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How to Recognize and Prevent Burnout in a Startup

Written by
Jessica Thiefels
Jessica Thiefels

A startup is an interesting place to work and, as such, it attracts a different type of employee, most of whom are energetic and driven self-starters.

However, startups also tend to put more stress on employees than established businesses, with employees often taking on the job of two or three people in addition to dealing with regular concerns about funding and the life of the company.

When responsibilities become too great, employees burn out.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It can lead to detachment and unhappiness that affects job performance, personal relationships, and health. It can happen to professionals in any field and industry and it affects employees and managers alike.

In order to prevent burnout, it’s essential to understand its underlying causes and what you can do to correct these issues. Here are four areas where you can make an immediate impact, and some easy ways to get started.

Team activities


Burnout cause: all work, no play.

In a startup with minimal resources and lots to prove, it’s easy to focus so much on work that employees burn out. Because of this, it’s important for managers to plan activities outside the workplace. 

Organize a team lunch, spend a day at the beach or the park, or plan an after-work happy hour. These activities break up the workday and allow your employees to socialize.

Plan a team event each month and poll employees about what they want to do before deciding what the activity will be. Your employees will look forward to planned events that they have a say in, versus seeing them as an after-work obligation.



Burnout cause: employees aren't invested.

According to a study on workplace burnout from The Office Club,

The data shows that as employees gain more control and autonomy in their positions, job satisfaction rises in tandem. There is a strong statistically significant relationship between job satisfaction and levels of control and autonomy at work.

Luckily, you don’t have to spend any money to combat this cause of burnout and employee turnover.

Ask for input on big decisions when applicable, empower employees to have a say in new ideas and endeavors, and let them have ownership of their own individual responsibilities as much as possible. That sense of ownership encourages a higher level of personal investment.

Remember: many startup employees are self-starters, so they don’t need micro-management to be effective.

Work-life balancelack-of-motivation.jpg

Burnout cause: employers show no respect for employees’ personal lives.

Work-life balance is one of the most highly sought after aspects of any job, and it’s especially important to prevent employee burnout.

Forty percent of employees will leave a job for lack of work-life balance, according to Jobvite’s 2015 Job Seeker Nation Study.

Why is work-life balance a deal breaker? When employees have a chance to step aside, pursue their passions, and recharge, they come back to work with more energy and enthusiasm. If they are afforded no time to themselves, employees will be overworked and start to feel under-appreciated, which is often a direct path to burnout.

A few ways to improve work-life balance include:

  • Half-day Fridays once a month
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Flexible working options (work from home or co-working space)
  • Respect for employees' space outside the office, i.e., not being in touch at 9 p.m.

Advancement opportunities


Burnout cause: employees have no growth opportunities.

No one wants to feel like they’re in a dead-end job. While you can’t promote every employee, you can seek out ways to help each person grow in their career and their position.

For example: you can send employees to a nearby conference, giving them the opportunity to network and learn, which helps both them and the company.

You can also look for ways to take advantage of pre-existing interests and aptitudes. If Jane from accounting is interested in marketing, let her shadow the marketing team and see if there’s a way for her to help.

You will never know what your staff is capable of if you don’t give them the opportunity to explore their talents and interests. Luckily, in a small startup environment, exploration is easy to facilitate.

In conclusion

Workplace burnout is a problem in every industry and trade, especially in startups. Actively work to combat this issue with team activities, advancement opportunities, and a true work-life balance.

Happy employees make growth possible, so keep your creative self-starters satisfied.

If you're ready to take the next step toward strengthening your team, check out our latest guide:

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Originally published on January 04, 2017 → Last updated September 26, 2019

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Jessica Thiefels

Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and spent the last five years in marketing. She recently stepped down from a senior marketing position in a small, education startup to focus on growing her own startup and consulting for small businesses. She's written for sites such as Lifehack, Inman, Manta, StartupNation and more.


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