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Five ways to burnout-proof your organization

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If you’re a leader right now navigating the global pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and your own mental list of what’s keeping you up at night, the issue of burnout is probably on your mind. You can’t shield your team from all stress, but you can find effective ways of supporting your employees through it. This episode highlights the best conversations we’ve had recently about stopping burnout in your organization, before it takes hold.

Featuring BetterUp’s Alexi Robichaux, Upwork’s Hayden Brown, Merck’s Ken Frazier, Chobani’s Hamdi Ulukaya, director J.J. Abrams, Girls Who Code’s Reshma Saujani, BW4BL’s Tokunbo Koiki, and FuelFinance’s Alyona Mysko.

“You can’t shield your team from all stress. But you can find effective and human ways of supporting your employees through it.”

— Reid Hoffman
About the host:
reid_hoffman

Reid Hoffman is the host of Masters of Scale. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, he’s known for his spot-on insights on how to scale a startup. He’s a partner at Greylock and co-founder of LinkedIn, and co-author of the best-selling Blitzscaling and The Startup of You.

Transcript of Masters of Scale: Five ways to burnout-proof your organization

HOFFMAN: Hi listeners, it’s Reid. You’re about to hear a special episode of Masters of Scale called “Five Ways to Burnout-Proof Your Organization.” 

If you’re a team leader, the issue of burnout is probably already on your mind. You’ve been navigating stressors on multiple fronts, from the global pandemic, to supply chain disruptions, climate change, and the rollback of basic human rights around the world. I’m sure you have your own mental list of what’s keeping you up at night. 

And if burnout isn’t on your mind, it should be! Because burnout leads to employee attrition and churn within an organization. And a company that is bleeding talent can’t scale.

Even before employees leave a company, burnout can have devastating effects on culture and mental health. Teams experiencing burnout aren’t just exhausted — they’re disengaged. They start to doubt themselves and their abilities. Or, they fall prey to cynicism, a feeling that can spread to the entire organization. 

Some causes of burnout are well outside any one manager’s control. Like the list of challenges you heard a moment ago. 

Others are part of the necessary life cycle of growing a business. Because the fundamentals of scale haven’t changed, no matter how circumstances might. There is no blitzscaling without at least some massive work weeks and project sprints to hit the next window of opportunity. 

You can’t shield your team from all stress. But you can find effective and human ways of supporting your employees through it. 

So we’re going to hear from some of the best conversations we’ve had recently with founders and business leaders. Some spoke to me, and some spoke to Bob Safian on Masters of Scale: Rapid Response. Either way, these are critical insights you won’t want to miss, about stopping burnout in your organization, before it takes hold. 

HOFFMAN: I’m Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, partner at Greylock, and your host. And this is “Five Ways  to Burnout-Proof Your Organization.” 

Number 1: Spot the signs early

Burnout can happen to anyone at an organization, from your newest intern to the CEO. But it has a way of disguising itself as hyper-productivity. Companies  rely on high achievers who are all-in on mission, ready to tackle problems relentlessly. But even your most stratospheric star employees are still… human. And all humans need rest. 

If this sounds obvious in theory, it’s definitely not always in practice. To show you what I mean, here’s a story from Alexi Robichaux, cofounder and CEO of the coaching platform BetterUp. Maybe no organization is more attuned to the issue of burnout. That’s because BetterUp’s founding mission was informed by Alexi’s own experience. 

Alexi had been an early employee at the startup SocialCast. And when SocialCast was acquired by VMWare, he suddenly found himself in an executive role, leading a large team at the age of 26.

HOFFMAN: You then take on a much larger kind of job and a responsibility there, but you have a bit of a crisis moment.

ALEXI ROBICHAUX: With the benefit of hindsight, I would say I was my own crisis. It’s so weird in retrospect, but my goal was to be the youngest executive at that Fortune 500 company. And that resulted in me setting poor boundaries. That resulted in me being the guy who had a reputation for, “I’ll fly to Munich tonight, just let me know, let’s go do this,” right? “I’ll do whatever it takes.” And essentially I burnt myself out.

I was waking up with night terrors routinely. I couldn’t sleep through the night. I mean, I took a PTSD test, and I tested positive for post traumatic stress.

