Life at work: Feeling frazzled? Take a day and shop.

Company: Mental Health Association of Montgomery County.

Location: Rockville.

Number of employees: 80.

One day a year, Jamila Allouane, a bilingual therapist at the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County, gets paid to shop.

For the past five years, employees at the nonprofit have been getting a paid day off between November and January to catch up on holiday shopping.

This year, Allouane plans to spend the day looking for North African art and handmade rugs at a local market in Algeria, where she will be visiting family in December.

“I love shopping as a coping mechanism,” said Allouane, who works with African immigrants, many of whom have been tortured and are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. “I can spend three or four hours just browsing at one shop. It’s a great way to relax.”

Although Mental Health Association bills the vacation day as an opportunity to stock up on Christmas and Hanukkah gifts, Executive Director Sharon Friedman says employees can use the time any way they like.

“Many of us take care of ourselves in other ways,” Friedman said. “You don’t have to shop. Nobody asks for the receipts.”

Most employees take the time off before the holidays, but a few wait until January and use the day to return and exchanges gifts, Friedman said.

“The holidays are very intense for us,” she said. “It ends up taking an emotional and physical toll on our employees, so we want them to take time for themselves and their families.”

Employees also get a paid holiday for their birthday, as well as a day of their choosing during the summer.

This year, Friedman will use her shopping day to prepare for Hanukkah. In the past, she has used the time off to care for loved ones, cook Thanksgiving dinners and prepare for the holidays.

There was one year, though, when she used the day to shop. She can’t quite remember what she bought, but she ventures a guess.

“I’m sure it was shoes,” Friedman said. “Either that or a pocketbook.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local retail, hospitality and banking for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.

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