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Why a focus on mental wellbeing is crucial to a healthy startup culture



Vu Tran, co-founder and Head of Growth at GO1.com

Featured | Startup

By Vu Tran

People are the key ingredient to make any good startup succeed. What is it that makes high performing people – whether it be founders, managers or employees underperform or even ultimately fail and not succeed?

Consider a high-performance athlete. Someone like Usain Bolt is only expected to perform for 10 seconds in a month or even a year. He spends the rest of the time recovering, training and preparing himself physically and mentally. What stops the top 10% of athletes not being in the top 1% is usually not physical but mental. A football player may be able to kick a goal from the side line 100 times out of 100 in training, but very few can consistently perform a perfect kick in the dying moments to win a game.

Those who perform at an elite level, whether it be in business or in sport will usually have a great degree of emotional resilience; an ability to persevere through problems and problem solve objectively, without making emotional or rash decisions. Many founders will say that their biggest challenges are those that are subjective and emotionally driven.

As founders we often live off pure adrenalin – emotion – the passion to succeed. We also live for the sake of those we work with and for, not wanting to let colleagues, investors and customers down. Managing emotions in high pressure situations can be the difference between success and failure in many cases.

This is not just applicable to leaders but the people they lead as well. The ability to be aware of the emotional wellbeing of staff, not only provides leaders with an insight into how to get the best performance out of their teams but also aids in the growth and retention of great personnel.

Founders in the driver’s seat

When the opportunity is available, many founders chose to focus on improving and maintaining physical health, often with little consideration to improving their own mental health as well. But neglecting to attend to one’s emotional wellbeing can have significant adverse effects. You can be physically fit and have a great business, but if you’re not in the right headspace, you won’t make the right decisions for the future of your business. No one can perform at the top of their ability without being in the right headspace.

As a founder, one question to ask yourself is why do you do what you do? There may be a range of reasons: because you want to do something good, or you want to pay the bills, or because you feel it gives you some sort of happiness or joy to build and create something great.

One of Paulo Coelho’s famous quotes is: “We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.” At the end of the day being happy in what you do will allow you get a lot further than being unhappy in what you do. In many cases, people don’t unlock their full potential unless they do something they enjoy and are truly passionate about.

Mental health issues can kill 

The sad reality is that mental health issues kill people. Six people in Australia die every day due to mental health related illness. It’s estimated that 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around one million Australian adults have depression, and over two million have anxiety. In my previous life as a GP, mental health issues were among the most common presentations. Only now are businesses, managers and founders starting to pay attention to their own mental health as well as that of their workforce

To put it quite simply, if there were a flu or virus that was entirely preventable going around killing six people a day; wouldn’t you get your whole company vaccinated?

Time out 

Mortality is one thing, morbidity is another. People need to take time off work for mental wellbeing issues. This has a flow-through effect on business, the economy, lives and productivity, and on people’s families. It’s a societal and economical issue.

Workplaces can’t perform optimally unless a focus on good mental wellbeing is a fundamental component of an organisation’s culture. Good mental wellbeing allows you to perform better, and also protect against the adverse effects of poor mental health such as underperformance, burnout, organisational decline in productivity and a negative impact on culture.

That’s why founders and managers need to not only look after the emotional wellbeing of their staff, but their own as well. At GO1, we’ve recently teamed up with leading mental health support organisations to explore how mental health can be improved in the workplace when it comes to training. Whether it be through providing formal training to your teams around mental health issues or simply participating in great initiatives like R U OK? Day, it’s vital that organisations support their employees, promote better health and wellbeing and encourage a safe and positive work culture.

Find out more about mental health in the workplace from Vu on our podcast episode from last year.


Vu Tran is the co-founder and Head of Growth at GO1.com, the world’s largest onboarding, compliance and professional development platform. Founded in Brisbane, Australia; GO1 is an international company with offices in the United States, South Africa, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and Malaysia.

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