For Prakriti Patra, a Bengaluru-based software engineer working at a data science startup, there are no office hours. Over the past months, office work begins in the morning it stretches late into the evening, often eating into her personal time and now impacting her health.
“Since it is a small organisation, it is tightly knit. You feel loyal to the firm and that gets on to you. There is this constant stress and pandemic has made it all the more difficult,” says Patra.
Work, as many knew, has changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Working long hours, constant fear of being laid off, and salary cuts have exacerbated anxiety and stress among thousands of professionals, more so in startups.
According to a 2020 survey by YourDOST, an online mental health wellness platform, 55% of professionals said they have felt more stressed since the pandemic. They also experienced high levels of anxiety (upto 41%), anger (34%) and loneliness (up to 26%). The survey covered 8,196 professionals from startups as well as large organisations.
Paul Dupuis, managing director and chief executive, Randstad India, a human resource consulting firm, says nearly 200 companies they service did not have a robust employee engagement programme before covid-19, and introduced it only later.
“We started to see high level of anxiety and it was coming from multiple sources including lack of privacy at home, issues about job loss and salary cuts and then the line between office hours and personal hours were blurring so there was no turning off and thus stress levels sky-rocketed,” says Dupuis.
The pandemic has not been the same for all. While startups in ed-tech, video conferencing, mobile gaming and e-commerce have seen big growth, those in travel, tourism, outdoor events have been hit. But regardless of the sector a startup belongs to, work stress has grown.
“Even startups that are doing well, there is more work pressure now. And the ones that are not doing well, people are worried about their jobs. The concern might be different, but stress has grown across sectors,” said Richa Singh, co-founder and CEO, YourDOST.
Startups on their part are aware of the growing work stress and have been trying to encourage more open conversations among employees through various programmes and workshops, with some seeing a 100% increase in number of employers seeking emotional support for their workers.
For instance, ed-tech start-up Byju’S has been doing live video sessions and virtual “chai time” every week where teams to come together to unwind, catch up and recreate their tea breaks at work. It has also held several workshops on mind management and guided meditation to beat stress and anxiety.
In addition to providing 24×7 support, organising mindfulness, meditation and counselling sessions for workers, companies are also enrolling for dedicated programmes on sleep and stress management.
At ad-tech firm InMobi employees are encouraged to reach out to designated people within the company and share their professional and personal concerns, under the Confidant Programme.
Senior leaders in InMobi have also stepped-up communication with employees through blogposts and internal communication channels and are sharing their experiences of coping with the situation.
Though startups are taking steps, there is still a lot of stigma about counselling, rues Singh. “To make it mainstream, we are encouraging start-up founders to talk about emotional wellbeing,” she adds.
Many entrepreneurs are also going for brain function enhancement to combat stress and anxiety. Mumbai-based applied neuroscience company NeuroLeap has seen more entrepreneurs coming to them for help in the last few months. In many instances, organisations are sending their entire leadership team for help.
NeuroLeap uses brain computer interface (BCI) technology to understand the human brain and help it work at optimum potential based on the principles of neuroplasticity and associative learning.
“Startups are not just struggling financially but also struggling to prove their business model and commercial viability. This volatility and ambiguity have been a constant source of stress for entrepreneurs,” said Kumaar Bagrodia, founder, NeuroLeap.