As a startup business owner, you managed to hire an excellent employee who successfully passed your onboarding process and is highly motivated to go above and beyond. Everything seems to go in the right direction, your new hire exceeds all the expectations, but after some time, you noticed that his productivity is stagnating. You can visibly see that the original spark and eagerness in his eyes is almost gone, and you’re not sure what happened.

When it comes to startup culture, people usually associate this term with long hours and hustle, stressing you and your employees. This work-related stress, referred to as burnout syndrome, is a tremendous challenge that numerous employers are trying to tackle.

Burnout syndrome and its effect on your startup

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is classified as an occupational phenomenon that usually includes fatigue, exhaustion, demotivation towards one’s job, and lower performance.

Some might think that burnout happens only on rare occasions in an awful workplace and organizational culture, but you’d be surprised how fast it can happen in good companies.

Gallup, global analytics and advice firm for leaders, studied 7500 full-time employees, and they found that 23% felt burned out very often or always. An additional 44% claimed they felt burned out sometimes, which means 67% of full-time employees experience burnout in their jobs. 

In today’s world, burnout has almost become a part of the job, but it can cause a domino effect in your company that can get out of your control if treated poorly. 63% of burned-out workers are more likely to take a sick day and are three times more likely to seek other jobs.

Let’s talk about founder burnout first.

First, we want to point out that founders are not immune to burnout as they carry a lot of responsibility, and there is a lot at stake. Founders are facing challenging situations on a journey to scale their businesses. Statistically speaking, they are 50% more prone to develop mental health issues and twice more likely to suffer from depression. Founders may not openly discuss the chances of developing mental health issues, but it can be devastating for your health and startup if left ignored. Even an iconic entrepreneur, Elon Musk, admitted to experience burnout and how it can take a toll on one’s health.

The most apparent cause of founder burnout is the overwhelming amount of work. Especially if you’re a solo founder, you carry the burden of growing your business and keeping it alive. You’re on the lookout for investors to get more resources, or if you’ve already found some, they chase you down to generate more revenue. You have to bargain with your suppliers, find reliable manufacturers, pay salaries, attend meetings with your clients. The list keeps growing. This workload alone is already enough for anyone to feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and burned out, but there are more things on the list that can nudge you towards the burnout zone.

As your business grows, there might come a time when you’ll feel your initial vision of your business and what you care about in your life is not in sync. As you start attracting more outside capital, there might be a need to shift your original direction to keep your business alive. Although necessary, these pivots can be extremely challenging to handle, and once you feel disconnected from your vision, it can lead to anxiety and stress.

One more cause of burnout, mainly concerning first-time founders, is having a top-down decision-making approach. As leaders of their businesses, first-time founders tend to handle every decision by themselves. It’s hard to let go and allow others to make big decisions, but it’ll become unsustainable as your company grows. What can cause even more work fatigue to you is when you accidentally build a culture where people bring you problems, and you feel the responsibility to figure out the solutions. This leadership style can be very destructive not only to your mental health but also to your company.

You might ask, how does all this align with employee burnout? It’s similar when a family travels by plane. During the instruction orientation about what to do when you have to use oxygen masks, parents should take care of themselves first, and their kids come as second. Your employees trust you to lead the company, but you need to take care of yourself and your health before taking care of your burned-out employees.

Three tips on how to recover your employee from burnout.

Now when you’ve taken care of yourself, you have more energy to help your employees that might unknowingly suffer from burnout.

Take the mental health of your employees seriously.

The topic of mental health issues is a sensitive topic that not many are eager to discuss, especially in a confrontation with their employers. Depending on how many employees you have, handling this with an emotional rating system can be seen as superficial and impersonal. A better way to go about it can be to talk about it to your whole team. If you expect your employees to be open and show vulnerability, you need to lead the way. Show it yourself, be honest about your struggles. Not only will you show a more personal side of yourself, which tends to be forgotten in everyday life, but more importantly, will your employees feel that it’s okay to show that side of themselves.  

If you know your employee well enough, you can try to have a confidential and private one-on-one conversation. Some people are more open and comfortable to talk about their mental health but keep it within the boundaries of the law.

Be careful about performance rewards.

Performance rewards are a common tactic to increase motivation and get your employees to work harder, which is fine for a while. But you need to know two things about performance rewards. The thin line between the prize working as a motivational factor and when it transitions into unnecessary pressure to keep pushing harder, which is a downward spiral leading to burnout.

Of course, these kinds of rewards have their place, but you might consider implementing perks, reflecting on other things rather than simple performance. 

Especially in today’s world, where most work is done remotely, people need to be reminded that they matter as humans and not only for what they can do. When you have a small team, you can host online meetings and have fun team-building activities. They will get a sense of community, and you can learn something new about them and come up with a genuine reward, no matter if they did or didn’t create monetary value. If you plan to keep them at your workplace and help them get through burnout, you need to let them know they matter.

Give your employees the flexibility of their work schedules.

Ever since the lockdown started and remote work became a new norm, many people experienced that personal and professional life began to blend. It’s increasingly difficult to separate them, and the feeling that you’re always on the clock can lead to burnout. In this scenario, your employees can benefit from taking control over their work schedules to create their work-life balance. A study has shown that 43% of employees are less likely to experience severe work-stress when they can decide how and when they finish their tasks.

Key takeaway

Burnout is a globally recognized occupational phenomenon that many employers are trying to tackle. A study has shown that 67% of full-time workers experience burnouts, and founders are no exception. With their overwhelming amount of responsibilities to keep their business alive, they are twice as likely to develop a mental health issue, resulting in burnout. As leaders of their own companies, they need to first take care of themselves before helping their employees with their burnouts.

As a business owner, there are things you can consider when you’ll try to help your employees overcome a burnout. You can discuss it with them, so you’ll understand how it happened, make your employees feel they matter, and give them some power to schedule their work-life balance during this pandemic.

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