Marketing and ad agencies have a major talent retention problem on their hands.
According to a recent study from LinkedIn and 4A's, there was a 25% net talent loss at ad agencies globally compared with competitive industries such as tech and commerce in 2015.
Advertising agencies also ranked dead last among competitive industries in terms of work/life balance and long-term strategic vision, and close to the bottom for compensation and benefits, strong career path, job security, and making employees feel their contributions are valued.
It seems like agencies are failing across the board to fully support the wellbeing of their employees, and many agency professionals have had enough with the industry's exhausting cycle of competition and burnout.
As Michael Farmer, a veteran advertising consultant, writes in Madison Avenue Manslaughter, "Through benign neglect of growing creative workloads, and reluctance to tackle clients over declining client fees, agency CEOs are presiding over the slow decline and over-stretching of a diminishing pool of burned-out creative assets."
With this systemic problem hanging over our heads, is there anything managers can do on a daily basis to prevent team burnout on the ground floor? We've compiled a list of simple, everyday changes managers can make to help keep their teams engaged, motivated, and as protected as possible from the dreaded agency burnout epidemic.
How Managers Can Prevent Team Burnout
1) Ditch Multitasking and Help Employees Truly Focus
If you find your team scrolling mindlessly through Facebook after lunch or staring blankly at their stuffed inboxes at the end of the day, it's a pretty good indication that your team is suffering from a multitasking overload.
Mutitasking is deeply embedded in the fast-paced, high-stress agency environment, but the frequent stress and fractured attention span caused by constant multitasking might be fatally impacting productivity and morale. Basically, humans really suck at multitasking. Employees are frequently asked to split their attention and creative energy between roughly 200 various tasks on a daily basis, which means virtually nothing actually ends up getting any real attention.
The solution? Say goodbye to multitasking and hello to your new best friend: monotasking. Monotasking is exactly what it sounds like: focusing on a single task at hand instead of tackling your monstrous to-do list all at once. And it just might be the perfectly obvious antidote to your team's steadily declining motivation and seeming inability to focus.
A 2016 University of California, Irvine study found that people who work online all day are more likely to expend their brain's natural capacity for focus -- thanks to the tendency to multitask. Once employees hit their focus wall, they have difficulty feeling engaged or motivated. That sounds a lot like burnout.
So how can managers encourage monotasking on their teams? Start by creating clear project schedules that help employees balance multiple accounts at once without constantly switching back and forth. Talk with employees about how they focus best, and tailor your expectations to better accommodate each employee's unique needs.
Yes, there are always client deadlines to consider, but your team will actually be more productive and engaged if you can cultivate an environment that helps employees work without constantly switching gears.
2) Discuss Career Growth on a Regular Basis
A disconcerting 54% of people who left the advertising industry said a major reason was because they felt there wasn't sufficient opportunity for advancement.
In order to feel truly valued within an organization, employees need the room and support to better themselves and advance their careers. Without career growth, everyday tasks lose their purpose, and employees feel like work is just something to drudge through.
Part of the issue is organizational: Agencies need to offer employees more opportunities to advance. But managers can help employees better navigate the treacherous agency terrain by being more transparent about opportunities and how they can be achieved.
Talking about career advancement shouldn't be something that only takes place on a yearly or even quarterly basis. The more frequently managers bring up career advancement and long-term goals, the more supported employees will feel in their career paths. Simply discussing where employees want to be in the future can have a major impact on how valued people feel, and can help bring a real sense of purpose to their work.
3) Encourage Recharge Periods
Much like the smartphone you can't seem to stop checking, humans need to be recharged. It's just not in our nature to be constantly tuned in, and when we try to marathon a ton of work at once without stopping for periodic breathers, we actually end up in an unproductive and unhappy state of "continuous partial attention."
As Linda Stone, the former head of Microsoft University, writes on her website, "In a 24/7, always-on world, continuous partial attention used as our dominant attention mode contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, over-stimulation and to a sense of being unfulfilled. We are so accessible, we’re inaccessible."
Managers can help by ascribing to a more results-oriented workplace philosophy which recognizes gaps in productivity are necessary and healthy. Taking breaks shouldn't be demonized or looked down upon as a sign of weakness. In fact, managers should check in with their team members to make sure they're taking adequate time to recharge.
The measurement of an employee's performance shouldn't be based on how late into the night they check their email or how many all-nighters they're capable of pulling before they collapse. It should be judged primarily on the output of their work.
4) Don't Overlook Small Victories
A study from University of Michigan Business School found that teams performed best when managers gave six times as much positive feedback as negative feedback. When employees received significantly more positive feedback on their work, they were more likely to feel valued, respected, and motivated to improve their performance. And these factors are all key in beating burnout.
In workplaces today, managers are more likely to point out negative feedback or withhold feedback altogether than offer employees praise for their work. "Criticism is vitally important," Alexander Kjerulf, a Denmark-based workplace happiness researcher, told CNN. "We need to tell people what they do well and what they can do better, but many workplaces either give no feedback or only give criticism. This is a shame because we learn so much from being told what we get right."
Managers dealing with stressed out teams should work hard to bring attention to everyday victories, letting their employees know their work isn't going unnoticed.
5) Set a Positive Example with Your Own Behavior
Science tells us that stress can be contagious, but according to Harvard Business Review, the reverse can be true as well: "When any member of a team experiences wellbeing, the effect seems to spread across the entire team."
Managers are in a unique position to set the tone for their team's work by exemplifying positive behaviors in their own day-to-day projects and interactions. If you slave away at your computer for 12 hours a day and never take a break, your team members will see this as an example of what to strive for, and mirror your own unhealthy behaviors.
It may seem simple, but check in with yourself regularly to make sure you're leading by example. If you're feeling burnt out, chances are your team is feeling the burn as well, and it's time to implement some changes.