HOFFMAN: This experience may sound achingly familiar. Entrepreneurial culture can be notoriously full-tilt. Hitting or missing a launch window can mean the difference between massive scale, and total ruin. So many of us trick ourselves into thinking a relentless pace is right for us indefinitely.

ROBICHAUX: I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I swam like every other day then. And my blood pressure was like, I think they’ve changed the definition, now it would have been hypertension. And you know, doctors were puzzled. They’re like, “The only thing that can be causing this is stress.”

HOFFMAN: When Alexi finally went to the doctor, he learned the hard way that working to the point of exhaustion was not sustainable … and was actually antithetical to the scale mindset. It’s applying yesterday’s tactics to today’s much larger challenges. And it had given Alexi PTSD.

ROBICHAUX: And I’ve obviously never been in the military, never been in combat. I don’t have any of the normal triggers, but I was experiencing so much of similar symptoms.

HOFFMAN: While working in the safety of your office doesn’t compare to being a soldier in the line of fire, your body doesn’t always know that.

Not only does mental stress seep into the physical… you don’t always notice it happening. Burnout is often less like a raging wildfire, and more like a slowly heating pot of water. If you’re in that pot, you may not notice the water warming until it’s at a boiling point.

Alexi didn’t notice the extent to which this was happening to him until a friend and co-worker called it out. She was working at VMWare, and happened to be a therapist by training. Her name was Michelle.

ROBICHAUX: She told me something that really just crushed me, actually, in a good way because I knew she cared so much about me. She was just like, “I’ve been watching you, and you’re not you, and you’re not the same Alexi.” And it was just, hit me like a ton of bricks, of, “She’s right. I forgot to be me.” It was a big moment of I guess what we call here at BetterUp now a micro epiphany. She was a coach at that moment.

HOFFMAN: Alexi would later take this experience and build on it with his cofounder Eddie Medina, creating an executive coaching platform that helps diagnose and interrupt the burnout cycle early. Then, they made it available to enterprise, so companies can turn it into a free benefit for employees. 

Whether or not you use a coaching platform to support your employees, you can still create an environment in which it’s OK to talk about burnout… whether you’re experiencing it or witnessing it. For Alexi, his colleague Michelle helped him understand his situation. In your organization, it might mean providing information about mental health resources, and opening up channels of conversation. In fact, you may accomplish a lot simply by speaking up. Leaders being open about their own experiences makes the environment safer for employees to do the same. 

These steps can help your company become a place where burnout can be intercepted early. 

Number 2: Communicate to break the cycle

When we talk about burnout, it often conjures stories like the one you just heard from Alexi Robichaux. We picture late nights burning the midnight oil, then sleeping under your desk.

But exhaustion from workload is just one of the many bitter flavors of burnout. Another is caused by stress from world events far outside your company. Think societal upheaval, political instability… or a once-in-a-century pandemic.

When pressures start to mount from outside, companies need an equal increase in leadership, and communication from within.

That’s a lesson Hayden Brown learned in early 2020, when she became CEO of Upwork, an online marketplace for remote talent. Hayden had been at Upwork for about eight years when she became CEO. But this new role came with a dramatically different level of visibility. It also happened to coincide with the start of COVID-19. 

HAYDEN BROWN: I started in 2020 with this really clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish. We were already a remote work company. We had been doing remote work ourselves for 20 years. Our customers were all doing remote work on our platform. So in that sense, we were kind of built for this moment. We kind of looked at ourselves and said, “Wait, we are ready to help.” 

HOFFMAN: Even as the pandemic put the brakes on so many businesses, for Upwork, it was time to step on the gas. So the entire team leaned in to scale up their offerings quickly. 

But it wasn’t just Upwork’s customers wrestling with pandemic life. Their own employees were struggling as well. It’s in moments like this that burnout can creep in. That’s when clear, thoughtful communication from leaders can really help. 

In Hayden’s case, she turned to a tool she had already been using for company-wide communications… the video memo. 

BROWN: When I was a new CEO I had started doing this thing, kind of, ad hoc — so that the company could get to know me better — of sending these videos to them. I remember my first day going into our office in the new year. I just stood outside and recorded a little video, and sent it to them. I did this when we hit this milestone of the first $10 billion in lifetime earnings that freelancers had had on our platform.

