3 Ways Agencies Can Help Their Creatives Avoid Career Burnout

Taking breaks will also help them garner new ideas

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Marketing is an industry overflowing with supremely talented, creative people. Agencies around the globe buzz every day with energy and ideas that bend the framework of what’s possible. Creative-minded people are hopeful and determined. The sharp edge of creativity is two-sided, however: Creative-minded people are also sensitive and self-destructive. Career burnout is rampant. Even suicide rates among those who work in creative fields like advertising and marketing are markedly higher than their non-creative peers.

That’s a sobering fact, one that demands our attention. How can we address the health and well-being of all our coworkers before the dominos start falling? How can we stop the creative fire from burning out of control? A good first step is finding actionable solutions to the widespread burnout that occurs in our industry.

Adapt your leadership style to match each employee

Agency leaders can reduce employee burnout by tailoring their management style to the employee and giving them a voice in decisions about their role. Often, creative marketers burn out because they lack the right support in prioritizing their work, they receive the wrong (or no) communication from the account managers, including poorly timed, imprecise or inconsistent feedback or they’re saddled with work hours that don’t mesh with their personal goals.

It’s imperative to empathize with these folks, and the foundation of empathy is understanding. Do you understand your cohorts? We must try to understand each person’s motivations, aspirations and expectations and manage accordingly. Administer personality tests and organize team activities to better understand employees and work to create flexible plans that address any needs or concerns we’ve mutually identified.

A proper work-life balance is the best formula to relieve the stress we all feel in this demanding industry.

To beat disengagement (a telltale precursor to burnout), conduct semiannual employee engagement surveys to see how employees respond to stress-reduction initiatives. Follow up with one-on-one meetings with those who turned in low scores to uncover their pain points. For example, if a not-so-important email from the boss over the weekend stresses out an employee, encourage mutual conversations about expectations to avoid misunderstandings.

Prioritize habits that simplify work

Constantly having to brainstorm new concepts, manage sluggish clients and navigate the digital media landscape can leave advertisers and marketers creatively sapped. Working long hours doesn’t help. Perhaps addressing workflow is one way to alleviate stress and fend off burnout. We might not be able to shorten the day, but we can probably make it simpler.

Keep plans basic and clearly outline a detailed and easy-to-follow schedule. Use “milestone charts,” like those visible in the project management tools Workfront and Jira Software, to maintain a bird’s-eye view of the work completed and still due. Next, guard against scope creep by ensuring that workloads remain stable and by cutting out unnecessary project elements. Protect the team’s time, energy and well-being by balancing deliverables against cost and quality and by tracking and communicating change as the project advances.

Keep it interesting by making it fun

If an office (or team) within our network is interested, for example, we facilitate officewide sessions or team outings. For instance, for a creative team, a TED Talk on origami and design techniques with a NASA laser physicist, and for data and analytics folks, a four-hour-per-week shared online training course related to their collective interests. Part of avoiding burnout and increasing retention is about creating an environment that people feel they can flourish in and that they also simply enjoy.

There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all solution, but one thing that seems to work is creating relationships and building rapport with talent in all departments and at all levels. Stop the presses: Communication is key. I never want to be seen as “inaccessible” at my company, nor do I want the leadership team to be positioned as such. With your direct reports, try to have check-ins and conversations that are straightforward, transparent and frequent. Really listen, especially to details about life at home. That way, you can help them find ways to disconnect and recharge.

A proper work-life balance is the best formula to relieve the stress we all feel in this demanding industry. Easier said than done, I know, but with flexible management, simple guidelines and workplace camaraderie, we can help our teammates, creative and otherwise, avoid burnout and allow them to burn bright.