This week, an utterly human response from a chief executive to his employee who was taking time off to cope with mental-health issues took the Internet by storm. It prompted thousands of retweets, garnered dozens of headlines and even inspired a call-out from Sheryl Sandberg: “We need more leaders who encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work,” wrote the Facebook chief operating officer.
For those who missed it, a web developer named Madalyn Parker, who has written that she suffers from anxiety and depression, wrote an email to her colleagues saying she’d be out for a couple of days to “focus on my mental health.” Her chief executive, Ben Congleton, replied by thanking her, saying every time she sends an email like that “I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health” and “you are an example to us all, and help us cut through the stigma.” Parker then shared it on social media, where it racked up hundreds of responses. (“OMG. Are they hiring?” asked one user on Twitter.)
There are many reasons Parker’s email got such a visceral response. For one, people love reading stories about the generous bosses they wish they had — stories often get shared widely of chief executives who give away their stock, dole out generous across-the-board raises or offer particularly cushy benefits to their workers. Congleton’s email was rightfully called a “master class in leadership” for his willingness to recognize his employee’s needs and remind her colleagues to do the same.