3 Impactful Ways Startups Can Improve Staff Mental Health

By Fraser Gillies Published: 23 June, 2022 Last updated: August 26th, 2022 at 6:16 pm


Employee wellbeing should always be priority one for startups.

It’s not hyperbolic to say that, with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world finds itself in a mental health crisis. A study by Lyrahealth reported that 80% of people experienced mental health challenges in the workplace. The same report also showed that 54% of employees had ‘higher expectations for mental health support from their employers’.

The importance of staff wellness is no surprise to startup leaders. Aside from the ethical responsibility, disorders like anxiety and depression cost an estimated $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.

So, with constrained resources, how can startups keep workers’ mental health at the top of their minds?

We’ve picked three impactful solutions that startups can use to tackle mental health issues for their employees.

1. Be flexible, foster flexibility

Stating the obvious, we all work differently. And our different roles dictate different work schedules.

Some of us are more productive in the mornings, others work better later in the day. Others of us need time to finish a task before responding to messages from colleagues. Conversely, some of us prefer to respond instantly. What’s important here is that leaders send a message that the team has agency in setting its work/life balance.

During a mental health workshop at Publicize organized by Natasha Pentin, our Senior Writer, we emphasized saying ‘no’ to tasks when you don’t have the bandwidth. Everyone feels pressure to take on extra tasks, for career progression or to avoid letting colleagues down. However, research by the WHO (World Health Organization) attributes around 750,000 deaths a year to overworking.

Likewise, it’s not solely about the message from the top. Startups need to create a culture of flexibility among each of their staff. Another key takeaway from the workshop was being vigilant for signs of overworking in our teammates. Changes in tone of voice, appearance, and work schedule all indicate that someone’s work/life balance is out of kilter.

Empowering staff to set their own workloads and schedules is a no-brainer for fostering a positive startup culture. Ultimately, it leads to proactive, productive, and positive people working together.

2. Create space for team members to complete tasks

When it comes to big projects, we need as stress-free an environment as possible to do high-quality work.

“The idea of multi-tasking is a myth”, says Sjoerd Martens, CCO of Publicize. It ultimately keeps us distracted from our most important tasks, so focus on one task at a time. Moreover, studies show that we only have around 3 hours a day to do concentrated work. This links to the ‘Planning Fallacy’ when we underestimate the time we’ll take to complete future tasks.

To reduce the distraction of other tasks, Publicize trialed a ‘Slackless’ day. Rather than use Slack to message colleagues, we focused on projects alone. We found that 72% of staff felt less stress with fewer messages. Additionally, 68% felt they achieved more work as a result.

Completing work on time is crucial to an employee’s sense of purpose and levels of stress. Sometimes, improvements to our well-being are as simple as the freedom to do our job without interruption.

3. Give time to concentrate on mental health

No matter your startup culture, work burns people out. From the CEO to the office administrator, it can happen to everyone. Recognizing this on a person-by-person basis combats mental health deterioration.

For one, enabling managers to give personal days to team members as and when necessary makes sense. This is pivotal to the short-term well-being of the team member as well as the long-term well-being of the team. For example, say a manager isn’t proactive about addressing a team member’s well-being and the person needs extended time away from work. This puts extra strain on the rest of the team. At the same time, an extended time away from work may be just what that person needs. Therefore, being ahead of this allows for proper planning to fulfill this person’s work.

For a more company-wide approach, your startup could consider trialing a 4-day work week. A study by Henly Business School found that 78% of employees were happier. Also, 62% took fewer sick days over the course of the year.

Finally, startup leaders must recognize that opening up about mental health is inherently difficult. For someone struggling with mental health, taking a trusted colleague to inform their manager can be really positive. This person’s presence could ease the conversation and reduce the feeling of stigmatization.

Final thought

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week in October, put in place the right structures for improving staff wellbeing.

There’s never a one-size-fits-all solution for mental health. Nevertheless, there are positive actions that startup leaders can take. If you’re looking for further inspiration, check out our article on 8 of the most industry-disruptive health and wellness startups. There, you’ll find useful tech examples that could help improve your staff’s wellbeing.


Fraser Gillies

Fraser has been working in the digital communications space for four years. Currently the Head of Revenue at Publicize, he is leading a team of talented content creators to build powerful tech narratives that engage, educate and entertain audiences.