It’s 2017 and Mental Health is still an issue in the workplace.

Last week a personal email I wrote was retweeted over 7,000 times, and liked by almost 30k people. I had friends reaching out to me stating that I was “Blowing up on their Twitter feed.” I wasn’t expecting the exposure, but I am so glad I was able to have such a positive impact on so many people.

This email was a reply to one of my teammates, Madalyn, who sent an email to our internal Olark OOTO listserv letting us know she was taking sick time for mental health.

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.

Madalyn was really appreciative of my email and asked if she could tweet it:

I told her to go for it. I had no idea my response would become so visible — the reactions revealed that my stance on mental health in the workplace is unconventional, to say the least:

I started realizing how impactful my email had been after I began reading some of the responses to Madalyn’s tweet.

Some of the responses brought tears to my eyes (there are 100s like this).

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. This should be business as usual. We have a lot of work to do.

As executives, we lead organizations made up of people who’ve come together to make an impact. Our job is to empower and motivate our teams to maximize the impact of our organization for our customers, our employees, our shareholders, and the world. At Olark our mission is to make business human, and from these comments it’s clear that not all leaders see the opportunity to increase impact by focusing on the humans that make up their organization.

It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health.

It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to offer paid sick leave. Did you know that only 73% of full time employees in the US have paid sick leave?

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.

I know this is a lot to take in, and we have a lot of work to do. But there are some easy actions you can take today to be part of the solution:

  • Take some time this week to express gratitude to individuals on your team. You might be surprised at the positive impact.
  • Take some time to reflect on how your company’s values help create a safe-space for your teammates — 1 in 6 of whom is likely medicated for a mental health issue. Think of one action you can take to help your teammates feel safe.

If you have or need ideas for expressing gratitude, or ideas to help your colleagues feel more safe, shoot me a note: benc@olark.com. If there’s enough interest, I’ll write up some of the ideas we’ve tried.

Over the weekend I just experienced the tip of the iceberg that is mental health in the workplace. If you want to get involved there are great organizations that support mental health awareness in the tech industry like MHPrompt and OSMI, as well as Mental Health First Aid Project from the National Council for Behavioral Health. Madalyn will also be speaking about Mental Health as part of a panel at Grace Hopper 2017.

Thanks Madalyn, Karl, Kate, Kat, and Matt for reading drafts of this post.