Spotting and stopping employee burnout…

Image for Kate Bastable By Kate Bastable

As anyone who’s ever worked in an agency knows, it’s a busy life. Deadlines are demanding, time is pressing and there often isn’t much breathing space in between jobs. While this can create a vibrant, thriving work environment, it’s important to spot the difference between buzzing and burnout.

Small amounts of stress are fine. They’re to be expected and in general we can manage them, even thrive on them, at work. But when stress becomes prolonged and difficult to cope with, employees can start to suffer with burnout. Quite frankly, this is horrible all round. They’ll end up taking time off sick, you’ll lose productivity and it’s just an unhappy situation.

There are ways, however, to spot and stop burnout in its tracks.

According to NABS, the advertising industry’s wellbeing charity, 70% of our industry feels more needs to be done about mental wellness, and 35% still don’t feel they can talk about mental wellness. But sharing, talking and connecting can all help to relieve stress and improve our wellbeing at work.

Set out your expectations

While one basic thing you can do is check people’s timesheets, you probably won’t get the full picture here. For a start, not everyone puts everything down straight away. And remember, what’s burnout for one might just be a good day for another.

But what you can do is talk about expectations. Thankfully, there has been a huge culture shift in agencies. Not so long ago, it was frowned upon to leave on time, let alone early. Today, there’s more focus on productivity in the right way. Tell your team what’s within their remit… and what isn’t.

For example, have you noticed team members sending or replying to emails very late at night? One downside of technology is being constantly available and if you work with global clients emails might come through at all hours. But you can make it clear to your employees they don’t have to reply to work emails outside of working hours.

Make sure everyone is taking regular breaks and lunches, away from their desks. Have you got spaces they can sit and chat, or take some time out?

You could even create a policy, setting out expectations. Yes there will be busy times when you have big projects and pitches etc. But you can highlight ‘here’s what falls within what’s reasonable, and here’s what’s not’.

For example, you could say nobody has to do back-to-back meetings, or they can take a break in between every project. Most agencies have lots of clients and creatives can finish one job and move straight onto the next. This can create mental overload, so even just a walk or a cup of tea can help them shift their headspace.

Check in occasionally

Ultimately, you want your people to be productive within the hours you’re paying them for. If you do notice a drop in productivity, it could be a symptom of burnout.

It’s fine to check in and ask if they’re okay, if there’s anything you can do – but make sure you do this sensitively and keep any conversations confidential.

Think about the little things

Think about ways you can encourage your teams to down tools at the right time. Can you set up wellbeing walks or team away days, things to get them away from their desks and technology and get them out in the fresh air?

Don’t do things for show

Lots of agencies have things like table football or a dartboard, often just there to impress clients. But how many times do we use these things? If you’re going to set up fun ideas and activities, make sure you’re encouraging your teams to use them.

Look forward, not back

Many agency owners are from older generations, when flogging yourself was seen as the only way to be seen as hardworking. Remember, we’re in a work-smarter era now. You can still expect the best out of your teams, but putting in silly hours isn’t the way for them to show this. Output and productivity are the demonstrators of a good worker, not a timesheet that runs into the small hours.

Getting the buzz-burnout balance right can sometimes be tricky. Most people working in an agency expect to be busy. In fact, many really enjoy the varied nature of the work and the fast-paced atmosphere. But if someone is starting to feel overwhelmed or overloaded, it can really dampen down morale, especially if it continues over a long period of time. Making sure you set out your reasonable expectations, are approachable and open to confidential conversations, and give your teams the tools and space for breaks and downtime, can help to keep burnout in the bin.

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