There are three certain things in life—death, work, and taxes. And work is usually stressful. Currently, 3 in 5 workers (61%) feel burned out in their current job, and nearly a third (31%) report high levels of stress at work. That’s why, from the moment I hire someone, I make sure he or she knows that I respect his or her work/life balance and do not expect him or her to work nights and weekends.
I frequently ask employees about their hobbies, what they’ve done outside the office, and how they are doing (outside of formal performance reviews). Those questions require little effort on my part but show my employees I care about and am invested in them. After all, your number one resource as an organization is your workforce.
In many companies, stress stays bottled up. Employees aren’t typically comfortable talking about their emotions in the workplace. They worry stress will be perceived as a sign of weakness or incompetence, potentially affecting their career. For companies with thousands of employees, addressing an office culture of stress and overexertion can be challenging and require a complete overhaul. But when you’re starting a business, you have the opportunity to build a mentally healthy workplace from the beginning. It may be a daunting investment for a young, scrappy start-up, but it’s in your best interest if you want to ensure sustainable, long-term growth and strong employee retention.
Building a Healthy Workplace from Scratch
Many start-ups want to help their employees avoid workplace stress but struggle to translate that into action. Managers spend vast amounts of time, energy, and resources worrying about technology while investing half as many resources in the actual humans doing the work.
To me, that’s odd. The interpersonal relationships and dynamics of workplaces largely determine whether employees feel comfortable talking about their stress, empowered to ask for help, and excited to come to work. On average, we spend about 90,000 hours of our lives at work, which means it’s important that companies ensure a healthy environment with strong communication between coworkers and management. I want to help you help your employees, so here are a few suggestions.
Businesses can adapt and encourage transparent, healthy communication to alleviate their employees’ stress. Managers and HR professionals can lead by example and empower employees to voice their concerns and see that they are addressed; there are a couple of commonsense solutions businesses are probably aware of but don’t realize their importance to the average employee.
Be open to hiring more help if your employees are consistently working long hours. Implement an open-door policy and an annual cultural survey. Most importantly, follow through on the feedback employees give, and ensure that they know their voices and recommendations have been heard and addressed to the best of your ability. Then, your employees will know they can bring their problems to you, that you will do your best to accommodate them, and that you care about their well-being, opening a healthy internal communication channel.
Some Assembly Required
There will be instances when adapting to your employees’ feedback and needs will mean implementing out-of-the-box policies, tailored to your company’s and industry’s context. Take the tech industry, for example. Most of my employees spend the majority of every day working on complex technical problems, using every ounce of their brainpower to think critically and creatively. The mental intensity of this work can, over time, lead to burnout and can even turn what someone loves to do into something that he or she dreads doing.
I didn’t want this to happen to my team, so I decided to do something about it. When I started my own company, I implemented a new policy: Every other Friday, my employees get a day off. It helps prevent burnout, makes room for the rest of their lives, and shows that their health is important to me and to our long-term success. Whenever I ask employees what keeps them at my company, they point to the flexibility and the willingness to help them keep a positive work/life balance. I would encourage everyone in my position to get creative and do the same.
Ultimately, investing in your employees’ health and well-being is profitable. The total costs of these policies are dwarfed by the costs of turnover. It doesn’t matter how many perks you offer or how competitive your salary is; if people are miserable and feel ill-treated, they will leave. If you want to keep them, you should proactively create a culture of clear, healthy communication while your business is still small.
Brett Derricott is a serial entrepreneur and an active angel investor. He’s been recognized by Utah Business magazine’s Forty under 40 for his business acumen and is also the founder and CEO of Built for Teams, an HR intelligence platform that helps business leaders understand, manage, and grow their human capital.