Jessica Thiefels

Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and spent the lastfive years in marketing. She recently stepped down from a senior marketing position in a small, education startup to focus on growing her own startup and consulting for small businesses. She's written for sites such as Lifehack, Inman, Manta, StartupNation and more.

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You’re proud of your company culture. You frequently plan events for employees, pay for lunch one day a week, promote collaboration through open office seating, and encourage the team to connect as often as possible. It might sound great, but something feels off.

This kind of culture caters to some employees: the ones who can focus in a loud room, enjoy frequent chats with co-workers, and aren’t afraid to share ideas in front of a crowd. However, it may not be conducive to others, and the opposite might be true for a workplace ruled by cubicles and private offices.

Why does a balanced workplace matter?

Having an unbalanced workplace culture prohibits employees from playing to their strengths. For example, in the earlier scenario, individuals who don’t like speaking up in meetings or need a quiet space to focus would be placed squarely outside the dominant coalition.

What do we mean by “dominant coalition”?

Meredith Hunt, an expert at Forte Foundation, explains that a dominant coalition “is a fancy term for a demographic pattern that predominates within an organizational culture: for example, gender, ethnicity, and/or nationality.” In many organizations, the dominant coalition is made up of employees who thrive in an open, extroverted, and interruption-heavy environment.


Hunt continues, “People who are outside the dominant coalition have needs that must be met in order to feel part of the fabric of the organization … In short, they want to feel part of the team without sacrificing who they are or changing themselves.”

In this kind of unbalanced culture, employees may feel like they can’t be themselves, meaning they won’t feel psychologically safe. They may be afraid to ask for what they want—less group time, more individual time—or worry about sharing their ideas for fear of judgement.

When this happens, your employees can struggle to connect and become burnt out. Some of them may be confident in this kind of environment, while others may be nervous or decrease in productivity because the environment isn’t supporting their needs.

How can you foster a balanced culture?

With a balanced culture, every employee can feel psychologically safe, meaning they feel comfortable being themselves, sharing ideas, and feeling part of the culture. “Practically speaking, this might look like a team where members are more likely to discuss mistakes, share ideas, ask for and receive feedback and experiment,” according to Science for Work. That’s the kind of culture you want, right?

So how do you foster a balanced culture, a workplace that’s inclusive, providing every employee with what they need to succeed—whether that’s a quiet room or group brainstorming session?


Allow flexible working schedules

Some employees do their best work when they’re alone, and a flexible working schedule is a simple way to create a more balanced culture. A flexible working schedule could allow employees to come in late and leave late, work from home one day a week, or pick and choose when they want to be in the office.

There are a few ways to facilitate a schedule like this, depending on how your company functions. Consider the following ideas:

WFH one day each week

Each week, the office (or individual team) has the option to work from home. Many companies do this mid-week, giving employees some productive time at home between the beginning and end of the week.

Flexible office hours

Instead of requiring employees to be in the office from 9-5, offer flexible office hours, where all employees must be present at the same time, from 10am-12pm for example, but can come in early and leave early or come in late and leave late.

Total flexibility

In this case, all employees can choose when they want to come into the office and when they don’t. You may not have a specific day or set of days, and it’s on the employees to decide when they want to work from home.

Read more about flexible working schedules in our article The Dos and Don'ts of a Flexible Work Schedule.

Understand your employees' strengths

A great, well-balanced company culture allows every employee to play to their strengths. "People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job,” according to Gallup.

If you need to gain a better understanding of your employees strengths, start by encouraging team leaders and managers to make more time for one-on-one meetings—and make them effective by being on time, heading out of the office every once in a while, and getting them on the calendar in the first place. The more time they spend with their team, the more they’ll begin to understand what makes them tick.

Another way to get to know your employees strengths is with a test like StrengthsFinder (now CliftonStrengths) or Myers Briggs. These personality-type tests have been used in workplaces for many years to identify the qualities that each employee brings to the organization.

Knowing this information creates a balanced culture in two ways. Not only are you able play to employees strengths, but you can better create teams by understanding dynamics and personalities: “Imagine a team full of people who are highly analytical with no one who thrives on action. Or imagine a team full of people who want to act immediately with no one to dig deeper into details. Teams need a balance of personalities to be successful,” according to Zapier.


Minimize the number of mandatory meetings

Did you know that the number of meetings in the workplace has doubled in the last 50 years? Meetings are especially common in our modern workplace, where hyperconnectivity is praised.

Employees spend their days moving from one meeting to another, which can impede productivity. Not only can this environment decrease efficiency, it can create unnecessary stress, especially for those who are already anxious. This kind of culture may make it hard to share insights and feedback in front of a large group of people and discourage sharing among some participants.