HOFFMAN: At the time, this lighthearted video was a way for Hayden to introduce herself to employees, and celebrate their accomplishments. 

BROWN: But then the pandemic hit, and I suddenly realized one day, “Wait a minute. My team really needs to know me, and they need to know me not just as the CEO, but as a human going through an unprecedented crisis.” And I switched from sending these videos as this fun, lighthearted way to kind of celebrate moments, to every Friday, there was a video from me in their inbox talking about what was going on, their health, their safety, some message from me about how I was getting through the pandemic, about what I was asking them to do, and connecting it back to kind of who we are, our mission, something really true, and personal, and important. 

HOFFMAN: The practice of these weekly videos became a way for Hayden to connect with employees on a human level. And as she published these videos, she also listened for whether they were succeeding.

BROWN: I got so much feedback from our team about how much those videos meant to them, and I couldn’t end the week without shipping a video to my team, you know? And I did that for … I don’t know if it was 30, 40, 50, 60 weeks consecutively, where those videos went out, and giving them something that was so essential at a time when the paradigm had completely shifted.

HOFFMAN: If this story sounds familiar, you may remember another guest on Masters of Scale engaging in a very similar type of clear communication with her team: Angela Ahrendts, former Head of Retail at Apple.

A weekly video message can’t make external stressors go away. But it can be a great way to acknowledge your team’s efforts in a time of crisis. And this acknowledgment can be a burnout-interruptor. 

This story from Hayden got me thinking. If outgoing communications from leaders can help interrupt burnout… what about communications that flow back in? Can they slow burnout too? According to our next guest, Ken Frazier, the answer is absolutely. 

Ken was the longtime CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck, and remains Executive Chairman. He’s also an adviser at General Catalyst, and co-founder of the social impact organization OneTen. He spoke with Bob Safian on Masters of Scale: Rapid Response.

Ken’s approach to communication between employees and the CEO radically shifts the usual power dynamic, without abdicating a CEO’s responsibility to lead. Let’s listen. 

KEN FRAZIER: Before the pandemic, the one thing that I knew running a science-based company is that the most important decisions that were going to be made at Merck were not going to be made at the CEO’s desk. Right? I don’t pick the proteins. I don’t pick the peptides that we use in the research organization. So for me, the answer to that question is: what you want to be able to do is to expand the circle of people that you can rely on. And you can’t expand that circle if you are disingenuous enough to pretend that you have all the answers. 

HOFFMAN: For Ken, it was critical that employees had an open channel  so they could get the right information into his hands. So he worked to create a culture at Merck that didn’t wall off the CEO from bad news. He invited reporting from different departments to give him a realistic picture of what was happening on the ground. And he empowered them to make decisions based on their best judgment.

FRAZIER: I think this concept of the pyramid that we think about in terms of corporate structures, it really ought to be inverted. It’s the people at the manufacturing interface, it’s the people at the customer interface, it’s the people at the scientific interface who are going to make the most important decisions. 

HOFFMAN: As a leader, you may not have control over the cause of any one crisis. But you have the power to interrupt the cycle of burnout before it consumes your team. And that power comes from both leading and listening. Be clear and consistent in your outgoing messaging. And actively seek out information flowing back in.

Number 3: Break up the solo act

As you’ve just heard, there are lots of stressors in business you can’t prevent. So you learn to mitigate their effects. But there’s one kind of burnout you can actually avoid — if you plan correctly. 

I’m going to call it Solo Act Syndrome. Because it’s what happens when instead of embracing cofounders and recruiting at key inflection points, you try doing it all yourself. 

But if you’re succeeding as a company, it will eventually scale beyond your ability to shoulder the burden. And that’s why you need to invest in growing your team and empowering them to lead.

To show you what I mean, here’s a story from Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of Chobani. Hamdi was born and raised in a Kurdish nomadic family, making cheese and yogurt in the mountains near the Euphrates River. It was a community in which everyone supported each other, with no organizational hierarchy. 

HAMDI ULUKAYA: My brothers and my family would make cheese. We call it tulum. As a kid growing up, we would just make it. It was a small business, no vats, and everybody would do the same thing.

HOFFMAN: When Hamdi later came to the US, he used this deep knowledge of cheesemaking to start his first small business in upstate NY, Euphrates Feta Cheese. 

