Working in startup, it doesn’t take long to begin to experience the mental and physical wear of dedicating your entire livelihood to your job. Of course, as all things are, it’s about finding balance. So much easier said than done, so here’s how you can get it done.
Hearing uncharacteristically calm people speak to the management of stress has never done it for me. I recognize I’ll never harness that level of zen. Hence, let’s tackle this issue from the viewpoint of someone who lives to work – something I’m sure many of you can relate to.
I recommend the following as a standard for mental health within any office, and would suggest these tips to any employed individual I know. That being said, I understand that 9 times out of 10, whether this is acceptable workplace behavior is determined by managers.
That’s why I address these suggestions to management within the startup world. Your employees work hard and if you want to inspire them to continue to work hard, make sure they’re shown appreciation, respect and flexibility. Here’s how you can help them manage the stress that comes with working at a startup:
1) Treat goals as recommendations for a standard.
Existing in the realm of sales, goals are essential. You operate with monthly or quarterly quotas and in order to create tangible roadmaps to hit those quotas, you create weekly and sometimes even daily metrics for success. These metrics are meant to carry your team strategically toward attainment, but they can just as easily inspire the feeling of failure or resignation.
I ask my team to send 90 inmails per person per week, but if they’re each managing 6 calls per day this week, I recognize that those calls will sooner bring us new team-members than cold inmails will. Be mindful that every week is different and standard goals should never be blanket goals.
Also acknowledge that different people work different ways. Some salespeople will hit a 45K quota by nurturing 18 prospects and closing 6. Some salespeople will hit that same 45K quota by nurturing 10 prospects and closing 3. Be mindful and supportive of different approaches.
2) Refuse to stress over things out of your control.
This one we need to be careful with. This isn’t an excuse to categorize misfortune as pure bad luck. You can always learn from mishaps, even when you feel that some things were out of your control.
When I say “out of your control,” I mean really out of your control. A prime example is no longer having access to your director for your closing call because she was unexpectedly pulled into a meeting with your co-founders. Panicking gets you absolutely nowhere. Take a moment to digest your panic, then figure out who else could help.
Another very NYC example of this is being late for work because the 6 train is stalled. There have been countless times when I teetered on the edge of panic because I was going to be late for a meeting and didn’t have the cell service to give anyone a heads up.
But one way to help your colleagues feel more comfortable with this rule of thumb is the following:
3) Define “on time.”
There are many offices that run on a 9-to-5 schedule but that’s often not the reality in startup. For that reason, it’s important to have an open dialogue with your team around the definition of “on time,” as well as to have flexibility around it. For people who operate best with structure, create specific times and make those known.
There is an enormous benefit to providing a level of flexibility. You want healthy employees and a lot of things contribute toward that – be it going to the gym, dentist appointments, therapy. Unavoidably, these conflict with a typical 9-to-5. For teammates who go to the gym in the morning, make it clear if you expect them to stay a bit later. For teammates who volunteer in the evenings, let them know if you’d prefer they come in earlier. This flexibility equates to respect. Respect equates to trust.
As managers, it’s easy to forget that your team looks to you for guidance on what acceptable working hours are. If you have a tendency to stay very late or come in early, and you don’t expect the same hours of your team, tell them. Otherwise they’ll assume it’s the expectation.
4) Don’t eat at your desk.
You have probably read about this before because I’m not the only one saying it. But it’s very easy to feel like the world will end if you or your team step away from your phones for even a moment. It won’t.
Eating at your desk slows mental stamina. To focus on work and nothing but work for 10 hours won’t allow you to ever take a step back and view anything from a less meticulous viewpoint. Always resolving issues in real-time will result in things falling through the cracks.
Additionally, it negatively impacts relationships with colleagues. Much of the time, lunch is the only opportunity someone has to speak with people in other departments and sometimes even members of your own team who don’t work right beside one another.
Give your team the mental break of having comfortable, casual, non-work-related conversation for at least 20 minutes of the day. Everyone will be far more productive and happy as a result of it.
5) Leave the office once a day.
This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Don’t you always come up with some of your best ideas on the walk to or from work, or even in the shower? A change of scenery truly does give your mind the opportunity to evaluate things from a new perspective.
Also, you don’t want your team going stir-crazy.
6) [Unless you’re a brain surgeon], remember that your job is important but likely not a matter of life or death.
Mistakes will happen. Meetings will be missed and emails forgotten. Understand when stern feedback is the appropriate response and when sympathy is the stronger route. If you’re able to effectively demonstrate to your team that occasional failure isn’t the end of the world, they will:
- be more capable of picking themselves up – even without your help – when the going gets hard
- have better capabilities to manage stress
- ask for help when they need it, rather than worry about whether they’ll get in trouble for asking
7) Know and acknowledge that vacation days are essential.
In one of my first jobs, I took 2 vacation days over the course of a full year because – like many sales roles – any day out of office had a direct impact on my pipeline and therefore my potential earnings.
Then one evening my manager sat me down and told me that I wasn’t allowed to leave the office until I had booked a flight for a vacation. That’s how I wound up going to Puerto Rico for the first time.
Particularly in startup culture where vacation time can be non-traditional and sometimes even unlimited, it’s essential to find a balance and make sure that your team doesn’t abuse time off the clock. But it’s also important to help other team leaders manage their vacation time while keeping in mind the support their personal team will need.
That being said, vacation time is essential. Encourage your teammates to spend time with their families, friends, significant others or even on their own. Be cognizant of their stress levels and whether they haven’t taken any time for themselves in a while. Rested employees are productive employees are happy employees are successful employees.
8) Never ask yourself, “Have I gotten everything done today?”
This is huge in sales. The reality of the matter is that you will never run out of things to do. There is always another person to call or email. Another prospect to research. Another event to attend. You will never actually finish all you possibly could in any work-day of your life.
You shouldn’t expect yourself to.
It is essential that your team at all times push themselves to be their best, and then to be better. Spend your professional career figuring out where that ledge begins and pushing yourself to the tip. But stop there.
9) Remind yourself that not everyone lives to work.
It is so admirable that you work as hard as you do. It’s admirable that your team does too, and it’s one of the reasons you respect and appreciate them so much. That being said, chances are that whether it’s family, friends or a partner, there are others in your life who don’t prioritize work to quite the extent that you do.
For this reason, it’s essential to keep in mind that if you want your loved ones to continue to recognize their importance, you can’t live at work. Make time for the people you love and encourage your team to do the same.
By applying these pointers to your work-ethic as often as possible, it will be easier for your team to take pride in their work as a product of the time and effort and drive they were excited to devote toward it, rather than simply the product of the expectations they held themselves to.