In fact, 46% of people who struggle with anxiety say that meetings trigger their anxiety, and 43% say their anxiety causes them to avoid participating in meetings, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Fortunately, you don’t need to eliminate all meetings to create a balanced culture. Instead, consider three options to make meetings more enjoyable and productive:

  • While some meetings are necessary, others can be eliminated. Do a meeting audit; which meetings are important, and which can be removed or reduced?
  • Short meetings that stay on topic can be just as effective as long ones. Which meetings can you trim? Instead of 60 minutes, can some be 30 minutes? Better yet, 5 minutes? Some meetings can even be replaced by status updates.
  • Not every employee or department member needs to be in every meeting. Focus on critical team members only. Set a general limit of attendees per meeting.

Want more tips? Check out How to Hold Productive and Enjoyable Meetings.

You can also try a one-on-one meeting or virtual brainstorming session instead of a large meeting. Not only does this create a more balanced culture, allowing everyone to participate more fully, but it also cuts down on the costs associated with meetings. Check out how expensive your meetings are with Harvard Business Review’s Meeting Cost Calculator.


Set boundaries—or create zones

Introverts can have an especially hard time in the modern office culture, which often celebrates collaboration and spending time together as a team. “One of the most common challenges introverts face today is that most workplaces are built to stimulate collaboration and somehow seem designed for extroverts. Starting from the large open spaces, up to the constant interruptions that shatter their focus at work,” says Elena Carstoiu, COO of Hubgets.

However, it’s not just introverts who struggle with this. I would classify myself as extroverted, and I remember being stuck next to the sales team at my very first job, which happened to be made up of a bunch of young guys in their early 20s. All day, every day, they were playing with nerf guns, and it drove me crazy. At the time I was a copywriter, and much of my work required me to be able to maintain focus. That was impossible when nerf bullets were buzzing by my ear or landing on my desk, even when I had my headphones on. 

Sometimes, you just want quiet at work!


To create a balanced culture, leaders need to empower every employee to do their best work. Carstoiu suggests one way to do that: “Create a culture where ‘personal flow’ is respected.” This can be hard to do when your office operates with an open floor plan—when anyone can be interrupted at any moment, halting their train of thought or work flow.

What’s worse, an open floor plan may do the opposite of what you expect. This 2018 study found that employees spent 73% less time face-to-face in open office environments.

The good news is you don’t need to change offices or even your workplace layout to allow for better personal flow. Instead, try these ideas:

  • Implement the “stop light” system. Every employee has a stoplight sign at their desk. When it’s on green, people can come talk to them. Yellow means they prefer not to be interrupted. Red means, “Come find me later, I’m in the zone.” You could achieve the same result with a headphones rule—”Whenever I have my headphones on, I’m not available.”
  • Set up a room reserving system for employees to use so they can schedule their own personal, “heads down” time as needed.
  • If you don’t have offices, use room separators to create a focus area where employees can go to get away from distractions. You can get simple dividers at Staples. Simple design changes like this can go a long way toward building more space for “personal flow” into your newly balanced culture.

For more ideas, check out How to Design Your Office for Improved Productivity and Purpose.

How will you get started?

Creating a balanced culture takes thought, especially if you have a strongly-established company culture. Survey your employees about their struggles with your current culture. Do this anonymously, preferably online, so everyone feels comfortable enough to participate. Use the data to understand: Do they need more space for personal flow? Do they feel they’re often interrupted? Are they missing chances to speak out in meetings?

This will give you a good idea of what needs to change. From there, you can implement the ideas you’ve just read about as needed. Whatever it takes, the goal is the same: create the culture that empowers your employees to do their best work, and then watch the business flourish.

For more inspiration and tips on building a balanced workplace culture, check out this resource:

To inspire your team is to motivate them to do their job well, enjoy what they’re doing, and feel excited about the direction of your company and their role within it. As a leader, keeping your team inspired is an important responsibility, especially during turbulent or challenging times.

Why is inspiration your responsibility?

When employees aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when organizations see real breakthroughs. Inspired employees are themselves far more productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.
Eric Garton

Unfortunately, 42% of employees don’t feel their leadership is contributing to a positive company culture. When employees are uninspired, disengaged, and unfulfilled, chances are high they’ll start looking elsewhere.

The good news is that inspiring employees doesn’t need to be daunting. Here are some fresh ideas to start with:

1. Challenge them more often

Believe it or not, your employees want to be challenged. Performing the same mundane tasks day in and day out can grow old quickly. That’s why, according to a 2017 survey, 83% of employees who are given opportunities to take on new challenges say they’re more likely to stay with their employer.

Communicate with your employees to find out how challenged they feel. Are they struggling to meet organizational requirements? Are they reaching their own personal objectives? Do they need more demanding goals? Do they have too much on their plate?

Inspire every week: Start an intrapreneur initiative, and allow each team member time each week to work on a “passion” project related to the business. This may be work that inspires them more than their day-to-day job and could also lead to new learnings, product ideas, or even revenue streams.


2. Re-think technical training

Many teams, especially technical ones, require recurring training—but if conducted poorly, such trainings can be anything but inspirational.

