Madalyn Parker had been at her first job only a few months when the depression and anxiety set in. She had beaten back both in college, where she became so depressed that she stopped eating and going to classes. It nearly prevented her from graduating.
She kept her history to herself when she accepted a job as a web developer at the small software company Olark in 2014. But as the youngest (and only female) engineer, “I started getting panic attacks about work and being really, really stressed about not getting enough done,” says Parker, now 29. She went in to her Ann Arbor, Mich., office later and later, then less and less. Her performance slipped. Parker pulled aside the chief technology officer at a conference. “‘I don’t think it’s going to go away, so I feel like I should be open about it at work,’” she remembers telling him, and bracing for the worst. “Instead, his response was, ‘I wonder who else feels like this.’”
Parker had stumbled into a new kind of workplace—one as attuned to mental health as the people working in it, especially the young people. The Olark executive she’d approached, who is now 34 and the COO, ended up doing a presentation with her to colleagues, sharing his experience with burnout. The company’s unlimited-vacation policy allowed Parker to take all the sick leave she needed, and she worked from home more. “I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health,” her out-of-office message read one day in 2017. “Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”