We all know that high-growth startups can be breeding grounds for stress. As HR practitioners, it’s our responsibility to help manage that stress as our companies grow. But HR professionals have a superpower: we’re always extremely attuned to what’s going on. Without a strategic plan of action, however, our super-senses aren’t of much use to the company.
Here are my top recommendations for how HR practitioners can act as leaders within the company to reduce stress:
1) Be that strategic partner with your Executive Team.
Company culture starts at the top. It’s HR’s role to constantly bring out the People-side of our executive team. While we know communication is key, sometimes we forget. It’s up to HR to gently remind our leaders of things like; “Are you truly talking to your people or are you just asking for updates?” We need to remind our leaders to also take the pulse of their teams.
2) Encourage your managers to have one-on-ones.
The importance of managers having one-on-one meetings can’t be understated. Sometimes a simple “how are you doing?” is all it takes to make a big difference for your employees. There is something incredibly impactful about taking aside an employee you know has been working tirelessly day and night. It’s very possible no one ever bothered to tell that person “I know you’ve been pouring your soul into this project and I appreciate it.” Managers need to do this often.
The little things managers do can have a big impact and HR professionals need to train the managers to pay attention to the small stuff. I’ve heard feedback from summer interns who were wowed that executives took the time to go out to coffee with them or ask about their career paths. This kind of gesture does a lot to establish your company as a great place to work. And builds on cultivating a great culture.
3) Lead by example.
HR sets the tone for the entire company. In everything you do, encourage your managers to also lead by example. At my company Madison Logic, we believe learning is continuous at all levels. We may modify the training according to the level but what resonates is that our folks see that everyone is a participate – not just for one group. When our employees see our executive team taking the same course on a communication workshop, it really resonates. This kind of initiative shows that everyone in the company wants to keep learning. This ultimately helps us with the bottom line of high impact performance.
Our company meetings are also fun and engaging. We give global shout outs and spotlight our employees. We recognize personal things like upcoming weddings, new babies and if you recently won a Jui Juitsu competition (which someone did!). We’re also known to have ended meetings with an impromptu rap battle between Finance and Engineering! Our meetings are anything but boring.
4) Start healthy hours.
At Madison Logic, we’ve started quarterly “healthy hours” to help reduce stress and encourage healthy living. Once a quarter we’ll pick an activity (like rowing or spinning class) and it’s been incredibly well-received. We pride ourselves on being health nuts but do appreciate birthday cupcakes on occasion. And there’s something very alluring and competitive when you state in the email “limited spots so first come first serve!” These healthy hours are always sold out.
People really do enjoy the opportunity to try out a cool fitness class (and on the company!). Personally I will never do rowing again, but I tried it and it was a pretty fun team building. These activities don’t take a lot of resources to set up and can make a big difference with employee engagement..
5) Offer a variety of healthy food.
Managing food around the office is critical for encouraging wellness. We want to make sure that if someone reaches for a snack, it’s an apple. Partnering with a water company has been a big hit with us—our employees love raspberry and cucumber water. Doing these little things tells our employees, “we’re taking care of you.” We’re also big coffee drinkers and have a lovely ice-coffee machine on hand. But we also do fun surveys to make sure we’re not boring folks with the same snacks over and over again.
When we host company lunches, which we do fairly regularly, we think creatively about what we serve. We’ve tried pho, Peruvian food—basically anything but a boring sandwich. Food is abundant here.
6) Be a truth-teller.
Sometimes being an HR leader means having those hard conversations with managers. Giving constructive feedback is key and you can do this in a way that doesn’t come off like “the principal’s office (no offense to principals). We have to be the ones to hold that truth-teller mirror up and tell managers what we’re seeing from a different lense. And they appreciate it because at the end of the day, they know we want to see them succeed. Having a great team isn’t by accident. When the team is successful, it’s because of their manager.
High-growth startups are going to see periods of stress. But leadership from HR can do much to manage and mitigate that stress before it derails your company.