Why workplace wellness needs to be a priority, even for startups

Tracy Tsang
9 min readDec 8, 2020

Written by Neelam Harjani, Founder of Inspire Yoga and Tracy Tsang, Founder of T for Teams

Large organizations have long recognized that workplace wellness initiatives result in significant improvement to business metrics and team performance when employees’ wellbeing are prioritised and taken care of. For Startups and SMEs however, with survival of their business being top priority, the wellbeing of their teams often becomes last of their concern until it’s too late.

Business survival and productivity is often prioritised at the expense of wellbeing for Startups and SMEs. Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Wellbeing for Startup founders & employees

Ironically, startup entrepreneurs and employees are particularly prone to burnout and stress as they absorb the pressure of their businesses’ survival, generally working with limited time, money and human resources. Without the sophisticated systems. branding and structures of multinationals, isn’t it even more crucial for your team to be performing at their best when it comes to driving business growth?

With Covid-19 social distancing seemingly a signal from Mother Nature for us to self reflect and re-focus on our personal growth and wellbeing, perhaps it’s also time to re-examine our priorities at work and consider the importance of team wellbeing, culture and happiness for SMEs and Startups from a business perspective.

Without sophisticated systems. branding and structures of multinationals, aren’t the people more integral to driving business growth?

We spend over 90,000 hours (1/3 of our lives) at work and yet most of us treat our health and wellbeing as a second thought during our working life. This may be due to cultural beliefs that hard work leads to success — taking a break or time out for self care is seen as an indulgence, or worse, laziness.

No wonder why, according to Neurum’s recent white paper on ‘Designing an Effective Workplace Mental Wellbeing Strategy’, 1 in 3 employees in APAC experience mental ill health at work. A Cigna survey in 2018 reported 92% of workforce suffer from daily stress and 87% receive inadequate support from their company.

Burnout and stress cases on the increase globally

The problem extends beyond Asia since the start of Covid-19, when social distancing led the majority of entrepreneurs and their teams to work from home. What was once desirable for many, is causing them to lose a sense of work/life balance particularly if boundaries for working hours and accessibility are not actively encouraged and put into practice by leaders. In July 2020, 69% US employees surveyed by Monster experience burnout symptoms while working from home.

Covid-19, social distancing and working from home are all contributing factors to global increase in stress and burnout. Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Stress hormones are experienced when we see circumstances as a threat to our survival. For a workplace, the longer stress levels are sustained, the more it engenders the ‘flight or fight’ mechanism which hinders communication, cooperation and problem solving. Doesn’t that ring true when navigating through the changing landscape of the world with Coronavirus?

The immune system, especially crucial during this time, is also known to weaken as a result of ongoing stress and lack of rest and proper self care. This leads to a decrease in productivity and increased risk to your team’s health, as employees become more vulnerable to Covid-19 and other forms of illness.

Cost of neglecting employees’ wellbeing, happiness and fulfilment

“If you don’t take time for your wellness, you will be forced to take time for your illness.” — Unknown

Business leaders often underestimate the cost of neglecting their team as well as their own wellbeing until too late. Photo by Craig Ren on Unsplash

Burnout, stress and anxiety leads to a series of business problems including a decrease in productivity in the long run, poor communication, apathy, disengaged employees, insomnia, low energy and team morale, depression, increased medical leave, and the inability to have the mental clarity required for good decision making, ultimately negatively impacting your team’s performance, client satisfaction and business results.

This translates to dollar values — employees who are present at work but are unproductive (presenteeism) cost organisations 1.3B USD, while those who take sick leave (absenteeism) and quitting their jobs (churn) cost 23M USD and 284M USD respectively. This is not including the detriment of employees’ health and team motivation to contribute and perform at their best, which is priceless.

The cost of unwellness is estimated by Whole Business Wellness to reduce profitability by up to 20%, this includes staff turnover and re-training costs (6.3%), absenteeism and medical costs (1.7%), and productivity costs (12.6%). These numbers are rising with the global pandemic, as people constantly fear for their health, finances, future, families.

Wellbeing and team development are critical components to increasing team resilience and protect the continuity of business operations. Rather than waiting until it turns into a mental health issue, what if we consider the ideal scenario and optimal results for your team wellbeing, culture and performance and take action towards that? With over one third of our lives spent at work, we believe work can and should be something to look forward to when wellbeing, growth and fulfilment are prioritised.

Benefits and ROI of Wellness Initiatives

CEOs, executives and business leaders must role model healthy habits, bejaviours and work/life boundaries to foster a caring team culture that prioritises wellbeing. Photo by KrakenImages on Unsplash

Companies have reported a return of $5 for every $1 spent on mental wellbeing initiatives on average, while 89% employees said they are more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work if there is an effective mental wellbeing strategy*. Management consultants have found that the surest way to keep your customers happy is by having a team that is happy to work and serve to the business objectives.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to create and implement your own startup wellness program and best practices. What it does require is a commitment to prioritise wellbeing and self care, and for a company’s CEO, executive team and leaders to role model and encourage healthy habits, behaviours and work/life boundaries for all employees.