But while it was joyful work, it was also extremely difficult work, much of which Hamdi did himself. And when he wasn’t physically making cheese, he was driving long distances, trying to build relationships with new distributors. 

ULUKAYA: I was so close to bankruptcy, to breaking myself, to shut it down, to not being able to pay for the milk, not being able to pay for employees. It really trained me to survive. It trained me to be resilient. It trained me to find the solution and find a way to make it work. And I always said, if I survived through that, I could survive through anything. That was so intense.

HOFFMAN: Hamdi’s resilience in the face of this grueling routine is so central to entrepreneurship, we even have a word for it… GRIT. 

Without grit, you won’t have the stamina to reach the next inflection point. But an over-reliance on grit, instead of strategic growth, will eventually push you to the brink of burnout. 

For Hamdi, that point would come years later, after founding and scaling his next company, Chobani. You’ve probably noticed their distinctive Turkish-style yogurt on your grocery shelves. 

Even as a thriving company, Chobani had a notable lack of hierarchy, which helped foster a strong sense of co-ownership among his workers. Hamdi was wrapped up in every part of scaling their first factory, in Utica NY.

ULUKAYA: Actually there was my rule: I would never ask anyone to do anything unless I do it first. So people would often see me in the first three, four years on the floor, packing, driving the forklift, fitting the trucks until at some point the people said, “I think you should be well served if you’re doing some other work somewhere else, we got this covered. Yeah.” 

HOFMAN: In 2012, Chobani built a second factory, a huge, one-million-square-foot plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. It was a clear scale jump for the business. And it finally became clear to Hamdi that he couldn’t be in two places at once. 

ULUKAYA: I didn’t understand that running one plant, being founder-led, and staying in the factory, and being involved with every single thing. I didn’t realize that that plan wasn’t going to work. A lot of people really ran out of their capability and capacity because the company was growing a lot faster than all of our capability, including myself.

HOFFMAN: Hamdi made a choice. He moved to Idaho to help fix the new plant. That meant empowering his team at the first plant to carry on without him. And at the new location, he worked on not just community, but structure and leadership.

ULUKAYA: It was a wake-up call. That experience was probably one of the biggest wake-up calls for me. And say, “Everything you did good in the last three, four years doesn’t mean everything’s going to go great next three, four, five years.” Every day is evolving, is changing, and you have to not get drunk with it.

HOFFMAN: Yeah. This is one of the fundamental rules of scale, is what gets you here isn’t what gets you there. Almost always.

ULUKAYA: That’s awesome. Yeah. That’s perfect. I lived through it. I totally lived through it. Yeah.

HOFFMAN: Hamdi’s lived experience taught him how to better spot inflection points, and how to scale infrastructure and capacity instead of brute-force work ethic. 

But it’s not always so obvious when it’s time to bring in help, or what kind of help you need. That’s when you can lean on your network to point the way. 

To show you what I mean, here’s a story from writer-director J.J. Abrams. Today, his production company Bad Robot makes TV shows, podcasts, games, books, and blockbuster feature films. But back in 2001, founding a company wasn’t even on his radar.

At the time, J.J. and his co-writer, Matt Reeves, had gotten their first hit show on the air. It was Felicity, a show about a college student played by newcomer Keri Russell. It was a breakout hit for everyone involved. Which led to more opportunities… and a suddenly overwhelming amount of work for J.J. 

J.J. ABRAMS: I ended up writing a pilot for ABC for the show Alias and then directing that pilot. We had that show on, and while both shows were on at the same time, I would be in the editing room until crazy hours, and it just felt like it was eating me up, and I didn’t quite know what I created.

HOFFMAN: You can hear in JJ’s story the makings of an epic case of burnout. But he had a conversation with someone in his network that would change the course of his career. 

ABRAMS: I remember talking to Steve McPherson, who at the time was the head of Touchstone Television, and he said to me, “It doesn’t have to be just you.” He was like, “You could start a pod,” he called it, and I had never really even heard that term at the time. I was like, “What do you mean?” He was like, “You could start a company.” I was like, “Really?”

So, I called my agent at the time, and I said, “So, Steven McPherson said I could start a pod.” He was like, “Yeah.” 

Anyway, the reason it got me excited was not because I wanted to start something for the sake of it but was because I thought, “Oh, could I get help?”

