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It's sometimes not until you're in the driver's seat of a startup or small business that you realise just how much you care about the people in your team.
Your co-founders, employees, and other partners. You also realise, often very acutely, just how precarious the systems which support you really are. Looming cash crunches, volatile income streams, and uncertain capital raises all threaten to undercut your ability to make payroll, and as a result, your ability to deliver what's needed for your co-workers and your shared mission.
It can be challenging to keep the positive energy and constructive attitude that started your venture in the first place. We often we start out with "wouldn't this feature deliver a lot of value to users, let's get it to them asap" but this can quickly shift into, "if we don't ship this feature tomorrow, our probability of surviving the year just ticks down a couple percent".
To me, a truly successful business does more than make money, it helps those connected to it live a successful life beyond the financial. Mental wellbeing is a necessary component of that. However, mental wellbeing and the realities of early-stage startups are often less than perfectly aligned.
One major reason for this is that startups almost never have access to the resources available to established firms, particularly in relation to employee support such as employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs are great. When done well, they empower employees to seek support for a wide range of challenges both independent of, or alongside company management. They allow the company to say "we want our employees and those close to them to be able to access counselling, advice, and other types of support regardless of whether it's immediately work-related".
I've been looking for an EAP program that is well suited to our team at Litmaps for several months now. To be honest I had mostly given up and shifted my focus to other things. There simply didn't seem to be anything out there for us.
However, it seems that the folks at Xero also noticed this gap. They released a report in 2019 alongside the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand analysing and highlighting challenges to mental health in New Zealand's small business community. Most importantly, they backed up their findings with action. They began running a pilot program, where all Xero, starter, standard, and premium subscribers are able to access a high-quality EAP at no additional charge.
Think about that for a second. That means that if your business uses Xero, you automatically have access to mental health support. There are an incredible amount of businesses in New Zealand using Xero. Even more remarkable, this program also extends to the family members of those covered. Xero estimates that their plan, therefore, covers 850,000 kiwis. That isn't a company mental health package, it's a national mental health program covering many people who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
We certainly shouldn't underestimate the mental health challenges we still face in Aotearoa. And this program obviously doesn't cover everyone who currently struggles with limited support. The ultimate accountability for fixing this lies with us citizens. We choose how to structure our own society. However, Xero's contribution here is truly remarkable. It's a great example of what can happen when we work together to build socially-minded, highly successful tech companies. They help our country to prosper by exporting valuable products to the world and building a better society through initiatives such as this one.
To all the people behind this initiative, thank you. Now I know my team can access support when they need it, and that means a lot.
Dr Kyle Webster