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Everyone Who Needs a Mental Health Day Deserves a Reply Like This From Their Boss

The most helpful emails in health
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When you need to take a mental health day off from work, chances are your first instinct is to think of a more “legitimate” health issue to explain your absence. Stomach bug, bad cold, persistent cough… all of these “physical” health issues typically sound better than saying you need a day or two to rest your mind. Unfortunately, some employers treat taking a “mental health day” like it’s an excuse, making if difficult for those living with mental illness to be honest about their health.

When Madalyn Parker, a web developer and engineer at Olark Live Chat, told her coworkers she was taking a few days off for her mental health, the CEO of her company replied — and set a new precedent for how a boss should respond when someone needs a mental health day. Parker shared the exchange in a tweet that has been retweeted over 8,000 times.

In his reply to Parker’s honest email, her boss said:

Hey Madalyn,

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.

In a Medium post, Parker’s boss, Ben Congleton, reflected on this email exchange going viral. He commended Parker for her bravery, and said he hoped this would start a larger conversation about mental health in the workplace.

He wrote:

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. I wanted to call this out and express gratitude for Madalyn’s bravery in helping us normalize mental health as a normal health issue.

Executives, he said, need to focus on the humans who make up their organization, and that includes thinking about mental health.

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.

Thanks to Parker for being honest, and her boss Congleton for showing us how far compassion can go in the workplace.

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Originally published: July 7, 2017
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