This article first appeared in StartUp Magazine’s July/August 2021 issue. You can access the full issue here.
Cast your mind back two years. Yes, to summer 2019 when words such as Covid, coronavirus, lockdown, vaccine and isolation were not part of our daily lexicon. Back in those seemingly halcyon days, we probably had a lot less to contend with as start-up founders or directors. But even back then we still had to maintain a healthy level of mental wellbeing to be at our best (or close to it) and ensure our business – whatever stage it was at – was in a good position to succeed.
We all know what happened next and in one sense, we can be grateful for the pandemic. Because one positive to emerge from this period is that it has accelerated conversations about mental health and in some cases, lockdown gave us time to take stock and recharge. When we were deprived of meeting friends, colleagues and loved ones, from frequenting venues we’d usually flock to, and from being barred from gyms and sports facilities, we appreciated even more how these things all contributed to our mental health. For many, there was a realisation that mental health wasn’t something that existed in isolation – it was the sum of many varying elements.
The here and now
So bearing in mind that realisation, coupled with the demands of fast-paced life running a start-up business, what can we do to not only preserve our mental wellbeing, but also to ensure we are thriving?
You’re likely to live and breathe the business and it’s hard to totally switch off from it. However if you want to maintain positive mental health, the truth is you need to find time to step away from work to give your wellbeing a needed boost. It’s actually going to be hugely beneficial for both you and the company, even if you don’t think so in the short term.
The good news is that there are easy wins here. You don’t need to join daily monk-like meditations, or follow the latest wellbeing fad (gong baths, anyone!?) to reset your mental wellbeing. Right now though if you’re still working from home, some of the following is vital:
Make a distinction between your home life and work life. It’s tricky, but one activity that will help is to introduce a ‘commute’ each day before and after work. This can be as simple as going for a five minute walk around the block, preparing your mind for the start of your working day, or signalling its end. You’ll also get some essential daylight. It will help your sleep patterns and we all know that being active has plentiful mental and physical health benefits.
Another easy win is to take lunch and do so away from your place of work. Yep, that’s right, don’t eat and work, use that time, even if it’s just 20 minutes to detach from your workload, get outside if you can, and think about something else. Research shows that taking a proper lunch break will make you more efficient and productive in the afternoon. Oh and lose the phone during this time too because if you’re checking work email and the like, it’s not a proper break. I know there’s many a founder out there that will scoff at this idea, but try it a few times and you’ll be grateful for that micro detachment.
Another thing to ditch is unnecessary video calls. Let’s face it, we’re all long tired of Zoom, Meets, Teams etc, so if you don’t have to use video, particularly if it’s a one-to-one call, then don’t. Go old school, talk and get up and stretch or even walk and talk if you can. Doing a couple of these regularly will give you those little boosts you need right now and in the future.
A lonely place
In general, being a business owner can be lonely at times particularly if it’s just you at the start. This is when you need to keep an eye on your mental health. The pandemic period has made a lot of us appreciate human interaction and the buzz of an office.. The right shared workspace can potentially result in networking, casual conversations and even doing drinks rounds are good for your wellbeing. That interaction can’t be underestimated when it comes to looking after yourself as a business owner. Personally I’ve found my mood got a welcome boost when I began using a shared working space again; it’s good to be around people again in a working environment.
You’re the boss
The good news is that you’re in charge – so allocate time for possibly some of the above, to exercise, and to make your wellbeing a priority. If you’re spent then you’ll make bad calls and your business will suffer. And by allocate, I mean put it in the diary, don’t leave it to chance that you’ll try and get some exercise in – book it in.
It’s not a badge of honour anymore to be working 12+ hour days and skipping meals to cram in work. What is more worthy is appreciating the restorative qualities of rest, relaxation and exercise. So go get some, or preferably all.
If you’ve got colleagues, encourage them to do likewise. One of the best things about being involved in start-ups is the agility and lack of red tape. So if you appreciate the benefits of employee wellbeing, build them into your company’s ethos from as early as you can, and lead by example.
Simple company wide wins
Should you wish to run employee wellbeing initiatives or programmes, here’s some advice I’d stress. Firstly, don’t think that what works for you is going to work for your colleagues. So if running is your therapy and an activity that makes you tick, then great, but others may not feel the same. Consider surveying staff to find out what they would like from any scheme and to identify any work related areas that may be impacting their wellbeing.
Responses may identify that actually there’s a communications issue that is having a detrimental effect on staff morale, and that may need to be addressed before let’s say an online yoga class is introduced.
Similar to how we’re now aware that mental wellbeing is determined by many factors, staff wellbeing can be influenced by many things going on in the workplace and is intrinsically linked to your workplace culture and practices.
If you are looking for a straightforward way to enhance your and your colleagues wellbeing, consider an Online Wellbeing Week. These have soared in popularity among businesses we’ve worked with during lockdowns and this prolonged spell of working from home. Yes, the irony of getting people to join a video conference isn’t lost on us, but staff have come away with enthusiasm from the suggestions provided – from mental health awareness, better sleep, nutrition, or even Zoom Zumba! Such webinars are 30 minutes long so they shouldn’t impact your day significantly. However to reiterate, such activities are an investment in you – and a high performing you is likely to result in business gains.
It’s that variety that can help staff find out what works for them. Likewise as a founder, find one or two things that allow you to switch off from work. If you’re otherwise working flat out on your business, you need that time to detach. Your ‘therapy’ can come in many forms, maybe unconventional.