Not so long ago mental health was not a topic on the top of the list of priorities for business leaders. The landscape today looks very different, with more and more companies, entrepreneurs and solo workers recognising the need to put as much energy into well-being as the bottom lines. This is because they have understood the consequences that anxiety, depression and burnout can have on people’s lives, and how these issues resonate into all spaces, including the workplace.
During the pandemic a large number of people suffered from the pressures of isolation, anxiety over health issues, grief over the loss of loved ones, and stress over the loss of the freedom and pleasures of ordinary life. Mental health became an issue that touched us all in some way, and at the same time. As a consequence of this, it is now a little easier to discuss these issues than it used to be, with old taboos melting away. Employees are no longer likely to suffer in silence when they go through times of stress, instead they expect their leaders to hold space for them, and offer solutions. Start-ups who are unprepared for this reality may find themselves losing key workers.
While we can thank the pandemic for allowing us to talk about these issues more easily, we must still face the problem of how to make well-being solutions available to everyone. Larger companies are able to utilise existing logistics and skills — as well as capital of course — to put solutions in place, but newer companies may see this as more challenging to implement. However, not doing so could prove to be a serious mistake in the long run as we now know that mental health and company success are inextricably linked. This is because mental health is a human problem but also a business problem.
Larger companies are able to utilise existing logistics and skills — as well as capital of course — to put solutions in place, but newer companies may see this as more challenging to implement.
Start-ups are nothing without their human resources. People who are suffering can’t be productive and new companies in particular need every member of their team to be performing at their best in order to launch the business into stability and success.
We know that there is a connection between mental health and company profits because several studies have been carried out which show us that this is true. One example is a Norwegian study carried out in 2021 which looked at the connection between work place bullying and insomnia. The study concluded that “workplace bullying is a risk factor for later insomnia.” Insomnia is frequently a symptom of clinical depression, anxiety or trauma. However, even if the insomnia is not linked to these conditions, it is obvious that it is going to make any worker’s performance much worse than usual, and this in turn will affect company performance. We also know from studies that turnover is directly related to well-being. And the post pandemic landscape we are in has shown us how willing people are to leave jobs where they feel unhappy and unsupported.
Another reason that well-being is vital for start-ups is that without a contented workforce you cannot build good teams. People who are mentally unwell are not able to concentrate, interact or perform at anywhere near their best. According to research carried out by CB Insights, 23 per cent of start-ups that failed did so because their teams couldn’t effectively work together. Therefore, if you want to succeed you must build strong teams, and if you want strong teams you must safeguard and nurture well-being in the workplace. Striking the balance between the well-being needs of employees and the needs of the business can be tricky, and may at times seem to be conflicting. However, as a leader, it is vital that entrepreneurs and directors of start-ups realise that they have a role to play.
So what lessons has the pandemic taught us? First that mental health can be fragile. Tough times can come for any of us at any moment and we all would like to receive compassion in those moments. Secondly, there are many effective things we can do to heal our mental health problems. We don’t need to suffer in silence or feel ashamed of these types of problems. And finally, these cures need to be made accessible to everyone, because when one person is healed, all the people around them benefit too, and that includes the workers, owners and customers of fledgling companies like yours.
— The writer is a Dubai-based certified family coach and founder of Nava, a coaching company focused on helping teens and supporting parents in the process