How to Prioritise Mental Wellbeing in Your Tech Startup
Mental Health in an Unequal World
For too long the stigma surrounding mental health has prevented people from getting the help that they need.
For many, the widespread introduction of remote and hybrid working was reported to boost mental health, but for others it has led to rising levels of anxiety and depression.
More than two-thirds of adults in the UK report feeling worried about the effect the pandemic is having on their life.
As we approach World Mental Health Day, let’s look at what you can do to support your hybrid team and ensure that you are not leaving anyone behind.
Communication is Key
One of the biggest challenges of remote working is building a team that feels connected when they are apart.
Although it is hard, maintaining a good company culture is key to the wellbeing of your employees.
It is important to keep the conversation going without the physical day to day encounters in the office. Start each week with a team call and lay out your plans for the week. This not only keeps you in the loop with what everyone is up to, but it is a great opportunity for employees to share ideas.
Alternatively, you may prefer a daily call with the plans for the day ahead. Get everyone to chat through their plans and set points for people to check in on each other to see how everyone is getting on.
When people are struggling it can often feel overwhelming to accomplish simple tasks. These calls are not in place to catch anyone out, but to ensure that everyone feels supported in their work.
Take a Break
It is important to remember that just because you have access to work constantly, it doesn’t mean that you have to be doing work constantly.
Structure your day. Those moments where you stopped to chat to a co-worker or went to get a coffee are important breaks from your screen, just because you are out of the office doesn’t mean you should lose this time.
As a founder, it is your job to create a work environment where people aren’t afraid to switch off. It can be frustrating when you can’t always see what work is going on. Enabling your team to unwind at the end of a working day is important.
People underestimate the impact our physical health can have on our mental wellbeing. Being confined to a desk all day is not good for anyone. Encourage your team to step away from the screen and try and do something active.
Activities like yoga, a brisk walk or even just posture exercises are proven to boost mental wellbeing as well as having physical benefits.
Give and Get Feedback
Regularly get feedback from your team, ask what you are doing well and what you could do better, then make changes accordingly. It is important that everyone feels that they have a voice that can be heard.
Schedule regular one-to-ones with your employees to touch base. Don’t just discuss their performance and targets but ask how they are coping and if there is anything you can do to support them.
You may find that as you scaleup having all these conversations yourself isn’t sustainable, in this case it is worth allocating this role to someone else. This kind of meeting may seem like a formality, but you are providing the space for your employees to talk freely.
Asking for feedback is essential, but giving feedback is just as important. A simple ‘good job’ can mean more than you think. Many people are silently struggling with their mental health and can suffer from imposter syndrome, feeling as if they don’t deserve to be in their role.
Posting a congratulatory message in a public work chat allows everyone the chance to congratulate a fellow team member. This simple act works to acknowledge hard work and promotes a sense of achievement and good culture.
Listen to what your team wants. Offering a little flexibility can go a long way. Having an employee start an hour late may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could give someone the ability to get their kid ready for school.
If you can see one of your team members is struggling with the working from home setup then see how you can help. Perhaps a membership to a co-working space could create a much healthier work/life balance for your employees.
Although these may seem like expensive options in your startup, creating the best climate for your team will boost productivity and ultimately boost your bottom line.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) recommends that in a company with 5-10 people that at least one member of the team should have sufficient mental first aid training.
We are a small company with less than 20 people, and four of our team are mental health first aiders. In our case, we were asked who wanted to undergo the training and those who said yes went on and completed the course.
If you understand the importance of mental health but don’t know quite how to spot the warning signs of someone who is struggling, then there are plenty of online training resources to help you.
Courses like RoSPA and Thrive at Work offer a range of different courses to suit you and your team. From coaching those in management positions to evaluating your wellbeing strategies and raising awareness, these courses are continually updated with the latest practices and expertise.
It is worth making training accessible to everyone, but some founders like to appoint a mental health ambassador. This isn’t as formal as it sounds, it is basically someone who people feel comfortable chatting to and who understand how to spot when someone may need a helping hand.
Group mindfulness or wellbeing activities can be a great way of helping communication and improving company morale.
Lead by Example
All the above is important in order to support your team, but it is no good implementing strategies to boost mental health in your employees if those changes don’t start with you.
As a founder of a startup you may find yourself inundated with work. This time can be particularly challenging and overworking and lack of sleep can lead to issues arising in your day-to-day communication skills.
Before you can listen and sympathise with others, you need to be able to process your own emotional state and focus inwards. This is not to put pressure on you to be positive and upbeat all the time, but if you find that you are struggling, it is important to ask for help.
The only way we can dispel the stigma surrounding mental health is to raise awareness. Creating a workspace that champions mental wellbeing is not solely your responsibility but making sure it sits highly on your agenda is important to your future success.
This year’s World Mental Health Day focuses on ‘mental health in an unequal world’. We are all facing our own battles but not everyone has the same support network.
For many, in-person working used to provide a refuge from the dangers of the home. Whilst you may find that your cosy home office isn’t so bad, pay attention to your employees and extend your support where you can.
The most important thing you can do is to start the conversation.
Further reading for founders
If you need or anyone you know needs help, here’s where you can find it: