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It can be all to easy for mental health to take a backseat in tech start-ups where meeting deadlines and pushing out new features are deemed a more pressing priority. But let’s get real: a burnt-out team isn’t doing anyone any favors. As someone who’s been in recruitment for over 25 years, and a large part of that has been working with founders, I’ve seen first-hand the toll that poor mental health can take on both individuals and organizations. As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I would write a bit on how founders, leaders and employees of start-ups can promote a more positive mental health culture.

1. Managing Workload: The Balancing Act

Overloading your team is a sure-fire way to drive them into the ground. You might think pushing for that extra feature is worth it, but is it worth losing a valuable team member to burnout?

  • Set Realistic Deadlines: Unrealistic deadlines don’t just stress your team out; they kill motivation and productivity.
  • Delegate Wisely: Ensure tasks are evenly distributed. If someone is swamped while others are twiddling their thumbs, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Encourage Breaks: No one can work at 100% capacity all the time. Encourage your team to take regular breaks to recharge.

2. Encourage Real Holidays: Unplug to Recharge

When I say holiday, I mean it. No emails, no Slack messages, no “quick calls.” Annual leave is meant to be a break from work, not a different setting to do work.

  • Enforce It: Make it clear that when someone is on holiday, they are truly off the grid. This isn’t just good for them; it’s good for the company in the long run.
  • Lead by Example: If you’re constantly checking in while on vacation, your team will feel pressured to do the same. Show them that it’s okay to disconnect.

3. Spotting the Red Flags: Be Vigilant

Just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they’re okay. Be on the lookout for signs that someone might be struggling.

  • Changes in Performance: A sudden drop in productivity or quality of work can be a sign that something is off.
  • Increased Absence: More sick days or unexplained absences can indicate underlying issues.
  • Behavioral Changes: Look for changes in mood, irritability, or social withdrawal.

4. Genuine Check-Ins: More Than Just Small Talk

“How are you doing?” isn’t just a formality—it should be a genuine question. And when you ask, be prepared to listen.

  • Regular One-on-Ones: Schedule regular check-ins with each team member. Make these meetings about them, not just their work.
  • Active Listening: When someone opens up, don’t just nod and move on. Listen to what they’re saying, ask follow-up questions, and offer support where you can. Put actions into place to help alleviate what might be causing them stress.
  • Create a Safe Space: Make it clear that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues. The more open you are, the more likely your team will feel comfortable coming to you with their problems. Whenever I post on Linkedin about something that I’ve been struggling with, I get so many supportive responses and people sharing their own stories of struggle with me.  It shows I’m not alone and it’s not anything to be ashamed of.

5. Offer Support: Be Proactive

Waiting for someone to come to you isn’t enough. Proactively offer support and resources.

  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP): Consider setting up an EAP where employees can confidentially seek advice and support.
  • Local Support Links: Form connections with local mental health organizations and national charities. Having a list of resources ready shows that you take mental health seriously.
  • Peer Support: Encourage a culture where team members support each other. Sometimes, a colleague can offer support in ways that management can’t.

Practical Steps to Implement These Strategies

  1. Review Workloads Regularly: Use project management tools to keep an eye on who’s doing what. Adjust as necessary to ensure no one is overloaded.
  2. Mandatory Vacation Policy: Implement a policy where employees must take a minimum number of days off each year. Enforce it.
  3. Training for Managers: Offer training to your leadership team on how to spot signs of mental health issues and how to handle them.
  4. Anonymous Feedback Channels: Provide a way for employees to give feedback anonymously. This can highlight issues you might not be aware of.
  5. Mental Health Days: Allow employees to take mental health days without needing to provide a detailed explanation. Sometimes, a day off can make all the difference.

Real-Life Examples: How I’ve Seen Other Startups Do It

At Develocity and my other company, Propeller-Tech I’ve spoken to many who implement some great strategies to be proactive about supporting people.  Here are some that I’ve heard about:

  • Quarterly Mental Health Check-ins: Each quarter, have a one-on-one meeting focused solely on mental well-being. No work talk allowed.
  • No-Contact Holidays: When someone takes time off, make it a point to ensure they’re not contacted for work-related matters. Also have a policy where anyone who contacts a team member on holiday must donate to a charity of the team member’s choice. Trust me, it works!
  • Anonymous Feedback Surveys: Run quarterly anonymous surveys to gauge the team’s mental health and general satisfaction. The insights help us make adjustments as needed.
  • Peer Support Network: Encourage a buddy system where teammates check in on each other regularly. It’s amazing how a simple “How’s your day going?” can make a difference.

Why This Matters: The Bigger Picture

Why go to all this effort? Because the benefits are substantial.

  • Increased Productivity: Happy and mentally healthy employees are more productive. They’re more engaged, more creative, and more likely to stick around.
  • Better Quality of Work: When people aren’t stressed out, the quality of their work improves. They make fewer mistakes and are more thorough in their tasks.
  • Stronger Team Dynamics: A team that supports each other is a team that thrives together. When people feel cared for, they’re more likely to contribute positively to the team.

Final Thoughts

Your team is your most valuable asset, and looking after their mental well-being should be a top priority. By managing workloads, ensuring real holidays, spotting the red flags, genuinely checking in, and offering proactive support, you can create a work environment where your team can thrive.

Remember, a happy team is a productive team.

So, next time you’re pushing for that deadline, ask yourself: Is it worth sacrificing the mental health of my team? If the answer is no, then it’s time to take action.

If you, or someone in your team is struggling and you’re not sure how or where to start.  There are some incredible charities that provide a good starting point.  Here are some of our favorites:-

Samaritans: works to make sure there’s always someone there for anyone who needs someone.

  • Website
  • Call 116 123 (Free) (UK)
  • Email

Mind: The mental health charity. We’re here to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.

  • Website
  • Call 0300 123 3393 (UK)
  • Email

Mental Health America: 

  • Website
  • Call or Text 988 or chat
  • Text MHA to 741741 (USA)


About Develocity

At Develocity, we understand the unique challenges faced by developer tool startups and scaleups. With over 25 years of experience in recruitment and a deep understanding of the tech industry, we’re here to help you build a team that’s not only skilled but also mentally resilient. Whether you’re in the USA, UK, Europe, or Australia, we’ve got you covered.

For more insights and support, feel free to reach out. And remember, taking care of your team’s mental health is one of the best investments you can make.