HOFFMAN: “I could get help” is a great mantra for breaking up Solo Act Syndrome. Whether that help comes in the form of co-founders, key early hires, or better organizational structure, you’ll need it if you want to hit your next inflection point. Try to go it alone, and you’ll burn out as fast as a single generator trying to power a city. 

HOFFMAN: We’re back with “Five Ways to Burnout-Proof Your Organization.” If you’re enjoying this episode, share it with friends by clicking the “share” button in your podcast app. And to hear my complete conversations with iconic founders like these, become a Masters of Scale member at mastersofscale.com/membership. 

Number 4. Take care of families

HOFFMAN: As we heard before the break, one way to avoid burning out is to hire ahead of inflection points. But the war for talent is real and intense. The so-called “Great Resignation” — or as we call it at LinkedIn, the Great Reshuffle — might have been set off by the pandemic, but it was a match dropping into a full tinder box. 

Many leaders were already aware of the growing demands on workers… and those demands were not being spread evenly, as you’ll hear from our next guest. Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, as well as a newer initiative called The Marshall Plan For Moms. 

Reshma has seen firsthand the pressures put on workers and their families. When companies fail to address those pressures, employees face a choice: burn out… or leave the workforce altogether. Let’s listen. 

RESHMA SAUJANI: My entire leadership team were working moms, and we were barely hanging on. You know, I got Covid, and it barely registered. My liver failed. We were just exhausted. What we were saying to ourselves was, “When the schools open, we’ll get some reprieve.” Well, the schools never opened, and they came up with this idea of hybrid learning, where working moms get to log-on their kids at nine o’clock, 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock, all the while they maintain their full-time job. 

And you literally saw 11 million women leave the workforce. At the beginning of 2020, women were actually 51% of the labor force. The first time in the history of our nation. We lost almost 30 years of progress in nine months. I kept thinking, well, where’s the plan? You can’t lose all those jobs like that without a plan.

HOFFMAN: Reshma is especially attuned to the effects of the pandemic on women in the workforce. As the founder of the nonprofit Girls Who Code, achieving gender parity in STEM-related fields has been part of her longtime mission. 

But those girls and young women are entering a workforce that wasn’t built with them in mind. So many don’t stick around. 

SAUJANI: 50% of women under the age of 35 will leave tech by the time of 35. And that’s culture. That is because there’s a broken culture there. I think what’s driving the great resignation, it’s not that people don’t want to work. They don’t want to work for you.

HOFFMAN: The pandemic exacerbated a burnout problem that was already gaining momentum among working parents, and especially working moms. Reshma attributes some of that to a pervasive hustle culture that sets women up for failure. 

SAUJANI: I spent the past 10 years telling my students to barnstorm the corner office. To lean in really hard. To girl-boss your way to the top, and I was wrong. I found myself in the pandemic with two little babies and trying to run an organization, and it nearly broke me. And I learned the hard way that having it all is a euphemism for doing it all. It didn’t matter if you got a mentor, or you delegated, or you color-coded your calendar. It wasn’t about fixing the woman. It was about fixing the system. The entire industrial complex of corporate feminism needs to be thrown in the garbage. Because it is actually keeping us further away from equality, rather than moving us forward.

HOFFMAN: So what can move us forward, and how can companies be part of the solution? Well, Reshma has a plan for that. 

SAUJANI: I think that the first benefit that companies should be thinking about offering and leading on subsidizing childcare. For the vast majority of parents, they pay more for their childcare than they do for their mortgage. And quite frankly, the cost of attrition is higher than if you started subsidizing childcare. If you want to ensure loyalty, if you want to feel like people are committed to you, start taking care of their families.

Right now, 10% of companies subsidize childcare. I’m building a business coalition to basically make that number go to 100. And I’m not asking you to do it out of the goodness of your heart. I’m asking you to do it because it makes business sense. And we’re already providing other benefits. I mean, most companies will pay for you to freeze your eggs or do your IVF or your gym membership. Well, then provide support when actually people do have children.

As we’re in the middle of this talent war, we have to think about what people really want. And I think what people really want is to spend more time with their family. It’s not just what working women want. It’s what working dads want too.

