On the surface, start-ups are perhaps the least likely places people would consider for discussions about employee wellbeing. After all, these enterprises are often characterised by people working insane hours within incredible resource constraints....
There is little organisational slack, and offering perks and privileges that can deliver long-term benefits are expensive. Successful start-ups, however, are the ones where employee wellbeing is hard-wired and embedded into the culture and this can create exceptional business results.
Start with the right people
In my experience, great start-up teams are made up of individuals who are passionate and engaging people who believe in the issue/product/service. This makes them relentless in their pursuit for making a mark and being a part of the culture of success for the business. While co-creating something from nothing can be terrifying and stressful to many, for these individuals this is the opportunity where they are finally released to use their skills, work with a team and use their gifts in dynamic ways. The job becomes more than work, it is a life calling. Their work will have inherent meaning and purpose if they are passionate and believe in the business mission – which are critical aspects of wellbeing.
Use time to motivate
Employees in start-ups also often have a clear time horizon. A clear beginning, middle end date for phases of the project can be highly motivating and beneficial to employees especially when they have opportunities to directly influence the strategy. At Mindset we operate a “spend down” of endowment policy – we start with a set amount of funds for a particular time and then my team is invited to make significant choices in how to leverage those funds for maximum social impact. This sparks incredible creativity and focus about what is important.
Consider the individual
Finally, while small organisations don’t have the financial capacity to offer a suite of wellbeing options, they often invest in employee wellbeing by accommodating for each individual’s work preferences. It’s possible to be flexible over hours (e.g. so individuals can take their kids to school and miss the rush-hour), place of work (e.g., home working) and reward people in unique ways that reflect their personality. These tailored approaches emerge organically over time – reflecting job performance and work efforts – and they play a critical role in building the culture.
I don’t think employee wellbeing happens by accident. Small start-ups are intense places to work and more often than not individuals have to learn to deal with failure – which can be doubly painful when the work is so closely tied to personal identity.
Entrepreneurs have to ensure that they recruit people with entrepreneurial temperaments who are committed to the business mission and then find ways to tailor the working environment to enable these employees to feel valued and achieve their potential.
Creating this culture of meaning and purpose can help support employee wellbeing in the unique start-up environment.