Kiuas accelerator and the startups in the program host barbecues during the summer. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to interview people about the biggest challenges to well-being they face while working in startups today. We also did some brain picking on what would make them thrive more in their current jobs and companies.
We were one of the organizing teams of the Kiuas BBQ #3 in 2019, for which Kiuas Accelerator is famous. We had our stand in the BBQ and had a bunch of excellent discussion of the well-being challenges and how people would thrive in startups. We are surprised how well the answers we got correlate with the scientific research on well-being.
Here’s a quick summary for readers in a hurry
People need to be able to concentrate on their work. Noise, distractions and interceptions bother people especially in open plan offices. Make sure people have the spaces available that support the kind of work they are doing.
Being able to focus on one task or goal at a time would help people thrive. Consider how disruptive the tools or how you use them with your team can be (e.g. social media, slack). It is also important to have clear roles, responsibilities, priorities, and enough autonomy so that people can efficiently make decisions when they need to.
Working too intensively is not sustainable, although it can be rewarding at first. Who will keep your startup afloat if you get exhausted? Pay attention to your workload and make sure to have enough time for recovery.
Reserve enough time to openly communicate within the team to facilitate fruitful discussions, brainstorming, and bonding. Make sure to ask and give feedback regularly and try to show gratitude as often as possible.
If you want to know more, keep on reading.
Well-being challenges in startups Today?
We asked from people "What are your or your team's challenges to well-being? People have spoken. Firstly, too loud or poorly planned workplace got several votes. People find it hard to concentrate on tasks that demand a lot of focus. We also heard complaints about the lack of meeting rooms, but I believe this also relates to poor workplace design, which includes both the space and ways-of-working (i.e. "we sit in meetings all day syndrome").
It seems that the trend of open-plan offices is taking a toll on people's mind and well-being. Open-space office management fad was labeled as the dumbest ever according to a recent Harvard study. Should we go back to private offices? Or are multi-space offices the winning solution? Time will tell. Most importantly you should have a poll or preferably a discussion at your workplace on how people truly feel about the current space-plan and the challenges they are facing with everyday collaboration with their colleagues.
Secondly, the lack of concentration and/or focus came up in the interviews. Surely the loudness of our work environment is a key factor for this as well. I believe that the more important factors are social media, collaboration tools (e.g. Slack) and how our daily work has been and still is changing really fast. And not into a positive direction.
Focus was mentioned in both of our questions, and thus it is a basic element in well-being, but will also help us to thrive. Let's give people enough time, tools and means to find the time and way of focusing on the tasks at hand. It is well researched that multitasking is not productive and it also harms your brain. Beware!
Third challenge mentioned boils down to exhaustion or lack of recovery time. There were mentions of too strict deadlines, working heavily on the current task instead of focusing on the long run success, and too long working hours. If we take on a positive note, we all should find time for recovery. Both during the day and off-working hours. Is it also beneficial to have some of the breaks with your colleagues to strengthen social relationships.
Fourth comment was the lack of time for discussions and brainstorming. People don't seem to take enough time to communicate with other team members. We are social animals. Both the quantity and quality of social interactions have a huge impact on our well-being. Sure, this is also about the temperament you have, but also the introverts need certain amount of high-quality interactions with their colleagues.
How to thrive more at our work?
The second question we had for the BBQ participants was "What would help you thrive more at work?". Firstly, we should have clear goals and give and receive feedback regularly. Although the feeling of autonomy is one of the main factors impacting our well-being we still need to have clear targets, responsibilities and focus. Power-up this with two-way and well-argued feedback and you can already fly to the moon. By feedback we don't mean (bi-)annual target and development discussions but regular retro discussions within the team of our achievements and development areas. It is all about communication, for which you need to first build trust.
Secondly, accountability goes hand-in-hand with the autonomy in organizations believing in self management or self leadership, but we seem to also value flexibility. We want to decide the small things around our job (aka "do job crafting"). We would thrive having the opportunity to try new tasks without the fear of failure or possibility to return to the old task. Decision making is one of the key topics in autonomy. Let's make sure that our team members have clear understanding how and why they can make the decisions within our organizations. It is everyone's job to clear the bureaucracy from our growth path.
Gratitude is our third and final insight that relates to thriving at work. Being grateful and telling people why you are grateful for them is a very powerful tool to improve your mental well-being, create a positive mood, and strengthen your bonds. Try e.g. writing a gratitude journal for a few weeks and you will most likely notice the difference in how you view the world and work. Instead of complaining about our jobs or colleagues let's focus on the daily feelings of gratitude.
As mentioned in the beginning, this is a summary of the discussion we had with the participants in the Kiuas BBQ #3. Should you read research papers, the very same insights appear in numerous articles that discuss how to improve ones well-being at work. Instead of expensive perks and benefits and all the fireworks, we should focus on the daily issues people face doing their tasks. Focus on these small, yet important, things and your team will flourish and be more productive at the same time.