Usually when an employee calls in sick, it’s assumed that they are on the other end of the line in pretty rough shape. The flu, a stomach bug, and being contagious are all accepted reasons to take a day off to recover.
With that said, not all ailments are physical. I think we can all think of a time when we could have used a mental health day but didn’t feel like we could ask for one at work.
However, Madalyn Parker, a web developer at live chat platform Olark, recently realized she needed a day to herself for her mental health, and she wasn’t shy about hiding it.
Many employers would turn their noses up at this request. After all, a mental health day isn’t a universally accepted reason to take time off from work.
But when Madalyn emailed her coworkers anyway, the response she received from her CEO was truly unexpected.
According to USA Today, Madalyn deals with anxiety and chronic depression.
Mental health concerns can impact your productivity just as much as the flu, which is why, for Madalyn and other people with similar conditions, it’s sometimes better to simply take time off and recover.
Madalyn shared on Twitter the email she sent to her coworkers about her being out of the office.
“I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health,” it reads. “Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
Madalyn’s out-of-office email is unusual on its own, but what really caught people’s attention was the caption she shared alongside it: “When the CEO responds to your out of the office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision.”
Madalyn shared the direct email she’d received from the big boss after requesting the time off.
Instead of emailing Madalyn to reprimand her for her request, he praised her for her initiative.
“You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work,” he wrote.
I know that if I was in Madalyn’s shoes, seeing an email from the CEO responding to my out-of-office request would have been nerve-racking.
However, as she mentioned in her tweet above, CEO Ben Congleton had a warm and very thoughtful response to her time off.
After Madalyn’s tweet took off, Ben also took some time to talk more broadly about Olark’s policy on taking time off for mental health.
In an article for Medium, he wrote:
It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.
Unfortunately, not all companies share Olark’s empathy for mental health.
Many people responded to Madalyn’s tweet and to Ben’s article by explaining that their workplaces simply don’t make it possible to take mental health days.
It’s true that there’s still a lot of stigma around the issue, and not many people are able to be as honest as Madalyn was.
Luckily, there are exceptions, and many companies and their leaders are accepting and embracing the idea that mental health is, well, health.
Hopefully, we’ll see many more employers take a page out of Olark’s book in the future!
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