Establishing and operating a startup is hard work. While we tend to associate startup work with a fast paced race to success, in reality startup work can become monotonous. There’s only so many hours you can spend coding, writing business plans, and contacting potential investors before your brain turns to soup. The day to day begins to feel like day after day and before you know it, you’re staring burnout right in its ugly mug. The price of burnout is losing stellar employees and risking your team breaking down
Burnout can be fatal for young startups, especially when it targets core members of your team. In the early days at a startup, your capital is your team members. It’s often all hands on deck, and when a critical set of hands is missing it’s noticeable. As teams grow and startups mature, this frantic culture can continue despite teams and resources growing larger.
Burnout occurs across all industries, roles, demographic groups, and locations. At one point or another, all of us will experience some degree of burnout. It’s impossible to remove all stressors in your workplace for every one of your employees, but there are a number of steps that you can take to slow down or even eliminate signs of burnout.
This process has to begin with the acknowledgement that burnout is a problem in your team. It needs to be talked about and addressed in the open. When people feel that they are alone in their problem, they’re less likely to seek external support and more likely to internalize these issues. Once the issue is out in the open, you can take steps to reduce burnout for your team and in your own life.
Assess the root cause
Burnout can come about in a number of different ways. Your team might be short staffed and under impossible deadlines. Or, someone could be struggling in managing their work and personal life. Ask questions to get to the root of what’s causing the burnout. Do you not have enough resources to do the work? Is there a problem with your institutional structure or management? Are your employees working hard but not smart?
Listen to and implement employee feedback
As companies grow, employee feedback can begin to fall to the wayside. Employees are a valuable resource for first hand feedback about what’s working and what can be improved upon that employers would be foolish to ignore. Collecting employee feedback might happen in a group meeting, one on one talks, or through anonymous feedback. Take that information and use it to get a sense of how people are feeling about the workload, work-life balance, and whether anyone is struggling.
Value people over profit
Think of your employees as your capital. Good businesspeople invest in their capital to grow and strengthen it. Same goes for your employees. Invest time and energy in your employees to make them feel supported and appreciated. People experiencing work related burnout often report that they felt under-supported and under-appreciated in their position, and that these feelings contributed to their decline into burnout. A little appreciation goes a long way, especially when it is thoughtful and personal.
Encourage healthy coworker relationships
We know that the relationships that coworkers have with each other can either be a blessing or a curse. Healthy relationships between coworkers can encourage a strong company culture, build employee’s investment in their jobs, and positively impact the office’s overall demeanor and tone. Poor coworker relationships can be toxic and can force employees to choose between continuing at a job where they feel attacked or finding another with a better environment.
Offer comprehensive health plans that address mental health
Work stress can have profound impacts on someone’s health and wellbeing. While the physical health of your team is undeniably important, their mental health is just as, if not more, important. Health plans that cover mental health are an important way to help your team receive the medical care they may need. The anxiety, depression, and feelings of helplessness that can lead up to burnout wreak havoc on your life, both in and out of work. Focusing on the impacts in the workplace alone, mental health issues can lead to decreases in productivity, increases in absenteeism, increases in employee attrition, and increase the potential for burnout.
This is especially true among startup founders. We’ve made failure and the depression and hurt that goes along with it a normalized part of the startup process. The startup founder is expected to pour their life into their new venture, work 100+ hour weeks and sacrifice everything that doesn’t directly pertain to getting their ideas off the ground. This is unsustainable, unhealthy, and might prevent people from getting the help that they need.
Offer work-from-home or remote work opportunities
We’re seeing a huge uptick in the number of people that report working from home one day a week or more. While allowing every employee to work from home every week is probably unrealistic, many employees appreciate having the option available. You could also invest in a designated office in a local co-working space. This way, employees who are able to work remotely have a consistent area to work from. Offering work-from-home options to an employee that you realize may be struggling with maintaining a work-life balance shows them that you are confident in their capabilities and that you understand their need for balance.
When you begin to notice that you’re starting to feel stressed, unengaged, unhappy, and unproductive try to take a self-assessment. Sit down for 30 minutes and try to think back to the past few days, or weeks. Have you been happier with your job for more than half of those days? If not, try to think about what might be the source of your frustration or unhappiness. Keep an eye out for the signs that an entrepreneur burnout is about to happen. Then ask yourself “what can I do to change that”? While startups can certainly do a better job of reducing burnout in the workplace, only you know how you’re feeling.
This article was first published in Jan 2017 but has been updated and expanded.