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Employee wellbeing and mental health in startup teams

For a productive and pleasant environment in the office, a good team spririt and employee wellbeing are important aspects to pay attention to. Although recent studies shown that only a very small fraction of startups and SMEs are actually worrying about the mental health of their employees. But mental health issues are much more common that you might think. They can range from severe anxiety, bipolar disorders, depression to OCD conditions.

According to several studies, mental health issues are the number one reason for employees to get unproductive and absent from work. It therefore makes a lot of sense for startup founders and team leaders to pay attention this. Happy people tend to be more pleasant to work with, more productive and more creative.

Some companies go that far that they asign a Chief Happiness Officer, although this is something that 99.9% of startups won’t be able to afford. But there are several aspects you can take into consideration even with a small budget. Here are some ideas:

In order to keep the risk for stress-related mental health issues low, make sure to provide your team with all necessary information and clarity about their tasks. Also, avoid micro-managing and provide guidance and direction when needed. And if a team member is constantly struggling to meet expectations, and clearly showing no talent and ambition in his/her work routine, it sometimes might even be the better solution for both sides to switch tasks (if possible) or to go seperate ways. In the long run, this is also for the best of the person who’s leaving the company and for his/her wellbeing.

Different people get disturbed by different aspects of their workplace conditions and it is the responsibility of a company’s leadership team to take care of these concerns.

This starts with the necessity to give your colleagues a reasonable amount of tasks that is manageable within regular working hours. While it’s not uncommon in early-stage startup teams to work crazy hours, consistently working long hours increases the risk of burn out. This should definitely be avoided. If you’re able to enable remote work or flexible working hours for your team members, that’s perfect. Although this is not suitable for every kind of business and industry.

And since people are spending most of their time with colleagues at work rather than with family at home or with friends, it’s important to create a friendly environment. That being said, make sure to establish an open, direct and fair communication style between all team members. It is needless to say that bullying and shouting are an absolute no-go, even in stressful situations.

Humans are social animals. Make sure to keep that in mind and to also plan some team activities outside the office sometimes. This increases the team spirit and eventually even leads to more productivity. To have fun and foster collaboration, escape rooms can be an interesting thing to do. Another idea could be to do physical activities together, like creating a football, squash or running team.

Oh, and by the way: There’s an increasing variety of technology that aims to improve the emotional well-being of employees. Here and here we recently profiled some of them.

The problem with mental health issues is also that they are usually much harder to fix than a simple flue. It takes a lot to help getting a person out of those kind of crises. In order to have a chance solving those issues, it’s important that all team members feel they can talk about their issues openly. So, whatever you do, try providing a supportive work environment.

Last but not least: Mental health issue are not only a problem faced by employees, but also very common among founders and CEOs. A few months ago we shared some ideas on how entrepreneurs can prevent that.

Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr is the "Editor in Chief" of EU-Startups.com and started the blog in October 2010. He is excited about Europe's future, passionate about new business ideas and lives in Barcelona (Spain).

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