Even before COVID, startup teams faced stress, anxiety, and depression due to the incessant pressure to succeed. Yet, entrepreneurship health is a rarely discussed topic in the startup ecosystem. I gave a talk in 2020, hosted by Venture Center, on mental health issues in the entrepreneurial context. We explored how startup founders and juniors can cope with stress and anxiety.
Surveys of entrepreneurial firms across countries and continents have shown that founders have an above-average likelihood of suffering from mental disorders. In a small company, it is truly ‘lonely at the top’. Thus, entrepreneurs tend to lack emotional support mechanisms within their venture – and perhaps even outside. Having invested personal savings and family time into a high-risk venture can eventually take its toll on mental as well as physical health.
It turns out that traits like ADHD actually are beneficial during entrepreneurship. The need for stimulation and a fast pace of work fits well with the demands of a high-growth venture.
Of course, expectations from customers and investors can lead to stress and fear of failure. Worse, founders can pass on this pressure to their teams. The most vulnerable tend to be junior-most employees who are often reluctant to speak up against unfair treatment. Eventually, a toxic work culture develops across the company – with adverse entrepreneurship health impact. The silver lining is that venture investors and startup incubators have recognized the gravity of entrepreneurship health issues. They are helping founders develop coping mechanisms and support networks.
By sharing stories of personal failures or challenges, entrepreneurs can better relate to each other. Numerous studies of entrepreneurial teams have sought to identify sources of employee motivation. Many have also researched the main reasons why the best-performing employees quit. The common finding is that a toxic startup culture is the main culprit. Micro-management, constant strategic changes, and public insults are some of the indicators of an unproductive entrepreneurial culture.