How to take care of mental health while working in a fast-paced startup

No, it’s not cool to always work late and hard. No, a football table and green plants are no longer enough. And yes, employees are saying it loud and clear: it’s a matter of corporate responsibility. If you are reading this article, you may be thinking that everything is fine at your startup, as your team is young and energetic. But age has nothing to do with it; in France, over the last 7 years, there has been a 50% increase in the rate of depression among millennials, i.e. certified by a doctor, according to the barometers of Santé publique France (the main public health authority in France).

It’s not uncommon in early-stage startup teams to work over-time, but doing this consistently increases the risk of burnout. So, there is a necessity to give colleagues a reasonable amount of tasks that is manageable within regular working hours.

Mental health is a vast and complex subject. It is also a huge opportunity for HR teams to make a difference. So what are the pitfalls to avoid when deciding to tackle the subject head on?

Define your startup’s mental health approach 

Drawing up a strategy at company level is essential. HR teams have a big role to play here. The first step is to formalise a process with your HR Team, and EAP (Employee Assistance Programmes) may also be useful here. Second, it is important to organise team meetings about mental health culture to openly discuss the issue with your employees. Make sure that you establish an open, direct and fair communication style between all team members. It goes without saying that bullying and shouting should be avoided, even in stressful situations, as well as handing out impossible work loads. Once this is done, make sure you set up a process for individuals to reach for help (first meeting with the HR, then the founder(s), on-demand psychologist, etc.). 

How do you address the mental health of all your employees? By recognising that everyone has different needs, which aren’t always as visible as a physical illness. If you offer a wellness platform where employees can connect with experts such as psychologists, that’s a good start, but founders also need to consider how to manage the problem at the source.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not just managers that need support; you need to go further and deploy a solution that will reach all of your employees.

Prevention is key (no matter how busy you are)

Reacting to a crisis is good, but preventing a crisis is even better. If we take the mental health spectrum, the idea is to prevent employees from slipping into illness and to encourage them to perform, too. How can this mission be implemented in the daily lives of employees?

At the collective level, getting employees interested in the subject of mental health is a good first step. What is mental health? Why is taking care of it important? Employees need context, to slowly but surely fight stigma. At the individual level, employees need to be given the tools to get better when the time comes. This means getting them interested in getting a foot in the door on the subject of mental health, before serious problems arise. Digital therapy programmes made especially for companies can help here. Once you’ve chosen your mental health partner programme, founders need to actively communicate about what the programme is, how it works and what the benefits are.

Manage short-term stressors

An employee is stressed because of a big presentation, or a deal they’re about to close? The digital application you chose should be able to identify this person thanks to its mental health index and suggest the appropriate digital therapy series. This series would take the form of videos and exercises, so that everyone becomes an actor in their own mental health. By working on their mental health, employees will be able to understand their fear, limit its effects when the time comes, and discover other subjects (such as understanding negative thoughts, alternative communication techniques, etc). When the day comes, they will know where the content is, and be able to draw on the new techniques.

Create a long-term culture of balance

In my previous article about employee perks, I emphasized the importance of helping your employees move, take breaks, and stay physically healthy. This can be done through planned sport sessions (there are plenty of apps nowadays to help people do sport whether at home or outside), or moving during the day which helps to relieve any stress. You definitely need to find a balance between working hard, as is common in fast-paced working environments, whilst keeping everyone healthy and productive. 

The problem with mental health issues is that they are usually much harder to fix than a simple flu. It takes a lot of help get a person out of those kinds of crises. In order to have a chance of solving those issues, it’s important that all team members feel like they are being supported, and see that they are tools in place and processes in place. Overall, founders must not rest when it comes to their teams mental health.