How to embrace mental wellness in startup culture

Mental health issues are especially prominent among founders and people who play major roles in entrepreneurial endeavors.

The state of the world has been extremely turbulent, with people experiencing fires, war, earthquakes and other tragedies, in addition to an increasingly competitive working environment. Lately, people have been experiencing more stress and anxiety in their lives than ever before. Some people reach for meditation apps, go to yoga sessions or take breaks to travel internationally. Humanity appears to be constantly seeking peace in its heart.

Through my experience as a startup founder, I’ve realized that mental health issues are especially prominent among founders and people who play major roles in entrepreneurial endeavors. After addressing my own mental health and witnessing many of my close founder friends sink into depression, I have taken steps to ensure my company sustains a healthy work environment in order for everyone to thrive.

Let go of negative influences

I founded Humm.ly six months ago with several others. I trusted one particular team member wholeheartedly, overlooking some questionable behaviors because I thought his skills and talent would be valuable to the team. They delivered impeccable work whenever needed. I let him lead an entire project because I trusted his high standard of work. However, trying to get a startup going can be perilous. They were highly critical of other employees in circumstances that called for patience. Gradually, this person’s temper discouraged almost everyone in the company. I was afraid to start frank conversations with him because of unreasonable criticisms and arguments. It was a difficult realization for me. I had to convince myself that having him as a leader in the company would significantly slow down work performance and impact others’ job satisfaction. After a lot of consideration and consultation with more experienced startup founders, I made the difficult decision to let them go. Even though I had sympathy for him, his departure ultimately prevented negativity from spreading to other team members.

Encourage physical wellness

Years of research shows that physical activity can reduce anxiety and depression for healthy adults. Yet, exercising regularly can be difficult, especially when starting a new company and experiencing high levels of stress. During the beginning of my startup life, I experienced tremendous weight gain, living on spicy ramen and late-night delivery options. One of my founding members ate Big Macs for a month straight! This was not the image we wanted to present, especially with a mission to promote healthy lifestyles for our users. I encouraged the team to sign up for boxing and yoga classes with me. I reminded them to eat healthfully and sleep well every day.

We have been able to maintain medium- to high-intensity exercise routines ever since then. If you are worried about how to keep your team motivated to accomplish fitness goals, lead by example. You can initiate a great sense of well-being within your company by creating opportunities for regular exercise and fitness partnerships within your team. I’ve seen that with a proper routine, memory recall and creativity can increase and team members can feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives, potentially increasing their performance and attitude at work.

Develop meaningful one-to-one communication

The most challenging thing in my startup experience so far has been managing the emotional highs and lows over the past several months. Although the ups and downs are a natural part of building a new company, it’s crucial to keep track of all team members’ well being, especially during the initial development of the business. I have found that regular one-to-one meetings are valuable for building rapport between you and the individuals you work with every day. Get coffee, go for lunch, hike and even take spontaneous trips with the team member you want to check in with. One-to-one communication can develop trust, increase productivity, and support the team’s alignment and development of a shared mental model.

Foster a supportive and positive culture

Creating a supportive and positive culture became the most important priority for my company after stress and burnout caused internal discord and issues with team members. Although startups are always pushing to meet crucial deadlines, it is ultimately more important to reinforce your team and support them in going the extra mile. You want to help your team feel welcome, secure in their position and valued within the company. Lead by example and set a positive tone through supportive behaviors. As you build relationships with team members and grow your company’s culture, over time you will create a supportive and positive place that people love working at.

Competition in the startup world can be brutal. If founding team members are constantly overwhelmed and not receiving support for mental or physical wellness, the company could crumble. Every founder should consider working on their own skills, including mindfulness, listening, clear communication and empathy. The team and the company will benefit from their founder leading by example, resulting in longevity, prosperity and happiness for all involved.

Joanna Yu is the founder and CEO of Humm.ly

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