When you work for a startup, it’s all hands on deck, all the time. The high energy and fast pace that is characteristic of a small team with big goals is part of what makes startups so appealing. However, it also means a much higher likelihood that your employees will burn out. And when you’re an international company with a number of expat employees, stress can easily multiply.
We’ve come up with some strategies to help entrepreneurs alleviate employee stress and avoid startup burnout for team members working abroad.
1. Prioritize Culture. This starts from the very beginning. When you are deciding who to hire, consider the workplace environment you want to foster. Fit should be as important a consideration as an impressive resume.
Working long hours are tolerable, even pleasant, if you genuinely enjoy the company of your coworkers. This is even more important when the majority of your employees are expats. By fostering a community for your employees, you’ll also have better employee retention rates – if they’re friends with the people they work with, they’ll be more loyal and more attached to your company as a whole.
In order to develop a positive, cohesive workplace, you need to give your employees the opportunity to bond with one another – beyond communal suffering and commiserating. Find positive ways to unite your workforce. Group retreats are a great way to encourage everyone to spend some non-work time together.
Company lunches once a month are also a great custom to generate goodwill within your startup. Decide that the first Friday of every month will be Chinese Takeout Day and order in a big lunch for the team. If you can’t fit that into your budget, pick a popular lunch place and organize a monthly lunch outing where everyone goes together.
2. Remove Unnecessary Sources of Frustration. Your employees’ moods will improve significantly if you can find a way to eliminate the little things that regularly drive them nuts. And if you don’t know what those things are, ask! Perhaps the printer jams often, or the internet logs people it. Even the littlest nuisance can become a big issue when it nags at you day after day. Your employees will appreciate you all the more if they see you taking these things seriously.
Along those lines, identify things you can take off their plates. Especially if you are a company working in a foreign country, this is a great situation to take advantage of the rise of internships around the world. No matter where you are, there will be study abroad students, recent graduates or other bright young minds eager to learn. Some of the more basic tasks that might be bogging your team members down could actually be a great way for an intern to learn about working for a startup and get to know your industry.
3. Invest in the Little Things. A common challenge of running a startup is finding the balance between stinginess and extravagance. When you’re a small company just starting to get traction, your employees don’t expect you to take them on an all-expenses-paid, company-wide trip to Atlantic City, but they will appreciate seeing that you think they’re important enough to take care of. Think about it like investing in their happiness. Consider supplying free coffee for the office, or if your company is abroad, make an effort to find something from home and keep it in stock. Peanut butter is always a great (and affordable) option.
4. Make your Employees Feel Recognized and Appreciated. Your team will mind less how hard they’re working if they know you are aware of it and don’t take it for granted. Find a way to treat your employees, and every once in a while, surprise them. Bring cupcakes, or designate next Friday a half day. They’ll feel good knowing you value them, and the boost in morale will be its own reward.
Most importantly, make sure you give credit where credit is due. If your startup just reached a major milestone, don’t forget that it was a group effort that got you there. Acknowledge the hard work of your employees and the role it played in the company’s accomplishments.
5. Give and Ask for Feedback. Deliver negative feedback in person. Seeing your face will reassure your employees, and feeling like they’re not doing well at work will only lead to more stress and frustration. Focus on training as well. Investing a little time now will pay off in the long term, because your employees will do better work and make things easier for you. On that same note, make sure you tell members of your team when they’re doing well. Positive reinforcement is a great way to encourage more great work.
Don’t forget that there are probably things you can improve on as well. Let your employees know you want to hear from them and that you respect their constructive feedback. Their outside perspective on what you could work on might be just what you need. Develop a system by which employees can anonymously tell you how you’re doing and what you could improve. Also, encourage them to provide feedback on the systems you have in place throughout the workplace. Perhaps there’s something that could be more efficiently handled.
All in all, remember that your startup’s biggest asset is your team. If you invest energy in keeping them healthy and happy, it’s your business that will profit the most in the long run.