*‘Designing an Effective Workplace Mental Wellbeing Strategy’ — Neurum White Paper 2020

Empowering your team to thrive with purpose

Thriving as a team means better business results, happy clients, and a more joyful and productive working environment. Your team constantly grow into the best version of themselves with incredible synergy, reducing the need for taking sick leave (absenteeism), increased employee engagement & retention. Your business attract high quality employees who are motivated to work for your company because of the strong team culture and a sense of purpose. Regular and proper self care practice for individuals in turn lead to better mood, increase in energy level and performance overall for the team.

Thriving as a team means better business results. Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

For Startups, you can start by making simple yet transformational interventions that are impactful but does not require a massive budget. Here are some examples:

  • Setting clear boundaries for when work start and finish and expectation for availability
  • Have a regular morning routine in place which enables you to perform at your best, e.g. meditation, yoga/exercise, healthy breakfast, read/learn for at least an hour that can be done as a team
  • Stocking a selection of delicious healthy snacks and fresh fruits that requires a walk away from your desks to refuel
  • Set up a wellness accountability buddy system for your team members and check in regularly on each other’s wellbeing
  • Set a good example of self care for your team by leading with a sense of balance and awareness of your own emotional and physical energy level
  • Plan regular wellness workshops, meaningful team experiences and retreats regularly that help individuals and the team to grow and bond
Mindfulness workshops are great for empowering teams to be more present and aware, fostering better interpersonal relationships and conflict management. Photo by Erik Brolin on Unsplash

What does purpose have to do with any of it?

Preventing burnout is just the first step. Happiness and fulfilment at work comes not only from a healthy supportive team culture, but also being empowered to grow into a better version of yourself and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

Teams that are purpose driven are bonded by values beyond maximising profit, leading to higher level of emotional fulfilment at work and create brands that are loved for the values they stand for.

This is an opportunity for you, whether as a team leader or member, to create and be and advocate for a team culture that inspires creativity, openness, and enthusiasm, to innovate courageously without the fear of failure. It is also a chance for conversations about the values and causes that your team truly believe in and are willing to take action and stand for.

Matt Friedman, CEO of The Mekong Club regularly offers workshops and public speaking on human trafficking and slavery

Building a strong team culture

Leaders can build the foundation for a strong team culture by taking a human centred approach, where there is joy and fun associated to being at work. A culture that encourages sensitivity, appreciation, vulnerability, empathy and compassion provides a safe environment for individuals to bring their authentic selves to work. Only then your team will have a chance in reaching their full potential and make the impact they are capable of both for your business and society.

When there is a community built at the workplace, motivation becomes intrinsic from a shared value system. This is the importance of purpose. Startups have seen major success from integrating social causes into their core businesses, e.g. Tom’s shoes catapulted the brand value of the company when they pledged that for every pair of shoes sold they donate a pair of shoes to the underprivileged.

Image by United Nation’s Covid-19 Response on Unsplash

Contributing a percentage of profits to causes the teams collectively believe in means they galvanize with a larger vision and on an emotional level, are propelled by “doing good for the world each day they come to work”. they see their actions make a positive impact on global issues such as poverty and pollution. At T for Teams, we offer meaningful team building workshops and experiences in partnership with charities including Kindness Walk with ImpactHK, a charity dedicated to helping the homeless in Hong Kong, and Storytelling Workshop on how to communicate your brand purpose/message effectively with The Mekong Club, a charity that fights human trafficking and slavery, facilitated by CEO Matt Friedman, a veteran award winning public speaker. These team experiences enable businesses to contribute to society while empowering employees with personal and professional growth, and consequently nurture a strong team culture driven by purpose and kindness.

This approach enables us to take preventative measure rather than trying to use health plans and support groups to deal with underlying issues. Early awareness and prevention empowers your workforce to perform at their best and saves cost on healthcare that arises from a long undetected and systemically supressed in the workplace.

Future of Work

With more weight on team members to determine the success of a Startup/SME, can you afford as a business owner or leader the risk of burnout, high attrition rates, chronic stress levels?

There is much to gain for businesses from empowering employee’s wellbeing in a holistic sense — that include their financial, physical, emotional and mental wellness and growth. By taking the responsibility to role model and encourage their teams to take care of their own and each other’s wellbeing on a day to day basis, leaders and managers may just find the key to unlock exceptional team performance and achieve business results that reflects that.

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

We’re creating a movement to inspire and empower teams from all over the world to prevent burnout and thrive with purpose by prioritising and optimising team wellbeing, happiness, culture and fulfilment at work. Get your FREE downloadable checklist “Top 12 Wellness Tips for Thriving Teams” that you can start implementing here and our latest articles, interviews and masterclasses in your inbox.

Get your free T for Teams downloadable checklist ’12 Practical Wellness Tips for Thriving Teams’

If you’re looking for something meaningful to do for team building or help with preventing burnout for your team, check out our curated selection of team workshops and experiences available both online and in-person at www.tforteams.com or email Tracy at info@weinnovateforgrowth.com to set up a complimentary consultation call. A discounted rate is available for Charities and NGOs.



Tracy Tsang

Founder of Internet of Stories/T for Teams, Growth Coach for conscious entrepreneurs looking to grow brand empires and Host of The Innovate for Growth Podcast