Why must startups invest in the emotional health of employees

Anita Belani, Co-founder, Emotionally, writes about how businesses can only benefit from recognising and addressing employees’ mental health concerns amid this pandemic.
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The onslaught of Covid since March 2020 has changed our lives in more ways than we could have ever imagined, and with the second wave causing the kind of turmoil it has, it seems like we are in for a very long haul.

An area that has been sparsely discussed openly before Covid came into our lives is mental and emotional health. Often swept under the carpet and highly stigmatised, the challenges related to stress, anxiety, depression, addictions were (and to some extent still are) considered either trivial or something that a family member or friend could resolve.

Mental health issues are much more prevalent than we tend to think and the narrative is slowly changing in this regard.

Large organisations generally understand that it’s important to recognise that mental health issues lead to employees becoming unproductive or “miss work” while still being physically present. This has a direct impact on the growth and success of the organisation.

But what about the startup ecosystem?

We see a great need and opportunity for startups to start looking at this area more strategically for their productivity and growth.

The fast-paced and volatile nature of most startups makes the environment more complex and unpredictable for employees. This leads to high levels of attrition and the vicious cycle of attraction and churn puts a greater amount of stress on the system.

Focusing on the founders

We often associate the words ‘brilliant’ & ‘creative’ with young entrepreneurs but it is also true that people that fall in this category are the most intense. This intensity is quite visible in the startup ecosystem.

The variety of cognitive tasks and functions startup founders embrace lead to breakthrough performances for their companies and create shareholder value. But this intensity can also lead to burnout, and poor decision making, which is at the heart of emotional and mental health issues.

Most startup founders are smart people with compelling résumés that can get them very high paying jobs in marquee companies, but they choose the uncertainty of creating their own journey. It is hard work, and most founders end up taking on more than they can handle. Crazy work hours and the all-consuming nature of businesses also distances founders from their family and alienates them from their social/support network.

Additionally, the self-inflicted pressure that founders put on themselves as they feel responsible for their business, investors and teams adds to the burnout and fatigue. Founders often cannot see themselves separately from the business and can never disengage.

The enormous stress that thoughts of failure and financial risks leads to excessive stress and anxiety that can actually lead both the founder and the business down a rabbit hole.

Founders can also suffer from imposter syndrome, and may believe that they will be ‘discovered’ because they are not good enough. Some may find refuge in substance abuse which is a recipe for disaster.

Importance of resources

Seeking out resources and experts in the mental health space should be a priority. This includes wellness solutions for both mind and body. Physical activity and nourishment are equally critical for a healthy mind and help with mood enhancement, sharper focus and enhancing emotional resilience.

Being connected to social and support network is really important. Going away on a complete detox break, and connecting with the self will also go a long away in breaking the vicious cycle of burnout.

Creating a culture of care

Business owners should also understand that the emotional and mental health of their team is critical to build a thriving culture. Just like the tools and tips that they are implementing for themselves, it will be useful to extend the same actions for their teams.

It is always useful to take stock of the state of employee mental health by using a validated self-assessment. This will give baseline data which can be used to customize the solutions for the company

Building a culture of support and care where everyone feels they are being taken care of will help with attraction and retention, besides enabling people to thrive and grow.

It’s important to bring in some structure in the way the company operates to minimize ambiguity which is a cause for confusion and anxiety. Typically, startups take a long time to build processes and systems but doing this proactively will help employees in doing their jobs in a more structured way.

Equipping the HR & leadership team on how to recognise signs of mental distress in employees and providing emotional first aid is another important tool in building a healthy environment.

Providing mandatory boundaries to the work day and minimising screen time, making vacations a compulsory requirement on a periodic basis will also help employees detox and reconnect with themselves.

Providing a nurturing environment where communication flows freely, and people feel they are being heard is also critical. Engagement activities for employees to connect in a non-work environment will help build team work and foster a better working relationship, which is also a stress buster.

And most importantly, providing an EAP solution, therapy options and emotional health literacy programmes for employees and their families will go a long way in creating a work environment where people feel cared for.

Edited by Anju Narayanan

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)