Too often I find that managers impose training on people, and people like the training, but it’s not necessarily what they need. Ask, what would you like? What would make a difference to you? If we use a retrospective from your most recent project, what do you want to improve?
–Kellye Whitney, Anatomy of a Modern Day Technical Training Course.

Re-think training opportunities by identifying topics: what does your team want to learn about, and what do they need to learn about?

Consider splitting the training into two sections: 70% hands-on and 30% theory. This format often helps teams better grasp new concepts and apply the subject matter beyond the lesson or training’s application, all while feeling more inspired to keep learning and applying their new skills.

Inspire every week: Identify training opportunities, and discuss opportunities your team can learn more each week. Keep these ideas in mind as you demo a new product feature at all-hands meetings or dive into a fresh marketing initiative.


3. Publicly recognize their work

Public employee recognition is one of the best ways to inspire your team because it has a far-reaching inspirational impact:

  • 70% percent of employees say that motivation and morale would improve 'massively' if managers said thank you more.
  • Happiness raises business productivity by 31%.
  • Recognition increases employee engagement up to 60%.
  • Companies with a “recognition-rich” culture have 31% lower voluntary turnover rates than companies that don’t.

Inspiring your team with recognition also provides an important link to specific actions and their positive effects on an organization.

Inspire every week: Recognize members of your team at least once each week, whether it’s in your regular team meeting or another type of public forum.


Inspire your team every week

Don’t let your team get into a rut. Use these ideas to keep employees inspired, engaged, and connected, making sure they’re challenged and feel appreciated. When your employees feel inspired, everyone wins.

A startup is an interesting place to work and, as such, it attracts a different type of employee, most of whom are energetic and driven self-starters.

However, startups also tend to put more stress on employees than established businesses, with employees often taking on the job of two or three people in addition to dealing with regular concerns about funding and the life of the company.

When responsibilities become too great, employees burn out.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It can lead to detachment and unhappiness that affects job performance, personal relationships, and health. It can happen to professionals in any field and industry and it affects employees and managers alike.

In order to prevent burnout, it’s essential to understand its underlying causes and what you can do to correct these issues. Here are four areas where you can make an immediate impact, and some easy ways to get started.

Team activities


Burnout cause: all work, no play.

In a startup with minimal resources and lots to prove, it’s easy to focus so much on work that employees burn out. Because of this, it’s important for managers to plan activities outside the workplace. 

Organize a team lunch, spend a day at the beach or the park, or plan an after-work happy hour. These activities break up the workday and allow your employees to socialize.

Plan a team event each month and poll employees about what they want to do before deciding what the activity will be. Your employees will look forward to planned events that they have a say in, versus seeing them as an after-work obligation.



Burnout cause: employees aren't invested.

According to a study on workplace burnout from The Office Club,

The data shows that as employees gain more control and autonomy in their positions, job satisfaction rises in tandem. There is a strong statistically significant relationship between job satisfaction and levels of control and autonomy at work.

Luckily, you don’t have to spend any money to combat this cause of burnout and employee turnover.

Ask for input on big decisions when applicable, empower employees to have a say in new ideas and endeavors, and let them have ownership of their own individual responsibilities as much as possible. That sense of ownership encourages a higher level of personal investment.

Remember: many startup employees are self-starters, so they don’t need micro-management to be effective.

Work-life balance


Burnout cause: employers show no respect for employees’ personal lives.

Work-life balance is one of the most highly sought after aspects of any job, and it’s especially important to prevent employee burnout.

Forty percent of employees will leave a job for lack of work-life balance, according to Jobvite’s 2015 Job Seeker Nation Study.

Why is work-life balance a deal breaker? When employees have a chance to step aside, pursue their passions, and recharge, they come back to work with more energy and enthusiasm. If they are afforded no time to themselves, employees will be overworked and start to feel under-appreciated, which is often a direct path to burnout.

A few ways to improve work-life balance include:

  • Half-day Fridays once a month
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Flexible working options (work from home or co-working space)
  • Respect for employees' space outside the office, i.e., not being in touch at 9 p.m.

Advancement opportunities


Burnout cause: employees have no growth opportunities.

No one wants to feel like they’re in a dead-end job. While you can’t promote every employee, you can seek out ways to help each person grow in their career and their position.

For example: you can send employees to a nearby conference, giving them the opportunity to network and learn, which helps both them and the company.

You can also look for ways to take advantage of pre-existing interests and aptitudes. If Jane from accounting is interested in marketing, let her shadow the marketing team and see if there’s a way for her to help.

You will never know what your staff is capable of if you don’t give them the opportunity to explore their talents and interests. Luckily, in a small startup environment, exploration is easy to facilitate.

In conclusion

Workplace burnout is a problem in every industry and trade, especially in startups. Actively work to combat this issue with team activities, advancement opportunities, and a true work-life balance.

Happy employees make growth possible, so keep your creative self-starters satisfied.

If you're ready to take the next step toward strengthening your team, check out our latest guide:

Looking for an employee engagement solution? Try Bonusly for Free!