HOFFMAN: Taking care of employees means taking care of the whole employee. Including what’s contributing to their burnout beyond the office. Do that well, and you stand a much better chance of lowering your attrition rates, and winning the war for talent. 

Number 5. Sprint, rest, repeat 

By now you’ve heard all about burnout, and all the ways leaders can try to mitigate, interrupt, or alleviate its effects. And in the thick of these conversations, it can start to feel like everything, sooner or later, leads to burnout! Leaders often feel caught between wanting to protect employees… and wanting to reach for those big, hairy,  audacious goals.

But counterintuitively… the audacity of your goal can actually be the thing that energizes your employees. If your mission is strong, a sprint to the finish can galvanize your team.

To show you what I mean, here’s a story from Tokunbo Koiki. She’s a social worker, and the cofounder of Black Women for Black Lives, an organization that sprang up nearly overnight to help African and Caribbean students fleeing Ukraine. 

In the earliest days of the Russian invasion, Tokunbo watched the news from her home in London, as she saw Black students facing hostility and violence in the push to leave Ukraine. Just days later, Tokunbo co-founded Black Women for Black Lives with two women she had only met online. 

TOKUNBO KOIKI: We were all strangers prior to February 26th. I was watching the news just as concerned as everybody else, mainly on social media, specifically on Twitter, which is where I spend most of my life unfortunately. And through seeing what was being documented by the African and Caribbean students who were trying to flee from Ukraine, I felt inspired to take action and support them. 

HOFFMAN: One of those students was a second-year medical student named Korrine Sky. Even as Korrine was fleeing from the violence herself, on social media she was posting guidance to her fellow refugees.

KOIKI: She was signposting and helping other students to understand how to get to the nearest borders, which border made sense for them to travel to, especially when the borders were getting congested. She was also actively paying for students through her own funds to be able to get the taxis, because students were being physically pushed out of the trains that were coming to evacuate Ukrainians from major cities in Ukraine.

HOFFMAN: Korrine’s posts made their way into Tokunbo’s Twitter feed. And she was immediately inspired to help. She tweeted at Korrine, and found a way to send some cash. 

But it didn’t feel like enough to meet the moment. Videos kept surfacing of Black African and Caribbean students facing discrimination as they fled Ukraine. The world was watching. And Tokunbo saw an opportunity to turn people’s outrage into action. 

She and Korrine joined forces, along with a lawyer and activist named Patricia Daley, who had also reached out on Twitter. 

KOIKI: The first 24, 48 hours, we had never seen or spoken to each other outside of Twitter.

HOFFMAN: They worked together to stand up a GoFundMe page, and develop the logistics to put aid directly into the hands of fleeing students. It was a sprint of epic proportions, even though the war was complicating even the simplest steps. 

KOIKI: Previously, when I’d used GoFundMe, the appeal was usually allowed instantly, but GoFundMe said they were going to have to verify the campaign, so I hopped onto PayPal and I created a PayPal Pool. And the initial target was 10,000 pounds, simply because I, at the time, did not realize how big this was going to turn out. And I just thought, “Okay, 10,000 is a comfortable number that people are not going to be like, ‘Hey, who’s this strange woman who’s trying to collect money for my African Caribbean students in Ukraine?'” 

HOFFMAN: But they reached their first goal with astonishing speed. So Tokumbo doubled it, to 20,000 pounds. Which they met within another 24 hours. 

KOIKI: By Sunday morning, people were still asking to donate. People were still learning about what was happening not just in Ukraine, but specifically the anti-Blackness and the discrimination that Black people in Ukraine were facing. And that was how we were able to raise over 40,000 pounds in just a matter of two days over a weekend.      

HOFFMAN: Black Women for Black Lives kept accelerating, and gained international recognition, as well as corporate partners like R/GA and AirBnB. You can hear Tokunbo tell her full, astonishing story on Masters of Scale Rapid Response, and I highly encourage you to listen. But what I want you to hear next is something she did to take in the middle of this sprint. 

KOIKI: I definitely felt the pressure, especially the last week, I did find myself on Thursday last week having to take a mental health day, because I just couldn’t cope anymore. So after about 10, 11 days of nonstop Black Women For Black Lives, Black in Ukraine, I took a mental health day where I didn’t think about Black in Ukraine. I had to focus on myself. Spent time with my daughter, took her to dinner, and just really got my energy back.

