A startup can be an exciting place to work, but with the combination of long work hours and an uncertain future, the emotional rollercoaster of working in a high pressure environment can be tolling. It’s therefore important that founders take a proactive approach to mental health to ensure that they and their staff are both physically and emotionally healthy.
With my background as a GP, I look at the issue in three parts: early detection, prevention and cure. First, how to detect issues around mental health in the workplace; second how topromote good mental wellbeing in the workplace and third how to ensure that the workplace deals appropriately with issues that affect good mental wellbeing.
- Carry out early detection and awareness
Early detection and awareness are key. This is the equivalent to a doctor checking your blood pressure to try to detect health problems early, before they manifest as more severe complications of a medical condition. In a workplace, paying attention to simple cues and providing adequate training to employees can go a long way to the early detection of stressors.
Early detection of deteriorating mental wellbeing can be both intrinsic and extrinisic. Extrinisic detection is the ability of managers and coworkers to detect possible challenges their employees or peers may be facing. This can be achieved through providing staff with training around mental health awareness and participating in great workplace iniatiatives like R U OK Day. Intrinsic detection relates to individuals having a healthy insight and understanding of their own mental wellbeing and their ability to self detect issues as they arise. In workplaces, this can be achieved through providing adequate resourcing and training on mental health issues to teams. In my work as a GP, I find that patients with good insight into their mental health are best positioned to overcome and manage mental health conditions.
Another key step in ensuring staff wellbeing is having the right managers trained and equipped to deal with mental health challenges in those they lead. How do you raise awareness among team leaders to recognise signs in themselves and others? This can begin right from the hiring stage through hiring managers with a high degree of emotional intelligence, who can detect potential burnout or personal personal issues and know how to adequately respond to them. Looking for the right managers with life experience, a high degree of emotional intelligence and a predisposition towards empathy can go a long way to creating a great work environment. This doesn’t necessarily require a lot of resources and money. It may simply be about being sensitive to an employee’s needs when it comes to their family and personal circumstances and having an understanding of how this might affect them profesisonally.
It’s then also important to equip managers with the tools to help their team members through any stressors they may be experiencing, and when necessary the ability to know when and who to refer to.
Businesses who succeed in creating emotionally healthy workplaces create a culture of open communication, ensure their staff are well trained and ultimately work with managers to create a safe place for staff to seek help if and when required.
- Ensure a healthy work-life balance
In a start up environment, we aim to find people who are willing to bring energy, excitement and passion to everything they do. We should aim to create workplaces where people are able to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the business while also maintaining a balance with their personal lives. For many in the start up or indeed business world, the term “work-life balance” is a phalacy but I believe simply accepting this as being unachievable is a cop out. As founders we should seek not to run from challenges but to conquer them. Seeking to address the challenge of achieving a great work-life balance should be a high priority that every founder should prioritise.
At GO1, I love the level of commitment and dedication our team members display on a daily basis. As a result I feel priviledged to work with a team who will run through walls for our customers and perform their duties at the very highest of levels. But if we look at high performance teams and individuals within a workplace, it’s useful to draw some parallels to high performance atheletes. An athelete may be asked to perform at a high level for anywhere between 10 seconds (a 100m sprinter as an example) through to 80 minutes on a football field. So what do these athletes spend the rest of their working week doing? The answer is usually recovery and training. Yet in a startup we expect the highest level of performance from our teams and ourselves day in day out with little consideration to recovery.
For me, encouraging high performance teams to focus on recovery is incredibly important. In the workplace, recovery can be something as simple as working out ways to ensure staff aren’t bringing work home with them, facilitating opportunities for staff to engage in team activities not directly related to their role or work or supporting staff to achieve their own personal goals such developing new skills.
- Have appropriate policies in place
If and when any issues are detected, how do you deal with them? Does your workplace have appropriate policies in place to help employees when they’re facing mental illness?
When it comes to dealing with stress, there are a range of things organisations can do to decrease and manage stress. These include flexible leave and working hours, policies around how you support staff such as mental health or domestic violence leave (5 days unpaid domestic violence leave now available Australia-wide) or offering a reduced workload for period of time when people are experiencing difficulties.
There are also EAPs (employee assistance programs) – these are work-based intervention programs designed to enhance the emotional, mental and general psychological wellbeing of employees. They give access to counsellors and psychologists to address mental wellbeing concerns, covered by the company. Though this may not be practical for some, many larger organisations provide EAPs which I have seen first hand have a tremendous positive impact on their teams.
Though policies play an incredibly important role in managing challenges as they arise, it’s also important to note the role of training when it comes to prevention. Australia’s CEO Challenge is an example of a fantastic organisation that is dedicated to addressing domestic violence through employee training with their Recognise, Respond, Refer framework.
At the end of the day, it is important that as managers and founders, we realise that mental wellbeing and overall staff morale significantly impacts an individual’s and ultimately a business’ performance. Morale is often referred to as a singular sentiment within an organisation, but its important to realise that team morale is made up of the collective mindset of individuals within that group.
Most people believe that staff morale goes down before performance deteriorates. I believe the opposite: performance goes down before morale, with poor performance a leading indicator of pending poor morale. I find that in the start up world, we tend to hire the optimists who believe that improved performance is only one sale, one sprint or one task away. However, if performance has deteriorated, it’s probably a strong sign that there are underlying issues – in or outside of work – that could be a problem and may eventually erode that existing sense of optimism. A safe, supportive workplace will have the mechanisms in place to detect and respond to this, and restore staff wellbeing resulting in creating a happy high performance team.
Vu Tran is the co-founder and head of growth at GO1.com, the world’s largest onboarding, compliance and professional development platform. Founded in Brisbane, Australia; GO1 is an international company with offices in the United States, South Africa, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and Malaysia.