Here’s How to Get More From Your Startup’s Employees (Without Burnout)


You’re a “high standards” kind of person. You expect a lot from yourself, your company, and your people.

Especially your people.

You’re also smart enough to know that you can’t expect too much without it coming back to bite you. Unrealistic expectations are demoralizing. So are 3 a.m. emails, boardroom tirades, and strategic whiplash.

You have to find a happy medium. One where your employees perform at a consistently high level without burning out. 

This demands a light touch at times. Fortunately, you won’t be the first founder to pull it off. It’s likely that your most successful peers leverage these strategies to get more from their teams without manning a revolving door.

  1. Increase the Feedback Cadence

Business moves fast at every level these days. For its part, startup world moves at warp speed.

This means old-fashioned annual performance reviews won’t cut it. Neither will twice-annual or even quarterly reviews. More frequent feedback is key, perhaps delivered at weekly or even daily standup meetings with your team.

If nothing else, increase your feedback cadence to keep pace with your competitors, writes Kris Duggan, a serial entrepreneur and early-stage investor based in the Bay Area.

“By moving away from the stand-alone annual performance review approach, and to a more regular feedback cadence, you’ll keep up with how quickly your business must move to innovate and keep up with the competition,” he says.

  1. Set Company wide “Quiet Hours”

This is a difficult ask for always-on founders, but it’s critical if you’re serious about reducing burnout rates on your team. When you fire off “URGENT” emails or texts at all hours, you effectively tell your employees that they’re never off the clock. 

Which means they can’t ever really relax and recharge. 

Which means they’ll resent you more and more as time goes on.

Which means their work will suffer. 

Which means — you get the idea.

Make sure your company wide “quiet” hours last at least eight hours, and preferably twelve. And lead by example. You can feel free to draft emails at all hours, but schedule them to send only after active hours resume again.

  1. Move to an Unlimited PTO System (But Set Expectations First)

Despite valid criticism from skeptics like Brian de Haaff, founder and CEO of Aha! — who claims he has “yet to see an unlimited PTO policy work in practice,” unlimited PTO really can work. There’s a correct way and an incorrect way to do it, however.

The most important thing here is to set employees’ expectations around what unlimited PTO is and is not. Unlimited PTO is technically an opportunity for your employees to get as much R&R as they wish. But they must get their work done first, which means in practice that they’ll end up taking about the same amount of time off (or even less) as a peer with a fixed PTO allocation.

  1. Make Each Employee Responsible for One “Number”

It’s been said that while success has many parents, failure is an orphan.

This is a basic fact of human nature, but you’re not totally powerless against it. One way to regain some control is to make each of your employees responsible for a quantitative deliverable — a number, if you will.

Harvard Business Review expert Peter Bregman advises leaders to be “clear about the outcome you’re looking for, how you’ll measure success, and how people should go about achieving the objective.” In effect, you need to enter into a contract with each employee at the beginning of the measurement period (the quarter or year, typically) and hold them to their end of the bargain when it’s over.

Commit to Doing Things Differently

These strategies aren’t exactly new. In fact, you might practice a version of them already. But if you’re still up at night wondering why your employees are burning out left and right, there’s probably room for improvement.

Commit to consistently and systematically doing all of the above and you just might find out.