Is mental health even a thing in big business?

Less than a couple weeks ago, a woman named Madalyn decided to take a couple days off work. People take time off work all the time, I hear you say, big deal?

Well, the difference is Madalyn decided to set her out-of-office email responder to state the truthful reason why she was taking the time off:

Hey team,

I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%

Thanks

I can almost feel your angst “That’s bold”, “I couldn’t do that”. I’d agree it is pretty bold because in our modern world of business we are encouraged to work first, care for ourselves second.

But every once in a while, so it seems, someone steps up and encourages the right kind of behaviour in employees. On this occasion the CEO himself, Ben Congleton, responded to this OOO:

Hey Madalyn,

I just wanted to personally thank you for sending me 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 bring our whole selves to work.

And just like that, bang. Shock. It blew up on Twitter.

It’s hard to decide which person to appreciate more in this situation, the employee who built up the courage to be truthful about their situation and share openly the status of their mental health, or the CEO who not only accepted these actions but also vocally encouraged it.

But that’s what it’s going to take for businesses and organisations to change their own perceptions of mental health and the acceptance of it in the workplace, it’s going to take people to be empowered and confident enough to say “I’m not OK, and that’s OK” as well as a business culture that encourages people to be their honest selves no matter the situation.

It seems often that whilst there are some companies that encourage wellbeing in some ways, either by running programmes or offering occasional duvet days, there is still an overwhelming pressure that the work comes first.

If you’re not getting the work done as is expected by your peers or seniors, then you don’t have the wiggle room to make decisions for yourself. Whether this is choosing working hours, choosing your breaks, taking days off for health that isn’t just physical, or simply being able to say “this is too much work, I need help”. From all the people I speak to about mental health & wellbeing in the workplace, the same thing is often true: the priority is on the work, not on the individual.

Now it’s fairly obvious, at face value, that the work is what brings income to the business, leading to profits, and the wage of an employee. However, if you look deeper this is often a false-positive.

By pushing a culture that forces people to work harder, for longer hours and take fewer breaks, then this impact has to tip over somewhere. And it does, into the personal life of that person. With more hours at work the individual has less time for themselves; to recuperate with social time, exercise, entertainment and rest.

With less of these things, and particularly rest, the individual then has to return to their work in a less optimal state. Their body isn’t at it’s best, and this has a significant impact on their mind, and so the quality of their work is severely reduced.

By encouraging employees to take more care for their own wellbeing, I believe that businesses would find that employee satisfaction would go up and thus would impact the quality of the work they do, likely not only saving businesses considerable amounts of money — due to less human error — but also making them more profitable.

We should be giving a big hand clap to these folk who are championing against the stigma of mental health and standing to say this is the way things should be done, in all businesses.