“You have no excuse not to be able to work”: agency employees grapple with burnout

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It’s been a tough few weeks for an account manager at a creative agency. The person, who requested anonymity, said she has been working every weekend since the mandatory shutdowns began.

It’s starting to happen to them.

“Work and life start to mix and it gets unhealthy,” the account manager said. “The demand is suddenly higher because you have no excuse not to be able to work. My father is a doctor and I find myself on more guard than him during a pandemic, which is unheard of. “

As agencies and brands adjust to the new reality of working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic, a familiar problem begins to crop up again: burnout. With many agencies – like other companies – almost four weeks after starting remote work due to lockdowns across the country, agency workers say they are starting to feel exhausted due to the mentality. current “still active” agencies.

Of course, burnout is not just the result of the “always on” mentality. As it reached new heights during the pandemic, employees adapting to work from home, working longer hours, feeling the need to respond every time they get a message, and having to jump on Zoom calls if Often times they spend more time in front of their screens than ever before, these aren’t the only issues employees face.

And they don’t exist in a vacuum. Employees worry for the safety of their families and friends as well as their own safety during the pandemic. But with little else to do, some rely on the job to help them feel a sense of control amidst future strangers. And it doesn’t work so well. In addition, there is more work than ever before as customer demand changes, marketing spins in a hurry and the fear of losing customers is very present.

The account manager isn’t the only one who feels the need to be responsive at all times. Agency employees across a multitude of roles – agency managers, media buyers, copywriters, art directors, account managers, even consultants – report working more hours to help clients reshape their business. marketing due to the pandemic.

“It’s like having to be constantly available,” a copywriter told Digiday, adding that communicating through messaging apps like Microsoft Teams or Slack can make the problem worse, appearing to respond immediately every time. have someone send you a message.

The feeling of needing to be “always active” doesn’t necessarily come from agency leadership, according to employees who say leadership reiterated in city halls for employees to take time for themselves. The problem is that “there are teams that do not follow that”, specifies the account manager.

Although burnout is not a new issue for agency workers – according to a Digiday + study, 32% of agency workers worry about their mental health – the need to be in constant contact and to work extended hours to meet the needs of clients mixed with the uncertainty of what to bring has led to increased stress and anxiety for some. “Not knowing when this is going to end is very difficult,” said the editor. “That and the demand to deliver as much if not more than we normally would is difficult. There is a lot of pressure. And there is no way out.

Another new issue for employees facing burnout is the threat of being put on leave or fired due to shrinking customer budgets as marketers keep spending under control to manage the fallout from the pandemic. According to Digiday + research, 73% of ad buyers have clients who have suspended spending, which will likely hurt agency results and lead to more time off or layoffs. However, employees say they are less likely to cite burnout as a problem. “The difference now is that I feel helpless and fear that if I tell my boss about my burnout, I will lose my job,” the account manager said.

This fear associated with customers working harder has led employees to feel the need to continue working after hours and on weekends. “I had several calls over the weekend,” said Dan Fietsam, founder of consulting firm Lotus Coterie. “It didn’t happen before the crisis. My clients have changed their work habits, so I had to adapt to them.

Agency employees and executives say part of the problem is that, without being able to leave home or do anything else, clients and employees are turning to work for a sense of control in a time full of stress. unknown. “It’s one way to deal with the lack of control over this thing,” Fietsam said. “Everyone feels like they don’t know what’s going to happen, how long it’s going to last and have never experienced this before. What can I do? Job.”

Charlene Coughlin, Managing Director of Twist Creative, agreed. “There’s not much more people can do right now,” Coughlin said, adding that she hasn’t been asked to work more, but that she is currently working weekends and nights because ‘there’s not much else she can do. “It’s not like you can go to a happy hour or a restaurant or leisurely shopping at Target. So, some people are looking for something to occupy their time with which they feel good. But it is very easy to be very consumed very quickly.

While not all agency workers currently feel exhausted, the possibility of burnout is a priority as employees navigate working remotely, working longer hours, and in the uncertainty of the weeks ahead. Agency executives say they go to great lengths to reiterate to employees that they should take time for themselves to avoid burnout.

“Without control, the intensity of work will break our customers and our employees – we have to show leadership on the issue of mental health and live it through our own behaviors,” said Amanda Richman, CEO of Wavemaker, adding that the store has push people to find a balance. “[We’re] stimulating work methods, focusing on results versus tasks, developing a team communication charter and setting limits in our time. Leaders must create space for our people to face the crisis on the outside. ”

“Agencies need to put the mental well-being of their teams at the forefront, providing access to consulting services and other resources,” said Greg Stern, Founder and Co-Chair of BSSP and Chairman of the Board of administration of 4A. “To avoid burnout, we need to structure the day to avoid a wait for 24/7 accessibility. Limiting meetings and calls, offering a ‘no-meeting’ lunch hour, for example, maintaining virtual human contact outside of work-related calls will help maintain the culture and pay special attention to those who may be alone at work. the House.

Some agencies go to great lengths to not only tell employees they can log off, but also give them more resources to deal with stress. At Twist Creative, Coughlin and the agency’s management encourage employees to take half days, use teletherapy, meditate, or take virtual yoga classes to help manage stress. At The Many, the agency gave employees two additional personal days to give them more time to disconnect and deal with their own needs during this unprecedented time.

“Agency leaders need to remember that at some point we’re back in the office and you don’t want to come back with employees who are exhausted or who are no longer passionate about the job or the clients,” Coughlin said. . “It will only increase the turnover or the turnover of the customers. Just because people are at home doesn’t mean people can be there all the time.


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