Employee takes sick leave for mental health, CEO's response is refreshingly rare

When an employee shared an email from her CEO on Twitter, she sparked an important conversation about mental health.

Madalyn Parker, a web developer who suffers from chronic depression and anxiety, sent an email to her team saying she’d be off two days to focus on her mental health.

She used sick time. She said on Twitter she wanted to be specific with her team about using her sick time for mental health so other employees can feel comfortable doing it too. 

Ben Congleton, her CEO at live-chat platform Olark, did the opposite of what most employees expect following such a request — he thanked her for shedding light on the importance of good mental health.

“You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work,” he said in an email. 

The interaction, which Parker shared on Twitter, has over 10,000 retweets and 33,000 likes. Some replied not-so-nice tales of using sick time for mental health and others debated the difference between sick time and vacation time. Parker's tweet shed light on the stigma associated with mental health, especially in the American workforce. 

As LeaAnne DeRigne, associate professor of social work at Florida Atlantic University, once told the BBC: "No one's allowed to be sick. Sickness is weakness."

Americans feel guilty about using sick time, and vacation time. Over half of the American workforce has vacation time that goes unused, resulting in a whopping 662 million vacation days that are wasted per year, according to Project Time Off. Plus, company policies often dictate how those days can be used. Americans aren’t guaranteed paid sick leave by law. (Women are still fighting for paid maternity leave.)

This isn't the first time Parker has talked about her mental health. She previously gave a talk on overcoming mental health hurdles at work in 2015 at AlterConf, a traveling conference series for those in tech and gaming. 

In June 2014, she wrote about how talking about her depression at work was scary. 

"I don’t want my colleagues to think that I don’t like or care about my job," she wrote. "It’s literally perfect. I don’t like how little I’ve been able to accomplish lately. How can I have an honest and frank discussion with my superiors about my mental state and still have them trust me to get things done and value me as an employee?"

She said the response to her post was: "don't do it; you could get fired."

But, the topic did come up, and her work environment supported her. Through her experience, she's encouraged others to speak up about their emotional well-being at work and squash the stigma that it shouldn't be addressed.

"If you struggle with mental illness, know that there are people out there who strive to make their workplace empathetic and supportive," she wrote in 2015. "You should never feel like you can’t address your emotional well-being because 'it’s just not something you talk about at work.'"

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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