What we should learn from this employer’s response to a worker’s mental health day

For a phrase that has the word “health” in it, mental health is all too often overlooked as a vital component of wellness. That’s why it gives us such hope that an employer in California wasn’t just open to one of his employee’s requests for a mental health day—but actively applauded it.

In a now-viral Twitter post from Madalyn Parker, a web developer at the software company Olark, she explained to her co-workers and employer that she needed a brief mental health break before returning to work “refreshed and back to 100%.” In the email chain Parker posted, her boss, Ben Congleton, replied by complimenting and thanking Parker on her decision to share the true reason for taking time out of the office. As he stated, he “use[s] it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health.”

Reflecting on the situation, Parker told Motherly she’s grateful she was transparent because it’s already opened up more dialogue in her office.

“Now that things have gone viral, many of my teammates have been checking in with me to make sure I’m handling the attention OK,” she said. “But, usually when I take off for mental health, I return to work, let my team know how I’m doing, adjust expectations and get things done.”

While this is a short exchange, it is telling: A follow-up is offered based on having stepped out of the office, but the focus is otherwise on the work that needs to be done, much like it should be if we were to step out of the office with a cold.

This acceptance that highs and lows with mental wellness are natural parts of life is something that employers should strive to facilitate in all workplaces—because, as Congleton said in his response, we all benefit when we can “cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

In a follow-up interview with MONEY, Congleton further explored his feelings about the stigma of mental health in the workplace as opposed to how it is handled at Olark: “I sort of felt like this was just something that should be normal. It’s just business as usual for us. This is not something new.”

After the conversation about mental wellness initially went viral, Congleton also explored his thoughts on Medium, where he said, “It is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the typical workplace. In situations like this, it is so easy to tell your teammates you are ‘not feeling well.’ Even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your coworkers about mental health issues.”

While more workplaces are moving toward more rights and benefits, a long road is still ahead of us in regard to open conversations for all—but it is affirming to know that there are companies who are contesting for mental health rights and representation.

McKenzie Lynn Tozan is a writer, poet and mama, living in South Bend, IN. When she’s not writing poetry, book reviews or works about family, living and entertainment, she’s nerding out over books and movies, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and their three boys (cats!). Visit her on her website, Facebook or Instagram for more.

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