5 ways your startup can prevent employee burnout

3 min read
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Employee burnout is a fact of life for most businesses, but the problem gets especially worse in startups and small enterprises. The combination of paucity of resources, long working hours, nebulous hierarchies, the pressure to succeed, and in fact, the sheer energy found in any startup atmosphere might seem exhilarating to many of your workers, but for a few, it’s something they can’t take for too long. Eventually, some of them might start showings signs of burnout – dissatisfaction, apathy, lowered productivity, poor work relationships, absenteeism.

While many managers may treat employee burnout as something inevitable, and at a certain level, that might be true – it is impossible to make any workplace free of all stressors for all employees – but it certainly is something that can be mitigated.

You might think ‘survival of the fittest’ is a mantra that should apply to startup employees as well, but then you’ll be doing your venture a disservice. After all, employees are your greatest asset (that holds true even more for a startup than for a giant corporation), and as they lose value, so does your business. But as we said earlier, it is possible to manage burnout and fatigue by taking steps well in advance:

1. Make it clear what to expect before they come on board


The allure of a startup is unparalleled for most young employees. After all, who’ll turn down the chance to work with the brightest professionals, on a project that might change how the world live? And that’s before you even consider the pot of riches many inexperienced employees believe lies at the end of the rainbow. But all this can lead them to ignore the bigger picture – that the rewards might be greater, but so are the risks.

What can you do?

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to make sure employees know what they’re signing up for. Personality tests, open days for prospective job applicants, and an old-fashioned, straightforward conversation about of what to expect over the course of their employment are all ways you can minimise the risk of burnout even before an employee signs up.

2. Make sure roles & hierarchies are defined as far as possible


Startups and small businesses often have nebulous hierarchies, leading to an atmosphere that might be great for creativity, but which some people can find too chaotic. Ignoring this can lead to resentment, infighting, power struggles, lopsided workloads, and poor work relationships, leading to a stressful situation that won’t benefit anyone.

What can you do?

Try building up a company culture and value system from the outset, and as far as possible, make sure your employees are clear about the chain of command, and their place in it. Other ways you can create an air of stability at the workplace is by avoiding frequent departmental reshuffling, and by ensuring that any open-door policy you set up doesn’t tread on your on middle-level managers’ authority.

3. Flexible hours and telecommuting might help retain key employees


Sometimes an employee might find himself in a situation where his commitment to work wavers because of external factors. An ageing parent at home, a sudden change in the family situation, ill-health, change in the housing situation… Now, as a personnel manager you might say all this is not your concern. But what happens when it starts to affect job performance, or results in key employees wishing to leave?

What can you do?

Help your employees feel appreciated, and decrease attrition with the smart use of telecommuting or flexi-hour policies that not just help employees cope with external worries, but also make sure your key personnel have yet another reasons to value their employment with you.

4. Communication & feedback make sure there’s no nasty surprise brewing


Two-way communication is essential in any work situation. A lack of communication sometimes makes employees feel that the company is rudderless.  The flip side of the coin is that employees might not speak up even when it’s in the best interest of the business because they don’t want to stick their head out. Both of these have the potential of destroying trust at the workplace, leading to an atmosphere of uncertainty.

What can you do?

Hear out your employees on what they feel is right, or wrong, at the workplace. Are their career aspirations being met, are they happy with what they’re doing, is there any change they think will improve work atmosphere (or even your product)… It’s also your duty to provide feedback on employees’ performance on a regular basis, not just with the aim of rectifying any errors, but to also make it clear how much you value their good performance.

5. Give everyone some decision-making power


You might deny it, but there’s nothing that motivates us more than the prospect of power. This innate human need for power, if not given a healthy outlet, can lead to trouble at the workplace, with colleagues fighting over their turf, department heads looking at others’ projects as akin to the competition, and a general air of insubordination.

What can you do?

Too much hand-holding, micro-managing, and multiple layers of decision making saps employees’ energy, making them question the worth of what they do, and leading to feelings of resentment. On the other hand, letting even your junior-most employees feel that you  trust them with their responsibilities, can make them take more pride in their work, leading not just to better performance, but an overall sense of positivity at the workplace.

Further reading

Want more info on the phenomenon of employee burnout, and how to avoid it? You’ll find plenty of resources around, but here’s a good start:

1. Mayo Clinic – Are you at risk of job burnout?

2. Harvard Business Review – Creating Sustainable Performance

3. Fortune – Employee burnout: Around the corner? Already here?

4. Psychcentral – 5 Ways to Prevent Job Burnout

5. USA Today – Burnout up among employees

6. National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health – Stress at work

It might not be possible to remove all stressors from the workplace, but a few wise decisions and some patience can help slow down or perhaps eliminate employee fatigue and burnout. You can, of course, sweep this under the carpet, but it’s likely that signs of burnout will surface amongst some of your employees, once this issue rears its head, it can spread fast across your workplace.

Image credits:

  1. adminhero.com
  2. dawnadvertiser.wordpress.com
  3. lifehacker.com
  4. virgin.com
  5. haikudeck.com


Vaibhav Sharma
Vaibhav is a freelance writer who's been covering tech for nearly a decade now. The history and evolution of tech holds a special place in his heart, and when he's not working, he can be found chugging way too much coffee.