Madalyn Parker is a software engineer for a company called Olark. She’s struggled with depression and anxiety and has been open about her experiences. Recently, she took a mental health day and tweeted her CEO’s response to her Out Of Office email, since it was so supportive.
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
The tweet went viral and has sparked a conversation about mental health in the workplace, company policies, whether you should just take vacation time, whether mental health is the same as physical health, etc. Unfortunately, many of the comments have been individuals sharing how they’ve not experienced the same level of support in their jobs or from their supervisors.
Mental health has long lagged behind physical health in terms of public understanding, medical coverage, and even treatment quality. As the economy is shifting to a more “knowledge-based” one, employers are increasingly realizing that it’s critical for employees to be mentally well in order to perform at their best. This means providing benefits such as counseling or employee assistance programs, access to gyms or yoga classes for stress relief, or simply being understanding when someone needs a few days off for self care. In addition to helping keep employees performing at their best, a positive work environment like this can help attract and retain top-quality employees.
Last year, a series of articles in Huffington Post covered different aspects of mental health in the workplace, and highlighted the fact that employers respond to employees’ disclosures of mental health struggles in a variety of ways. Some positive outcomes include the employer offering paid time off, temporarily or permanently adjusting the employee’s responsibilities, or simply opening lines of communication about the workplace environment. Unfortunately, there are also many possible negative outcomes, such as the supervisor tacitly supporting the employee while gradually preparing to terminate them. One person reported that their boss spread rumors about them. Increasing attention on the importance of mental well-being and awareness of the economic costs of absenteeism and lost productivity has shed further light on this issue and the need for employers to be supportive. Even if an employer can make an argument that they have an organization to run and/or can’t employ unproductive individuals, the fact is that we as a society will have a long-term benefit from companies being more inclusive and looking at individuals holistically, encouraging self care, and supporting healthy work-life balance, including employees’ mental health.
In addition to government regulation to mandate parity for mental health treatment or time off, employees will also benefit from prioritizing their own self care. Keeping close tabs on one’s health behaviors such as sleep, alcohol or caffeine intake, or stress levels can help. Individuals often forget that sometimes taking a little time off to, for example, attend a yoga class or therapist appointment, while it might cut into work time in the short-run, could ultimately mean better performance and presence at work in the long-run. Reducing burn-out and increasing employee motivation to perform can have immeasurable benefits to a company in the long run.
For more tips on how to manage work-related stress, check out a previous blog post here.