Three ways to protect your team's mental health, according to a neuroscientist

Successfully navigating the challenges of running a startup demands a collective effort. As a tight-knit team, you’ll often lean on one another for support to manage the inevitable ups and downs. But this pressure can take its toll on wellbeing.

With mental health driving a significant rise in employee absenteeism, as founders we have a responsibility to prioritise our team’s mental health - and to deliver genuine, practical support. 

As a neuroscientist, I understand how the human brain responds to stress. While popular self-care and team wellbeing strategies, such as awareness days, are well-intentioned in their attempts to address employee wellbeing, they cannot provide the level of support your team really needs. The answer lies in understanding how work may be affecting employees’ wellbeing and outlining practical strategies that directly target these underlying challenges.

From my experience leading thymia, here are my three most effective strategies for protecting your team's mental health. By implementing these approaches, you can create a supportive environment that not only genuinely nurtures the wellbeing of your team but also drives its success.

Set clear boundaries around flexible working

Workplace flexibility has rightfully remained in the spotlight post-pandemic. It can make a huge difference to employee wellbeing by facilitating better work-life balance. But it will only have a long-lasting impact if it's implemented with clear, mutually-agreed boundaries.

Setting a distinct line between work and personal time and encouraging everyone to respect each other’s ‘out of office’ is key to protecting flexibility and ensuring it’s able to support employee wellbeing. Every team member should have undisputed time to switch off and decompress. This mutual respect for personal hours creates a supportive environment where team members feel empowered to prioritise their wellbeing without guilt. It also means that when they are in work mode, they can be much more efficient,

At thymia, setting transparent boundaries around flexibility has been a consistent priority for our team. We encourage discussion around what is and isn’t working for each individual and are constantly looking for ways to improve and modify our approach to ensure everyone is able to benefit. Open communication allows our team to set clear expectations around availability, enabling them to embrace dedicated time for personal activities and self-care, to support lowered stress levels and improved overall well-being.

Rethink how you measure mental health

We often rely on employees self-reporting and flagging when they have mental health concerns. But this system is easy to “cheat” by downplaying how you’re feeling. It’s therefore useful for employers to rethink how they’re measuring employee mental health. Verbal check-ins and conversations are still valuable, but they are not enough on their own.

Invest in tools that will help you and your employees track and monitor the underlying symptoms that can give insight into wellbeing, such as sleep, fatigue, stress and concentration. These can all offer early indicators that someone may be struggling, so measuring and monitoring them is key to nipping conditions like burnout and depression in the bud.

There are a number of digital tools available that can help you to do this. Once you’ve built up a clearer picture of exactly where the pain points are in your team’s mental health, you can invest in the right solutions to address these specific challenges and needs.

Ditch the gimmicks and focus on real support

When it comes to supporting your start-up team's mental health, meaningful and ongoing support is far more impactful than tokenistic gestures. While raising awareness of mental health is essential, you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of virtue signalling or ‘wellbeing washing’.

The insights you gain from team discussions and your mental health monitoring activities should be carried forward and built into practical changes and new processes. Whether it’s creating or investing in mental health resources that your team can access whenever they need, partnering with workplace mental health platforms - like Oliva - that provide access to external therapy and support, or providing training for managers so they’re better equipped to help people who are struggling. These conversations will contribute to destigmatising mental health in your workplace, which in turn will help your employees to access and seek support.

Prioritising your team’s mental health is crucial for any business. By embracing genuine flexibility with clear boundaries, offering real support instead of superficial solutions, and encouraging active prevention by levelling up your monitoring tools, you can create an environment where wellbeing thrives. A workforce that is mentally healthy not only experiences greater happiness, but also displays increased productivity and benefits from higher overall success.