How to avoid burnout for the good of your business — and your health
3 January 2024
The modern way of life has drastically affected our work-life balance and stressors. In 2019, burnout was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon […] resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’ But what does that really mean?
The WHO defines the symptoms of burnout as the following:
• Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
• Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
• Reduced professional efficacy
While stress can be harnessed to improve performance, it’s important to view it as an opportunity for personal growth and development, not just another hurdle to be overcome. If poorly managed, cumulative stress and the subsequent burnout is harmful to both founders and the business.
Why founders are prone to burnout
Founders undergo extreme levels of stress and uncertainty, which means they are more at risk of burning out. The decisions founders make result in whether a company stays afloat, putting the livelihood of the company’s employees, investors’ capital and their own personal savings at risk.
The entrepreneurial journey can also be an isolating experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent report found that 44% of founders reported very high levels of stress, while 72% reported that the entrepreneurial journey had negatively impacted their mental health.
What’s more, founders often ignore their own mental and physical signals, deprioritising their own wellbeing for the greater good of the company. They put immense pressure on themselves to keep working and, like athletes in a high-performance environment, often come back from injury too soon.
Despite this, burnout is sometimes glamorised by founders who wear it as a badge of honour, a sign that they sacrificed themselves to benefit investors, growth and their team.
How to prevent burnout
Burnout can have a detrimental effect on a startup. If the founding team can’t operate at full capacity, then they can’t fulfil their potential — and neither will the company.
So, how do you effectively manage stress to avoid burning out? Here are our top tips for founders:
1. No one wants to feel apathetic about what they’re doing. Taking a break is for the good of the company and it helps you better prepare for (and be more enthusiastic about) selling your business.
2. Taking time off is also a great way to see what fires need fighting in your absence. You can then apply those learnings to work out what changes need to be made to prevent the same issues happening in future, which in turns allows you to take more breaks without agonising about what might go wrong.
3. When you anticipate a particularly stressful period, carve out time for recovery afterwards.
4. Take more of a long-term view of how to maximise your performance. Consider your mental health, physical health and family life. Think more holistically about all the facets of you as a person, not just as a business leader — and don’t let work define your entire identity! Only then will you be able to thrive in a pressure cooker environment.
5. The average investment relationship lasts just as long as the average marriage. Work on creating a partnership with your investors so they can help you through whatever challenges life throws at you. Vulnerability between founder and VC can be a positive thing: it shows strength, resilience and can lead to a stronger working relationship.
How to prevent burnout among your team
At the heart of every success or failure is people. It’s impossible to separate employees from the company, so it’s important to care for them. Every organisation needs to get better at spotting the symptoms of burnout, have a plan in place to help deal with chronic stress and proactively support mental health, not just when issues arise.
Leaders that create a psychologically safe environment for their team are able to provide a more supportive environment for when big life events happen. Having a good selection of employee benefits, perhaps including some kind of mental health support, also shows that employers care about their team’s wellbeing — not just their output at work.
“We want the Scene team to be healthy, happy and passionate about high-performance in all aspects of their lives. To reflect this, we’ve created an employee benefits package that takes a holistic approach to the key elements of wellness. This includes access to mental health therapy and professional coaching, flexible working hours, subsidised gym classes, plus an unlimited holiday policy to allow for important time to switch off.”
— Pete Miller, Scene Founder
How can Scene help?
We help ambitious founders hire, retain and optimise the best startup talent. We also advise on all areas of your talent roadmap, from building employee benefits and compensation packages to designing DE&I policies. Learn more or contact us below.