Skip to main content

Burnout is not exactly a new phenomenon in our sector – it’s been a characteristic of advertising in particular, but the industry as a whole, for decades. As far back as the 1950s, early surveys reported that 90% of people in advertising were taking work home at night. But now more than ever, the negative impact of burnout, on your business as well as your team, must be recognised and taken seriously.

The numbers don’t look great

It’s impossible to lay down a simple, catch-all definition of burnout. Everybody who experiences it will do so in different ways. But however it manifests itself, it’s bad for business, and avoiding or alleviating it has become an important theme for business leaders. When you see the numbers, that’s hardly surprising.

A mid-2021 survey found that half of all employees in the industry reported fatigue, with 44% saying they felt more burned out than a year before – and this in a period when a lot of people were working remotely. Far from helping people deal with burnout and manage their workload more effectively, the COVID-19 pandemic has actually worsened the problem, with 72% saying they felt increased exhaustion, feelings of negativity, detachment and cynicism about work, and reduced performance, by December 2021. This is not what you want to be hearing from your team.

How burnout damages performance

It may be easy to think “My team is hard-working and committed, they can deal with the workload.” And if working long hours to meet tight deadlines is only a rare occurrence, you may not have a problem. But those 1950s surveys demonstrate that it’s all too easy for that to become the default attitude within an agency’s culture, and if that happens, it’s going to affect your bottom line.

Reduced employee engagement, lower-quality work and increased recruitment costs due to high staff turnover are all proven and direct consequences of burnout, and could do considerable damage to your business. So how do you address the problem?

Firstly, know your team and keep your eyes open for different behaviour. Even if you’ve switched to a remote or hybrid working model, you need to be familiar with your team members so you can recognise if things are getting on top of them. Encourage people to be open so it doesn’t just become an accepted part of your agency culture, with nobody prepared to say anything.

Set boundaries and don’t allow your agency to develop the all-too-common culture that almost celebrates long hours and high workloads. This starts from the outside in; manage clients’ expectations proactively, and in particular don’t over-promise on specialities that are outside your agency skill set.

Build flexibility into staffing. In an industry characterised by peaks and troughs in demand, a business model that allows for rapid up- or downscaling offers the smartest versatility and the least operational disruption. The flexibility of Smartshoring® makes it an ideal solution to rapid changes in capacity requirements, without placing the onus on your own team.

Outsource specialist services that aren’t part of your core business model so you don’t place unrealistic burdens on already stressed staff. Retain the high standards you’ve worked so hard to set by using specialists for services that are outside your typical offering. Need sentiment analysis of your content, for example, but don’t have the expertise in house? Talk to us – we do.

Use the time when your clients are sleeping to keep working – but not with the same team who have already been hard at it all day. Take advantage of 24/7 capacity by using a solution that gives you access to high-quality staff around the globe.

Save time and money by avoiding having to manage multiple freelancers. Leverage solutions that stay on top of this for you, handling the management content production and delivering the work back to you on time and within budget. Solutions like Smartshoring®.

Know the difference between urgent and important and focus on what counts first. It’s easy, in a large-scale, multichannel campaign, to lose track of what has to be done and in what order. Keep the Eisenhower principle in mind so if you are under time and deadline pressure, you can approach the most critical work first, and calmly.

And finally, take burnout seriously. If you don’t want to lose valuable team members, money or both, find a solution that works. Some countries have already enshrined the right to disconnect in law, offering conclusive proof, if any were needed, that this should be a critical business imperative at your agency.

Saskia Johnson

Author Saskia Johnson

More posts by Saskia Johnson