Back in the bad old days, we rarely spoke up about our mental health – in fact, we rarely used to speak about our personal battles with emotional wellness at all.
But now, thanks to the likes of Fearne Cotton, Selena Gomez, Ryan Reynolds, and countless others in the spotlight, it has become more acceptable and, more importantly, this increased dialogue has paved the way to better understanding and empathy.
And yet, despite this, many of us still feel unable to take time off from work when we’re suffering from anxiety or depression.
Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation have indicated that there are at least 8.2 million cases of anxiety annually in the UK alone – and yet, despite the debilitating effects that come hand-in-hand with this mental health condition, fewer and fewer of us are taking time off work when we need to.
Our culture’s emphasis on 100% attendance and presenteeism means that seven out of 10 employees working in private firms – which equates to a not-insignificant 18 million of us – have headed into work despite being unwell.
With so many of us content to go into work with visible (or audible – think of all the coughing and sneezing fits) conditions, though, it makes it even more difficult for those of us with invisible conditions to request a day off from our boss.
However things are changing – as has been made abundantly and beautifully clear by this CEO’s response to an employee after they took some time off for mental health reasons.
Madalyn Parker, a web developer and engineer at Olark Live Chat, made the brave decision to not just take time off to focus on her emotional wellbeing, but to also be honest with her colleagues about it.
“I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health,” she told them, in an email titled, ‘Where’s Madalyn?’
She continued: “Hopefully I’ll be back next week [feeling] refreshed and back to 100%.”
It wasn’t long before her company’s CEO, Ben Congleton, spotted the message and replied.
And, in doing so, he set a new precedent for how a boss should respond when someone needs a mental health day.
He wrote: “I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this.
“Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organisations.
“You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”
Parker screengrabbed and shared her boss’ thoughtful response on her Twitter feed, writing: “When the CEO responds to your out of the office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision.”
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before the post had gone viral, quietly racking up over 8,000 retweets and 30,000 likes.
And now, in a Medium post, Congleton has reflected on why he feels their exchange has touched so many people on social media.
“As executives, we lead organisations made up of people who’ve come together to make an impact,” he wrote.
“Our job is to empower and motivate our teams to maximize the impact of our organization for our customers, our employees, our shareholders, and the world.”
Congleton added: “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.”
He called upon executives and employers everywhere to “take some time to reflect on how your company’s values help create a safe-space for your teammates ” – and, more importantly, “think of one action you can take to help your teammates feel safe.”
You can – and should – read his full essay here.