How One CEO Used His Experience With Burnout To Better Support His Employees' Mental Health

Kelly Greenwood | CEO and Founder, Mind Share Partners

This article was originally published on Forbes. Go here for all of Mind Share Partners' Forbes features.

Joel Gascoigne, Buffer cofounder and CEO - BUFFER

Even before he took a leave of absence due to burnout, Joel Gascoigne, cofounder and CEO of social media software company Buffer, strived to build a culture in which employees could bring their full selves to work. Little did he know that this would extend not only to his employees’ mental health, but also that of his own. 

Buffer has a fully distributed team of 80-plus people across 15 countries. That poses both unique challenges and opportunities in terms of mental health. I interviewed Joel and Courtney Seiter, Buffer’s director of people, to learn more about Joel’s personal experience as well as how Buffer has been thoughtful about its team’s mental health.

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As CEO, you took a month and a half leave of absence due to severe burnout. Could you tell us a bit about the lead up to this and how your experience affected Buffer’s mental health culture and policies? 

Joel Gascoigne: The lead up to being burned out went back to the end of 2015, beginning of 2016 for me. My cofounder and I started getting gradually misaligned on our vision for Buffer’s future. In mid-2016, this was made worse because of financial challenges that resulted in layoffs at Buffer. In early 2017, Buffer’s cofounder and CTO both left the company. 

Throughout all of this, I can look back and see that while I was exercising and keeping myself in good shape, as well as feeling optimistic about the future of Buffer, it was adrenaline that was carrying me forward. 

By the spring of 2017, the company felt much more stable and the adrenaline was no longer needed. As soon as the adrenaline subsided, my body could feel what it had come through. That’s when the burnout really hit me. Being burned out feels like being knocked off balance. I knew I needed to do something because in that state, I couldn’t lead the company. I spent a week chatting about it with the leadership team, who were very supportive. I wrote a memo to the team sharing my plans, and then I signed out of Slack.