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It’s War!! Here’s How to Beat the Second Great Depression at Your Start-up

Adi Assaf


Check out this “before and after” scenario: Prior to Covid-19, Guy was a super-motivated member of your start-up. He ran with new projects, went that extra mile, and worked around the clock when necessary. A model employee. But over the past few months he’s become apathetic, his performance has deteriorated, and he barely gets the work done. 

Here is an interview which I talked with Guy Ramot, a psychologist about the topic:

Sound familiar? Many CEOs across the globe are facing similar issues in their companies. Previously stellar employees are struggling to juggle work from home with troublesome childcare issues, financial pressures, and increased stress. 


The current Covid-19 Depression is hitting economies worldwide, wiping out workplaces, creating untested employment models, and changing classic global work practices. Similar to the aftereffects of the First Great Depression that hit the US in 1929, workers are fearful for their jobs, their homes and their families’ futures.


The Blurring of Lines between Work Environments and Private Lives


If prior to Covid19 there was clear differentiation between employees’ work and home environments, these lines have become irretrievably blurred. Who hasn’t been there? When working from home, kids keep popping up in the middle of a Zoom meeting with customers, babies are crying in the background, children are fighting over a toy, the neighbors are having a party or your roommate is listening to loud music - all when you really need to seal a deal. 

Nearly 70% of American workers have reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most stressful time of their career. Many workers are at the end of their tether, trying to excel at work while grappling with all kinds of personal pressures and difficulties. And there is no end in sight.


4 Causes of Covid-19 Depression in Employees


In the course of the months since the COVID-19 outbreak, and following many discussions with both management, job applicants and current staff at a wide variety of companies, I have gathered what I believe are the main factors causing depression in the workforce today:  


Meeting expectations in start-ups - If they work at a start-up, your staff members are well aware that they have got a job to do and deadlines to meet. They worry about staying on top of things, especially in these uncertain times. They are scared they’re not meeting your expectations. On the other hand, the kids need help with their remote Zoom lessons, the younger siblings are bored silly, and spouses are most likely growing increasingly tense as well. In short, here you have a sure recipe for serious job stress.


Job uncertainty - Due to the fact that Covid-19 has triggered high levels of unemployment, many workers are worried about their jobs. Will their place of employment survive the crisis? Will the employee be made redundant? How will they cope if they lose their job? 


Grappling with isolation - People are social animals, and many employees regard their coworkers as friends. When employees work from home for extended periods they lose the support system and camaraderie that many workplaces, particularly start-ups, provide.


A deteriorating work culture - The work culture at start-ups is both relentless and inspiring. As a norm, start-up staff often works long hours. They’re accustomed to teaming up and working together to meet tight deadlines. But in the new reality, team members are scattered and brainstorming is harder than ever to achieve. The work demands remain, but Covid-19 circumstances present major obstacles.  


5 Ways CEOs Can Improve Employees’ Wellbeing


While start-ups are experts in pampering employees with luxurious surroundings, game rooms and fun days, they are less attuned to the staff’s mental wellbeing. You are obviously worried about your company’s ability to survive the economic crisis, but your staff’s emotional state is no less crucial. There’s also the fear that larger and more established companies will lure away excellent employees with offers of greater job security.


I have created a list of tips to help you alleviate job stress and help your staff regain their emotional equilibrium in order to boost productivity levels.  


Listen to your staff - In a recent study conducted by Qualtrics and SAP, nearly 40% of global employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing okay. That’s pretty shocking, considering what work staff has been going through for many months. But it’s not enough to ask, “hey, how are you?” Take the time to directly discuss employee concerns on a regular basis and offer constructive personal support when you can. Ask them exactly what they require at this time and make every effort to meet their needs..


Be flexible and proactive - Try to anticipate certain problems and offer practical solutions. Employees’ needs are fluid and constantly changing during the pandemic. Permit them to set their own schedules and help prioritize work tasks to alleviate stress. Make sure team leaders take an active interest in their staff’s welfare.  


Offer encouragement and support -  While you may be used to pampering your staff on-site, you now need to do so at their home. Offer them access to psychological care and remove the stigma from mental health issues. Management should make a special effort to recognize and reward employees publicly for doing their utmost to help colleagues and customers.


Create an “Open Letter” - Encourage employees to email the CEO anonymously and share their personal concerns and questions. This is an excellent win-win tool which makes company managers aware of what is actually happening in their company, while employees get the opportunity to have a say and make themselves heard.


Get HR involved - The role of HR goes beyond recruitment, wellness and job definitions. Today, HR can play a crucial role as an objective entity that employees may contact when in need of advice or support. Sympathetic HR staff can serve as a liaison with management and keep its finger on what is really happening in the company’s ranks.


Face the New Covid-19 Realities Bravely


My advice to start-up management is this: roll with the punches. The global economy has changed irrevocably and your company is probably facing financial uncertainty. But the issues of employee wellbeing and hiring lie at the heart of your company’s ability to thrive. Evolve your way of thinking and embrace your employees. Believe me, it’s the best investment you’ll ever make.