"It’s 2017 and Mental Health is still an issue in the workplace."
With those words, Olark CEO Ben Congleton went on to powerfully and publicly address a commonly ignored issue in the workplace: the importance of mental health.
After Congleton’s employee, web developer Madalyn Parker, shared the understanding email he sent after learning she had taken time off for mental health reasons, the CEO used his newly viral voice to further explain just how crucial it is for employers to take the mental health seriously and make time to emotionally refresh.
Parker’s tweet showed the CEO thanking her for reminding the company that using sick days to mentally recuperate should be standard practice in all offices, but his response to the issue went far beyond an email.
Following the positive reaction Parker’s tweet received, Congleton wrote a post on Medium further discussing the need to normalize mental health as a "normal health issue," especially in the office.
"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,’" Congleton wrote. "Even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your coworkers about mental health issues."
When the CEO responds to your out of the office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision. 💯 pic.twitter.com/6BvJVCJJFq
— madalyn (@madalynrose) June 30, 2017
Congleton said that he was inspired to delve deeper into advocating for those struggling with or afraid to speak up about mental health issues in the workplace after the tweet went viral and he began reading replies from others.
"There were so many stories of people wishing they worked at a place where their CEO cared about their health, and so many people congratulating me on doing such a good thing," he wrote in the blog post, explaining that in 2017, we still have a lot of work to do in order to fight mental health stigmas in the world.
This is great!! I once called in to take a mental health day.. My boss told me anxiety isn’t a real illness & that I needed a doc’s note 🤙🏻
— danielle willette (@pickleDWilly) July 11, 2017
Wow, I wish! I needed a medical mental health stay once. Upon my return, my boss told me not to let it happen again or my job would be gone
— 🦄(((joymichelle))) (@joymichelle) July 10, 2017
In an interview with Time Money on Tuesday, the CEO expanded on the potentially tumultuous consequences that can result from common reluctance and how it’s time to openly welcome discussion and acceptance of mental illness. "We built this organization with this culture of where this kind of talk is no big deal," Congleton said. "So many people live in fear of disclosing mental health issues at work. In many ways, that fear makes those mental health issues worse."
Congleton also expressed a belief that not only is a focus on the importance of mental health beneficial to the wellness of individuals, but encouraging a compassionate environment has the potential to enhance overall performance in the workplace. And Twitter users who found themselves in similar situations as Parker continued praised Congleton’s empathy and genuine display of concern.
Calling all managers
After Mashable’s article about Parker’s tweet caught the eye of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, she praised Congleton’s compassion and encouraging style of leadership to her more than one million Facebook followers.
Humbled, the Olark CEO responded to her message with a blunt, no-nonsense reminder for all the managers out there.
"As leaders it is our responsibility to help our teams maximize their performance. This is not controversial," he said in regards to the topic of mental health. "I believe that fundamentally team performance is built on trust created through the freedom to be vulnerable."
You tell ’em, Congleton.