holidays last year.  Also, as I understand it, if you have children, you are legally obligated to visit one of the Kingdoms of the Mouse in their lifetime.  It says so in the Constitution.

Now the latest is FTO or Flexible Time Off. When I worked at Top-Five we switched from PTO to FTO. The thing is, they didn’t give us much if any warning about the switch so many people burned through their PTO instead of getting paid out for it. Its moves like these by companies that always make it a little easier to justify the PMH day.

Full Disclosure: I have had this post in my Idea Folder for ages but when I saw Chris O’Brien’s What happened to the good old fashioned sick day over at Medium Rare, it prompted me to get out of my funk and hit publish, after doing my best to make it ready for prime time.

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Filed under: Corporate America

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