A rarely discussed phenomenon, depression is a vice that lurks around in the shadows of the startup world. Depression is often mistaken for stress or deep anxiety, as most entrepreneurs silently suffer from a broad range of associated mental health issues as well.
Recently, there have been instances of successful entrepreneurs revealing their stint with depression on public avenues.
What makes startups a breeding ground for Stress & Depression?
It is understood that 80% of start-ups wrap up operations within the first three years of starting. Most of the start-ups aspire to make headlines and bring evident changes in the specific field of operation. In a world, where success is worshiped, failure becomes the devil.
Startup founders and employees see anxiety, depression and panic attacks as signs of weaknesses. Trying to remain strong for long can result in the total wreckage of one’s health.
When one suffers from mental illness and anxiety, s/he refuses to share feelings that engulf the individual. In the past few years, doctors have encountered a stark increase in the number of cases of depression, coupled with alcohol and substance abuse among startup employees.
Here, we explore some of the reasons for the same.
1. Investor targets linked to milestones
Milestones are of utmost importance for the purpose of fundraising, as it defines the extent of accomplishments the startup has to show to potential investors. Some of the most common expectations that investors have from start-ups are traction and a good return on their investment.
In a typical startup scenario, investors are always invisibly pushing the company to reach their projected milestones in each phase. This levies a lot of pressure on the employees of the startup, specifically during the targeted timelines for meeting milestones.
2. Expansion plans
Startups must have a well-laid strategy for systematically scaling across various regions. The expansion phase of a startup always exerts a lot of pressure on the organization and the employees working there.
3. Efforts in getting a suitable product/market fit
Zeroing down on a reliable and scalable sales model that can be used repeatedly is the point where a startup achieves a product/market fit. Once a startup is positioned at this point, it is equipped with the primary prerequisite to kick-start its growth mode.
This is a significant and difficult phase where the startup and its employees are bound to endure a lot of stress and long working hours.
4. Pressure to perform and inconsistencies in employee payments
In a startup, an employee does not work on a proven model. There could be situations where funds dry up or valuations drop. So, chances of delayed incentives and additional work hours are pertinent. This can heighten stress levels, constant exposure to which can lead to depression or other mental illnesses like anxiety.
Stress Levels High In Founders and Employees
Physicians have reported that both startup leaders and employees in that ecosystem are equally subjected to stress.
- Founders and other higher officials are answerable to investors, and the ability of the startup to meet milestones truly depends on its performance. This mounts up the work pressure for these individuals.
- Employees in start-ups move out from reliable corporate jobs, where they feel to have been a more stable career. The inconsistency of work and pay in startups would impose the feeling that their careers are at stake. This applies a lot of pressure on these executives.
There was a revelation on the link between mental health issues and entrepreneurship from a study conducted by Dr. Micheal Freeman, 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed, reported mental health issues, including depression, ADHD and anxiety problems. Reports of mental health issues in the families of entrepreneurs were even more intriguing.
Working in a startup teaches one to take risks, but this career path is not suitable for everyone. Even highly successful candidates with history, of flourishing corporate careers, experience flameout after being unable to deal with the pressures of a startup environment.
Candidates from traditional corporate jobs are not familiar with the sense of urgency and accountability at startups. Once they understand that the focus here is on contribution and relevance, the slope starts looking very steep. Real life incidents of startup employees and their battle with the challenges, therein, have started surfacing recently.
Expectations of investors, extreme competition, cash burnout and pressures to display stellar performances at the workplace subject startup executives to high levels of stress.
This escalation in pressure has given rise to high levels of attrition at these fledgling ventures. The stardust of the startup ecosystem has subsequently worn off during the last few years.
Visible Symptoms Of Strain
Some of the effects of mounting pressure at the workplace could manifest into the following visible symptoms:
- Lack of confidence and extreme anxiety.
- Constant irritability when dealing with personal or professional affairs.
- Frequent uneasiness over career choices.
- Two or more weeks of sadness and negative self-worth.
- Medical conditions like high blood pressure, skyrocketing cholesterol levels, cardiac ailments, obesity, flu, headache, etc.
- Longer work hours could lead to body aches, sleeplessness and fluctuate blood sugar levels. These symptoms are collectively referred to as burnout.
- Overall lower levels of motivation even during positive advancements in work life.
Dealing with the pressure
One of the prominent reasons for burnout is the high expectation. Once you set the highest goals for yourself, you are bound to get caught in a never-ending cycle of work. Here, you would be ticking off achievements and concurrently add new goals. Eventually, you feel that you are not good enough, in terms of success, wealth, productivity and happiness.
There are two types of depression, situational and chronic.
- Counseling and support from family assist in overcoming situational depression.
- If one is suffering from chronic depression, it is necessary to take appropriate medications. These medicines help in stabilizing the patient’s thoughts and feelings and help him get a grip on life.
Diffusing Stress at the Workplace
Startups have now started employing different measures to control work-related stress and improve the overall health of associates.
- One channel for stress-busting is the encouragement of open dialogues between employer and employee. This is achieved through one-on-one sessions or town halls where employee concerns are addressed by the management.
- Prepping up the workplace to reflect a relaxed atmosphere is a method adopted by many startups. This includes, installing couches and bean bags in the office premises. Availability of sleeping rooms and play stations are also aimed at sustaining a stress-free work environment.
- Organizing team outings and parties at month-end provide an informal setting. The employees get to know each other and maintain cordial relationships that positively impact work culture.
- Some start-ups also encourage forced shutdowns, where all employees are requested to stop work at 6 pm and get back home.
- Events such as ‘Bring Your Kids to Work’ or ‘Pet Comes to Office’ encourage mingling among employees and immensely help in bringing down work-related pressures.
- Some companies have ‘My Mentor’ programs where managers assess work done by employees, mentor them in their growth plans and provide assistance in reaching their full potential. This is an alternate strategy to simply fire non-performing employees, and it has gained a lot of popularity among the startup workforce.
How to minimize stress related ailments?
- Depression should be treated like any other kind of illness. Do not shy away from approaching a psychologist or a psychiatrist for help.
- Do not set high expectations and strict deadlines for yourself at the work front.
- Take care of your body by eating well, sleeping and exercising.
- Eating more fresh food, drinking water and cutting down on processed food and sugar goes a long way in keeping your body healthy.
- Insomnia can be a by-product of depression, but many of us do not know that it can lead to the dreaded disease as well. Sleep apnea, which is associated with poor sleep patterns and intense snoring has also been linked to depression.
- When you exercise, you release endorphins into your brain. This triggers positive feelings, and also curbs your cravings for unhealthy food.
- Outside of the workplace, individuals can find multiple websites dedicated to providing free counseling on a 24/7 basis for startup employees and founders.
- Although obvious, it is imperative to spend more time with family and friends for a happier life.
- Maintain a gratitude journal where you can regularly jot down lists of things you are thankful for. This helps in opening your eye to the richness of your life and your blessings.
- Be nice to people, and take the time to thank them for their assistance. Expressing gratitude helps in garnering positive thoughts and pleasant feelings.
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