Leading the way: How a healthcare startup can set the example on employee wellbeing

The pace at a fast-growth startup is, well, fast. Adaptability is key. Agility is paramount. After all, startups are founded, backed and made up of ambitious people with big dreams. They all want to realise those dreams, often with restricted budgets and limited time to prove a concept to potential investors. As fascinating as this business journey can be, it demands patience and perseverance from the people working in it. 

Of course, working at a small, mission-driven business with big ambitions can be incredibly exciting. There are endless chances for career growth, and the opportunity to see the impact of your work is quite unparalleled. However, it’s important that employees understand that the ‘passion’ element of a startup doesn’t necessarily entail a hustle, burnout culture. We’ve seen at birdie that another way of thriving at a fast-growing startup is possible. 

The truth is that healthcare startups in particular have an important role to play in making this the new normal in the startup ecosystem. Yes, these companies address society’s health challenges, but they should also embrace the challenge of setting an innovative example when their own employees face challenges to their wellbeing. 

At birdie, for example, we not only consider our purpose to challenge the norms in the care industry and improve the quality of care of older adults, but use this same approach to look after our employees. Here’s how we’re doing that. 

Genuine care 

It has become a lot more important for companies to develop and prove a ‘purpose’ over the past few years. Customers are shopping with sustainability and social justice in mind. They want to buy from companies that serve a greater purpose. Evidence suggests job applicants are thinking in the same way. People want to work for companies with a higher mission. 

Expectations are high, and many companies have failed to meld that purpose with their culture. That hasn’t necessarily stopped some companies from publicising their purpose and higher mission on their websites. Some might even make sure employees know every word of their purpose statement by heart.  

You might wonder at this point: well that’s just business. But status quo or not, this approach will not help your company. Startups are smaller and more transparent. It has to be real. 

For healthcare startups, this means employee wellbeing should receive the same attention as the people they serve. Here at birdie, we’ve made sure our company’s mission to revolutionise homecare resonates with employees through strong values and alignment.  

After all, many members of our team have a personal connection or experience to the cause, which unites and drives us to make change. These high expectations involve big structural changes to care that need to be perceived from within our company. 

Insight everywhere 

Many, if not all, startups claim to look after their employees’ wellbeing. But what are we doing as founders to truly support our teams’ welfare? 

Private healthcare coverage is fantastic - we offer that ourselves - but can be inadequate as a standalone benefit. We’ve actually learned that company perks like this can easily go off employees’ radars. After a long-awaited product launch, once home, most people will want to flick Netflix on and zone out. Credit should be given to companies that offer these types of packages, but there needs to be more. 

For example, one thing we do at birdie to make sure we’re supporting our employees’ wellbeing is monitoring it continuously. We created our own scoring system based on surveys that we send to all our employees regularly, which helps us better understand where and how our colleagues need help. 

We’ve understood that the important thing is that startups don’t make the same mistakes other companies have made in the past. Just because something has always worked a certain way, doesn't mean we need to continue doing it, and it’s our responsibility as innovators to question if things can be improved. 

Startups need to continue looking for innovative ways to truly improve their people’s wellbeing and strengthen the values and type of culture they want to foster. With this in mind, here’s a few things we’ve embraced at birdie that healthcare companies could consider incorporating: 

  • Transparency: Equipping your people with knowledge around company decisions, meetings or salary grid will empower them to make better decisions and feel more motivated 

  • Hire the right staff: At birdie, for instance, we have a vigorous hiring process to ensure that candidates not only align with our culture and ambitions, but also that they raise the bar 

  • Physical and mental wellbeing: Make an effort to provide a robust wellbeing budget, health insurance, wellbeing days (rather than sick days), mental health training for all managers, socials, retreats 

  • Good practice around family support: Show your team you’re there when they need you with a compassionate leave policy, fertility leave, childcare support, and a generous parental leave that are all gender neutral 

  • Promote healthy lifestyles: Support your team with the benefits that can actually drive a healthy lifestyle, such as having the flexibility to use their wellbeing budget on healthy groceries, sustainable nutrition workshops, gym membership or spa sessions 

Innovate the ‘what’, not the ‘how’ 

Companies can become too absorbed by the systems they set up to achieve their idea of success, focusing too much on the ‘how’ and not the ‘what’. By that I mean, they care too much about how an employee might do something rather than the finished product itself. This allows no room for employees to express themselves or feel trusted. It offers them no responsibility to do things their way. 

There’s no place easier to see this than in the dogmatic working culture our society has developed. We cannot ever expect to know employees better than they know themselves. And if an employee believes they’re more productive working from home, we need to trust their judgement.  

We’ve embraced this mindset, allowing our employees to work from wherever they want. This shift has become a main driver for job applications, with 20 of the 116 roles we advertised in the last year being secured by people in locations outside of the UK.  

Some are distributed across Europe as digital nomads. Others are supported with a ‘Remote parents affinity group’ to balance their professional and parental responsibilities. As long as they continue to complete work to the required standards, their location remains irrelevant to us.  

Our entire team works flexibly, an approach that remains a crucial part of our employee wellbeing programme and culture. And it’s working very well so far. On a scale of 1 to 100, job satisfaction scored 91 in our startup’s engagement barometer, while the sense of fit and belonging got a 94 score. 

The homecare industry that birdie serves operates under enormous pressure. Ageing populations and recruitment challenges will remain until systemic changes take place. But that goes for businesses operating in other industries and sectors too. Transformation will require healthy teams that feel valued by their employers. Ultimately, it’s the mission-driven startups that must embrace the challenge of setting an example for their peers.