5 Ways to Keep Employees From Burning Out During the Pandemic

Marketing leaders share tips on helping their co-workers cope

Agencies are limiting Zoom calls, surprising employees with food deliveries and sponsoring yoga sessions to keep employees from burning out while working remotely. Getty Images
Headshot of Mónica Marie Zorrilla

As part of Adweek’s First Things First newsletter (sign up here), we’ve been soliciting tips from our readers on a variety of topics about your careers and workplaces.

Cultivating commitment by providing enrichment opportunities, advocating self-care and acknowledging reality, can help keep employees motivated as they accept and adjust to their new professional and personal routines at home. We surveyed more than 75 top brand marketers, agency leaders and advertising experts from Deutsch NY, TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, MightyHive and more on what they’re doing to ensure their colleagues don’t burn out.

Be transparent and realistic

It’s difficult to stay positive when you can’t escape the continuous wave of bad news on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook—notifications of industry friends and past colleagues struggling through layoffs or furloughs can dampen the mood and overwhelm employees with stress.

“In this time of uncertainty, the most important thing I can provide to my employees is transparency,” Val DiFebo, CEO, Deutsch NY said. “No one should have to question where he or she stands in the company or where the company is headed—they should be told.” DiFebo has been addressing hard hitting questions during Deutsch NY’s morning huddles and sending a note every Friday to the agency. “When employees aren’t worried that they’re being kept in the dark, they feel more secure in their roles, understand the status of the company, and can focus their attention on their health, their families, and their work,” DiFebo added.

Transparency can also come in the form of educating employees about the ever-evolving coronavirus situation with reliable information, as Karin Wester, chief human resource officer at film company B-Reel does. “I try to be a role model and take care of myself and my own well-being. I try to stay informed, reading up on official government resources in order to be able to answer questions from employees and separate facts from fake news.”

"When employees aren’t worried that they’re being kept in the dark...they can focus their attention on their health, their families, and their work."
Val DiFebo, CEO, Deutsch NY

Celebrate every win

San Francisco-based creative agency Cutwater isn’t just highlighting employee and client successes that happen internally, according to president and principal Christian Hughes, it’s also recognizing “the sweet moments of life.”

“One of our copywriter’s had an article published in a very prestigious web journal. And we celebrated when two of our team members became first time parents and another got engaged!” Hughes said. “The team takes pleasure in celebrating—while it’s different, it can still be good.”

According to head of people and culture Lisa Cobley, her branding agency Ragged Edge takes a similar approach to commending wins, big or small. “It’s always appreciated, but now it’s more important than ever,” she said. “E-cards, videos, flowers and surprise gift deliveries have all been creative ways we’ve said well done and shown that we care.”

Other companies like Atlanta-based agency Bark Bark and media consultancy MightyHive have surprised employees with food deliveries, care packages and boozy baskets as an expression of gratitude for their flexibility and continued dedication. OH Partners has begun to add comp days and additional PTO, as well as moving up “summer Friday” schedules by a full month, rewarding their efforts with a much-needed breather.


Many leaders emphasized the importance of checking in on employees who may not have as many “quarantine privileges.” These luxuries range from being quarantined with loved ones or roommates, not having to home-school children, not having someone dear in the hospital ill with the coronavirus and having ample space or amenities to make use of.

“Any sense of novelty has now worn off, and people who live alone, or don’t have gardens or balconies are suffering in particular,” said Rob Coke, founder and client director of Studio Output. “It’s important to remember that and empathize with members of the team in more challenging situations.”

Another way that companies are showing empathy is by leading with trust. For example, according to Garrison Gibbons, head of people at Knotch, the content intelligence platform is striving to not over-police by trusting the work will get done.

"Any sense of novelty has now worn off, and people who live alone, or don’t have gardens or balconies are suffering in particular. It’s important to remember that and empathize with members of the team in more challenging situations."
Rob Coke, founder, Studio Output

Promote physical and mental well-being

Across the industry, agencies are crafting special internal experiences that can be enjoyed virtually. Havas Media organized a streamed performance from UMG recording artists; Clickagy has “beer-o-clock;” BSSP spins a wheel of (doughnut) fortune to banish Monday morning blues; Chemistry held a digital Master’s Tournament; LRW Group plays Scattergories and bingo; The VIA Agency hosts “Zoomba” classes.

All of these enrichment activities feed the soul, but what about making sure your employees are nourishing themselves, sleeping for an adequate amount of time or seeking mental health counseling?

Madwell’s director of people and culture, Michelle Miller, told us that her company gives memberships to Talkspace and 24/7 phone access to a licensed therapist through its Employee Assistance Program. Los Angeles-based communications agency Team One has bought virtual yoga classes for the whole company and has made MasterClass courses fully reimbursable.

Set boundaries

To remedy the endless parade of video calls, Tom Denari, president of Indianapolis-based Young & Laramore, said the agency established “Quiet Tuesday Mornings,” so that people can count on a block of time to get work done without worrying about meetings, calls or even texts. The creative agency even made the lunch hour off limits, too, to ensure employees take a midday break.

Erin Riley, president, TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, has noticed the same video call burnout has “people feeling overwhelmed and fatigued—there just is no time to unplug.” The agency has been encouraging employees to set boundaries without fear of judgement, to speak up if they need a more flexible work schedule, and has even suggested company wide no-call zones throughout he day.

@monicroqueta monica.zorrilla@adweek.com Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.