What is a duvet day, and should your company offer them?

Sounds like the perfect day, doesn’t it?

Cuddled up in a toasty duvet on the sofa, with warm mug of hot chocolate, with no responsibilities other than switching the TV channel. Knowing your team mates are stuck at their desk or rushing between meetings makes it even sweeter.

But how do you feel as a boss, knowing your employee is just chilling at home, taking an unplanned day when they could be in the office working hard on that precious deadline?

The concept of duvet days has the ability to split opinions drastically. Some see them as necessary, some think they’re harmful to businesses.

Let’s have a look at what they are, who they actually help, and whether or not you should use them.

What is a duvet day?

A duvet day is an unscheduled day of leave someone takes when they don’t want to work that day. It’s a ‘just because’ day, used to unwind and take the burden of responsibility away for one blissful day.

A duvet day is a no-questions-asked kinda thing - it differs from other absences in that you don't need to provide a reason for it other that to say you are taking a duvet day.

It does have some crossover with a mental health day, although you’re more likely to see duvet days allowed specifically in a company’s absence policy. 'Two duvet days per year’ might be a benefit advertised to prospective new hires, signalling a fairly progressive absence management culture. Whereas mental health days can be for more specific conditions, like a flare-up of an anxiety disorder, or preventative action like going to see a therapist even if there’s no specific symptoms (this is also the thinking behind ‘unsick days’).

Why do companies offer duvet days?

Let’s be honest - everyone needs one now and again. You might have even ‘pulled a sickie’ at some point when you weren’t sick, just because you didn’t want to work. Duvet days provide a compassionate angle on that (and a good way to separate sickness absence from 'can't-be-bothered’ absence.) It’s a type of absence that doesn’t really fit into any other categories, but tackles a problem we all know exists.

There’s also the obvious advantage in positioning it as a benefit alongside other perks to attract talented recruits.

We think duvet days are a good idea on the whole. We all have times where we just don’t want to work, not through laziness, but through temporary burnout that comes from really busy periods. It shouldn’t be shameful or immoral to want to just chill for a while.

From a business point of view, there are some things to keep in mind.

If you’re a small company with single points of failure (ie only one person who has the passwords for your website admin), someone taking a last-minute day off could spell trouble, especially if you can't reach them in an emergency.

You might deign certain ‘crunch’ times to be ’no duvet day’ periods to combat this, but that could prove unpopular with staff and harm their trust in you.

What’s wrong with duvet days?

Duvet days are only a temporary fix - they won’t solve the underlying issue. If someone’s having mental health struggles - for example an episode of depression - then a duvet day won’t do much help, as tempting as it might be. The better thing to do would be to call in sick for a few days, take some time to recover, and try to see a doctor. From there, the usual steps can be followed, and they might be signed off longer-term.

Doing this will clearly be better for their recovery, and the business can plan for them being away for a while.

Duvet days can also impact the business by introducing last-minute complications. During quiet times for your company, a duvet day won’t make much difference, but if the team is struggling to finish an important project before a deadline, hearing that a colleague has binned off the day to watch Netflix instead will really annoy some people.

There’s also a more philosophical angle - if everyone in the business keeps taking their maximum duvet day allowance every year, might there be something wrong with the company? What’s causing people to be away from work as much as possible? That’s something worth investigating for sure.

Is it good to have Duvet Days?

Duvet days are a kind, proactive way of helping employees cope with the pressures of a modern workplace. Allowing them builds trust in the eyes of employees - especially as they themselves are trusted to not take the mick by abusing a generous absence policy.

Consider the alternative - anyone wanting to take a duvet day isn’t likely to be much use in the office anyway. If they’re really run down and low on energy, a good portion of their time will be unproductive - meaning the business doesn’t benefit from them being there, and they don’t get to rest & recharge. Nobody wins.

Allowing duvet days goes hand-in-hand with cultivating a positive company absence culture, where rules and expectations are documented clearly and fairly, and staff from all areas take the right amount of leave. People should feel they’re allowed to stay home when necessary, so they don’t spread illnesses around the office. But preventative care is important too; encouraging staff to take their full leave allowance through the year will ensure they’re well-rested and not likely to reach burnout.

Allowing a couple of duvet days per year could be a really positive step for many companies, helping to prevent more serious sickness absence by giving a break when it’s really needed - something you can’t always plan for.