HOFFMAN: Even when you’re sprinting, you need to build in short periods of rest. Even the smallest breaks can help refresh and sustain you for the next big push. 

That’s especially important when that push happens because of an unforeseen emergency. You’ll hear why, in our final story today, from Alyona Mysko. She runs a B2B startup called FuelFinance. We spoke to Alyona from Ukraine, where she and her team have been working through displacements, bombings, and the deployment of colleagues, as they work to keep the lights on for other startups around the world. 

ALYONNA MYSKO: We have already joked between entrepreneurs that Ukrainian managers will be the best stressful managers and risk managers in the world because during the last months here, it’s really a challenge for us, a challenge in managing business during the war, a challenge in managing the team and also in volunteering, and helping our country. So I think we feel like fighters now.

HOFFMAN: After the war broke out, Alyona relocated from Kyiv to Western Ukraine to escape the worst of the fighting. But her work days were still punctuated by the cry of air raid sirens.  

MYSKO: During the day we have the sirens, so we need to go to bomb shelters, but everyone in Ukraine trying to work now, and yes, people work in bomb shelters. And we are happy that in most bomb shelters we have wifi so we can work. So it’s a little bit like normal life now.

HOFFMAN: Alyona and her team didn’t slow down — they sprinted. Less than a month after the invasion, they were voted Product of the Day on the website Product Hunt.  

MYSKO: The most craziest day was when we decided to go to Product Hunt especially on this day, we will have the most number of sirens during the day. So usually it was like two or three before, but on this day we had seven times per day, the siren, so we should go to bomb shelter every time. So it was really crazy.

HOFFMAN: One thing that has kept Alyona’s team going is a tight focus on mission and goals. Listen to how she describes their communications in the first days of the invasion.

MYSKO: I think, three, four days, we were in Slack chat all 24 hours because we understand that we need to support each other now, and I should support our team members. We had the first priority to relocate our team to more safe places. Now I see and understand that it was a very important part for our team members, this communication.

On the first day of the war, we paid salaries to our team members. So they also felt more safe, but also I think that we have a very strong mission in our company. So we have a mission to help companies and save them from bankruptcies and financial mistakes, and we believe that what we do for these companies can impact on GDP growth in Ukraine and all over the world. So everyone in our team here, first of all, we have thoughts on how to be safe, how to help our families and friends. But after that, everyone started to think, okay, but now we should help other businesses and our clients because it’s our mission. 

HOFFMAN: Many of us, if we’re lucky, will never experience trying to run a business from a war zone. But we can take lessons in resilience from teams like Alyona’s, who are doing just that. 

MYSKO: It doesn’t mean that I’m not worried. I worry, but this feeling will not help me. So I understand that, okay, I can be worried, but for several minutes, but after that, okay, let’s do our job. 

HOFFMAN: What Alyona is describing is a great tactic for stress management. Before launching into action, she gives herself a small “worry break”– as in, a moment when she’s allowed to be worried, or even scared. Instead of letting the fear overwhelm her, she gives it space to vent. And then, she gets ready to sprint again. 

Someday, it’s likely that everyone in Ukraine who has lived through this crisis will need time to recover, and reclaim their mental health. Post-traumatic stress is real, and manifests in all kinds of ways, as we heard at the beginning of this episode. 

But in the meantime, leaders like Alonya are serving their stakeholders by sprinting, resting, and repeating as necessary. With their mission as fuel, they are working together to keep other businesses going, without burning themselves out.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or a leader working at scale, you’re going to be constantly challenged with how to balance productivity and mental health. I hope this special episode has given you some tools to combat burnout in your team, and in yourself. 

Even sharing the show with colleagues may help open up a dialogue. And if it does, let us know! Find us on social media, or at MastersofScale.com, and tell us about it. Until then, I’m Reid Hoffman. Thanks for listening.

Masters of Scale’s mission is to democratize entrepreneurship. Launched in 2017 as a weekly podcast featuring Reid Hoffman, we’re now two weekly podcasts — Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, and Masters of Scale: Rapid Response, hosted by Bob Safian — as well as an award-winning daily learning app, a best-selling book, virtual and live events, and more, serving a global community of founders, funders, and leaders looking to innovate at scale.
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