A startup employee who works 9 to 5, Monday – Friday, with a half-hour lunch break every day is, in my opinion, the modern-day equivalent of a mermaid. People say they exist, but I know I’ve never met one.
Working for a startup can be a lot of pressure, but it can also be incredibly exciting. Watching a business grow from humble beginnings, and contributing directly to its success, is greatly rewarding.
But no matter how rewarding that is, startups have an unparalleled ability to cut into the lives of its employees. For employees who still want to be able to spend time with their families, socialize, or just mow their lawns every now and then, this can cause resentment and burnout.
As someone who works for a startup, and routinely advises businesses on how to maximize happiness in their workplace, I know a bit about making sure your startup employees are happy. If you’re worried about burning your employees out, you may want to consider some of these strategies.
1. Be Flexible
Let’s start with an obvious one: if your employees are currently working long hours or on weekends, but you kick up a fuss if they need a few hours off for an appointment, you’re doing it wrong.
There’s an unspoken trade-off in startup culture—they put in those extra hours, and answer emails at 2am, and you let them go see their podiatrist or accountant when they need to. If you expect your employees to bend over backwards for you, but insist on being rigid, you need to soften your approach, lest your employees lose their sense of loyalty towards your business.
Every day, when you get home from work, you have a list of things you need to achieve. You may need to cook dinner, pack your lunch for tomorrow, shower, shave, take the bins out, walk the dog … you get the idea.
Depending on what time you get home and how tired you are, you may do all or some of those things. Walking the dog might be a non-negotiable, but you might be fine with ordering in for dinner, or getting up a little earlier tomorrow morning to shower and shave.
In our personal lives, we’re generally pretty good at prioritizing, but at work, we can be guilty of lumping all of our tasks together into one priority group, and getting overwhelmed when we look at this huge, amorphous, insurmountable pile of tasks.
Help your employees (and yourself) ease some of the pressure by setting up a system to prioritize tasks.
3. Your Experiences are Not Universal
If you’re young, single, and in good health, it’s relatively easy to dedicate huge chunks of time to your fledgling business. If you’re in that stage of your life, the only person you need to look after is yourself – in which case it’s okay to occasionally subsist on a few hours sleep and cheap bacon cheeseburgers to meet your deadlines.
However, you need to remember that your experiences are not universal. Some of your employees may have children or elderly parents. They may suffer from depression, or insomnia, or diabetes. They may have huge college loans or a partner with a chronic illness.
If you’re basing the expectations you have of your employees on how much you’re able to give to your business, you’re setting them up for failure and yourself up for disappointment.
Remain empathetic to the things life can throw at your employees, and support them in balancing their work and personal commitments. This may mean telecommuting, unconventional schedules, or flextime. Ultimately, it’s in your best interest to find something that works for everyone involved.
4. Be Observant
As someone in charge of your team, it’s your responsibility to ensure that those team members are able to produce their best work at all times.
If someone is consistently working well over eight hours, working through the weekend, or responds to emails instantly, regardless of the time, they’re probably well on their way to burning out. For any business, employee burnout is bad news. It can cause increased absenteeism, higher turnover rates, and decreased productivity.
If you’re aware of the signs of burnout, you can intervene before it truly becomes an issue. Alternatively, avoid burnout altogether by allocating tasks fairly, discouraging long hours where possible, and communicating with your employees to identify particular sore points within your business.
Startup culture doesn’t need to mean 80 hour weeks, energy drinks, and nervous breakdowns. Keep company culture and work-life balance in mind as you grow your company, and you’ll be reaping the rewards for years to come.
About the Author
Kimberly Schollick is a marketing coordinator for Ento.