How Should Startups Be Approaching Mental Health for Their Employees?

Basic steps for startup leaders to remove the stigma around mental health struggles at work & support their talent.

First published at https://www.get5.io/blog

Nowadays, employees have an official right to a physically healthy work environment and a psychologically safe workspace. So if you’re looking out for your business’ success, one of your key goals should be to create a work environment for your talent to thrive.

The truth is that new businesses and young startup companies usually break into the market with fast-paced business environments, inflicting a great deal of stress on their managers and employees.

In their turn, such stressful situations often result in anxiety, depression, and high tension at the workplace.

Furthermore, 2021 has brought to the surface the fact that we all somehow struggle with mental health issues at work.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in January, 41% of adults said they have faced “symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder.”

No matter what size your company is, promoting health and wellbeing at the workplace helps to improve individual stress resistance and overall productivity. Here are some tips for startup leaders to remove the stigma around mental health struggles in the workplace and support their talent.

Why do mental health initiatives matter?

Personal mental health is something people don’t like to talk about.

According to a recent UK survey, 30 percent of employees do not speak openly to management about feeling stressed.

However, half of the population is experiencing some stress or depression-related feelings while being at work. Stress, exhaustion, breakdown, and work burnout have become common phrases for employees.

Unfortunately, these signals often get disregarded by co-workers and managers. This may result in complex problems affecting the whole company’s success:

  • Satisfied employees are the foundation of any startup’s success. Anxious and stressed employees can’t stay 100% focused on their tasks. Furthermore, at some point, they will start looking for other, less stressful employment options, and your employee retention rates will suffer.
  • For a startup, being understaffed may be a fatal mistake. The more staff you lack, the more stressed out are those working on routine tasks. It may also affect overall work quality and productivity at your company.
  • Extreme focus on keeping up with the work pace and filling gaps in the professional workforce can quickly lead to insubordination. This means you’ll experience a lot more tension between co-workers.

Startup companies should look for ways to remove barriers and minimise stressful situations, otherwise, these may lead to your startup’s downfall.

Where to start when it comes to mental health?

Undoubtedly there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ensure the stability and mental health well-being of your employees. However, startup owners and leaders can take plenty of actions to eliminate extensive stress and promote a healthy work environment.

Here are some basic steps to managing employees’ well-being.

1. Learn about mental health issues

Mental health and feelings are not actively talked about in working environments, but they should be. Some external signals may be easily detected and recognised as signs of ill-natured relations or low morale among co-workers.

You don’t have to be a professional psychologist or psychiatrist to learn about mental health issues. As a matter of fact, mental problems affect us all to some extent; we just need to know more to cope.

Since disorders like stress, anxiety, and depression are widespread, everyone has to know how to spot the early signs. It’s a good idea to start with learning and training yourself and your staff on mental health and stress management.

2. Observe employee performance

When an employee performs well, it’s often perceived as the norm, but when she works poorly, it often has some major repercussions. However, low performance is not always a sign of a bad employee, but a signal to check on the employees’ mental health.

Monitoring employees’ behaviours and watching for changes in their performance and employee engagement will help you spot early signs.

Furthermore, due to modern apps, this process is no longer as it used to be. Automatic capturing of long hours or overtime, workload, productivity, and absence will provide you with valuable insights and help keep track of possible fatigue or depression symptoms.

3. Encourage speaking openly

It’s normal in a healthy work environment to openly ask your co-workers about their personal lives and even some private or health-related matters. However, it’s important to ask about their mood and mental state as well.

By soliciting feedback, employees feel empowered to talk about their mental health. They will also feel supported and better understood.

Furthermore, employees will feel encouraged to get help or treatment when they see their colleagues doing the same. As more employees care about mental well-being, the more productive and successful your startup will be.

4. Set an example

The best way to encourage your employees to speak up about their problems is to do it yourself. Recent research shows that especially startup founders tend to struggle with mental health, but often don’t seek help until it’s too late.

Strive to be a leader who points to career success as well as high job satisfaction at the same time.

Share your own experiences and initiate mental health discussions with your doubts and alerts to ensure that your employees will meet no judgement. No matter how good the policies you promote, your employees won’t feel able to speak about mental health if you’re not acting on this yourself.

5. Strive to mitigate burnout

Undoubtedly, burnout at work has a considerable business impact that startup leaders and founders can’t ignore.

Replacing an employee is estimated to cost 90% to 200% of an employee’s annual salary.

Therefore, when the workload increases and the situation gets tense, it’s time to take action. To eliminate the chances of work burnout for your employees:

  • Learn the causes of work burnout
  • Promote a healthy work-life balance
  • Support the idea of mental sick days
  • Eliminate the roadblocks in daily tasks
  • Set realistic goals and expectations.

The well-being of your employees should become an integral part of your company culture to avoid burnout problems. When an organisation prioritises the well-being of its employees and provides resources for them to live healthier lives, employees will often choose to take better care of themselves.

6. Invest in mental health

A recent research report from Ginger showed 96% of CEOs believe their companies are doing enough for employee mental health, but only 69% of employees agree.

This gap clearly shows that business leaders still lack understanding of their employees’ mental health and related needs.

To make sure you invest efficiently into employee mental wellness, stick to the following checklist:

  • Virtual mental health support and mental health apps
  • Corporate psychologist available at the office or online
  • Relaxing exercises or recreational activities
  • Self-awareness resources and training sessions
  • Mental health and wellness events

The WHO has found that for every dollar put into treating common mental health disorders, there’s an ROI of four dollars in improved health and productivity.

Final thoughts

Your team performance and well-being are a direct reflection of your success as a startup leader. A team that feels heard and judgment-free is a loyal and hardworking team of reliable peers.

Being alert, educated and sympathetic to your employees is what matters most when it comes to mental health issues in times of pandemics and quarantine restrictions.

Though it may be difficult to speak up and find out where your employees are at, the help you can provide may be the key to their lifetime value and ultimately the success of your company.

About the Author

Erika Rykun is a copywriter and content manager. She is an avid reader and runner. You can get in touch with her on Twitter.

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