Asking for a day off isn’t exactly praised in the Western work force. We’ve been taught that working long hours and never taking breaks is the best way to climb the ladder to the top. But what if you don’t want the top? And what if, even if you do, you don’t think it’s worth burning the candle at both ends to get there?
This is really just the tip of the iceberg. People need days off for all sorts of reasons. They could have family emergencies, have endured a sleepless night, or be physically or mentally ill. But asking for a day off can be scary no matter how ‘valid’ the reason. Will you be perceived as weak, lazy, or worse — a liar?
A web developer named Madalyn Parker braved all of this and more when she did more than ask for a day off, requesting several days off to focus on her mental health. Mental health is a tricky thing. You can’t always see psychological issues like you can the flu or a broken leg, but this lack of visibility doesn’t make them any less real, or any less of a reason to take time off. When she requested the days off in an email to her boss, she was stunned by his response.
Parker works for live chat software engineering company Olark. In 2015, she wrote a very raw essay about her battle with mental health issues, and how they wreak havoc on her career. Given her corporate culture, you might assume that Parker’s request for a few days off would be scrutinized.
Parker was so shocked by her boss’s response that she shared the email she received from Olark CEO Ben Congleton on Twitter. The post had over 9.5 thousand retweets and 32 thousand likes. The viral message is a win for bosses who keep the mental health of their employees in the forefront, and is important for anyone too afraid to speak up about their struggles with a mental disorder.
“Hey team,” Madalyn’s email began. “I’m taking today and tomorrow off to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed to 100%.”
The response from Madalyn’s boss, Congleton, was far from what many would likely expect.
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 organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.
The praise Madalyn received from Twitter users was clouded in the bigger picture, however. Many other companies don’t have bosses who respond this way. One Twitter user admitted they lied about why they were taking the day off, because admitting to needing a mental health day is “not seen as a viable excuse for missing work.”
Another user said that when they took the afternoon off on grounds of mental health, they were met with “passive aggressive documentation about the mental health care coverage” in their health plan.
The stigma surrounding mental health needs to be broken, and Madalyn sharing her positive experience with her boss, and the conversations it sparked on social media, may help us work toward creating a more healthful and inclusive work culture in our society.