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It's an exhilarating time when your startup starts to gain traction--until the challenges of growth arrive. You ramp up hiring. Delegate more. And the workplace pressures start to build. Success brings expectations.

Just ask any chef whose restaurant has received a Michelin star. On Tuesday, CNN published a story about a curious trend in the restaurant industry: Chefs are handing back their Michelin stars--often seen as the ultimate culinary accolade--and closing their restaurants to leave fine dining altogether. Many of them say it's due to the intense workplace pressures that build once their restaurants have attained that level of recognition. Multiple chefs have requested to be removed from Michelin guides in recent years, and last month, Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson closed his two-star restaurant, citing on Instagram a wish to "rest and get fit, both physically and mentally."

It's not just the restaurant world's elite. In 2019, food giant Nestlé commissioned a survey of 102 British chefs. Forty-eight percent of them said not enough was being done to support their mental wellbeing in the workplace. The top contributing factors to their high stress levels: staff shortages, lack of time, and limited budgets.

Sound familiar? Hiring, time management, and finances are three of toughest challenges invariably faced by every startup. The pressure can boil over in damaging ways. Last year, I wrote about Darn Good Yarn founder and CEO Nicole Snow, whose Clifton Park, New York-based company has made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America the past three years in a row. Back in 2016, Snow learned she was pregnant right as her company's growth was in mid-explosion--and became "hyper-paranoid" that her company wouldn't survive her maternity leave, even making one employee cry during a particularly memorable rant.

Then, her daughter was born. She had to step back from the company, and it flourished without her--so much that upon returning, she had certain team members go through a similar exercise of figuring out how they'd handle their job if they were going on leave. It helped clarify which parts of their workload were essential and which were not. 

"We're not as frantic as we used to be," Snow told me. "The intensity and stress aren't where they used to be. I used to make my employees cry, and now, I see my staff happy and healthy. That, to me, is transformational."

Published on: Jan 16, 2020