An Agency Director's Guide to Preventing Team Burnout

The national unemployment rate is down 50% since 2012, yet employees are still overworked and stressed. How can that be if there are more people to share the workload and how can management and leadership help combat the inevitable burnout? And as an agency director, or manager of any kind, is it possible to manage, grow, and retain talent when there’s the hovering possibility of work-halting dissatisfaction?

To find solutions, you have to know the cause. Reasons people feel burned out can range from anything to feeling over-worked, undervalued, isolated, not challenged, uninspired, and more.

Ashley Dennison, a former agency director who has led multiple teams over her 10-year communications career and now runs her own consulting business, PR Pinch Hitter, says it shouldn’t be hard for observant managers to spot someone who’s burning out.

“If a normally cheerful and talkative team member stops greeting his or her cube mates when she arrives in the morning or stops stepping out to grab lunch with colleagues -- she may be quietly burning out. Or if a normally productivity and results-focused employee is spotted slumped in his chair, texting or playing games on his iPhone -- that's an indicator that something is amiss and worth checking up on.”

With so many sources for burnout, for an agency director, or anyone responsible for teams, it can sound like your full-time job is making sure everyone is happy and productive. But it’s much simpler than that to help build a workplace employees like coming to.

Take a Look at Your Organization

As companies work quickly to grow and hit goals, they can often fall into bad habits that affect the entire staff. Turnover, unhappy employees, and slowed productivity are all warning signs that changes need to be made. Eric Garton, coauthor of Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power said in his Harvard Business Review article that when he and his research team studied companies with high burnout rates, the three common culprits were excessive collaboration, weak time management disciplines, and a tendency to overload the most capable with too much work.

Knowing this, take a look at the impact you can have in your organization or what you can do to improve the everyday for your team. If you’re able to smooth out the basics for your employees, the other suggestions in this article should be bonuses.

[Tweet "Excessive collaboration, weak time management, and simply too much work cause agency marketers to burn out. via @adstage"]

Provide Enrichment Opportunities

No, it doesn’t mean blowing a bunch of the department’s money on goof around offsite excursions. Though outside of the office trips can do wonders for morale, there’s a lot you can do within the office that can provide a bump for spirits and keep employees engaged.

  • Hold lunch and learns where team members can present activities they’re experts in, like how to write in calligraphy, how to always be at inbox zero, or how to win at poker. Though not always directly related to day-to-day business, these types of meetups get employees talking and interacting in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily do in a work day.
  • Invite external experts in for interactive talks and presentations. This approach is more likely to support the company’s daily activities, but provides a nice breakout opportunity for employees to extend their knowledge and get away from their desks for awhile.

Get Out of the Routine

Work should never feel monotonous. But it will if the team is coming in and performing the same tasks day in and day out. What better way to kill motivation than to simply be going through the motions 8+ hours per day.

  • Where possible, mix up teams after a big project concludes. It’ll give everyone an opportunity to work with different personalities and hear new ideas and techniques.
  • Consider taking on a pro-bono project and let team members play outside their normal roles. Let the social media manager design some of the work, let your accounts lead try his hand at copywriting.
  • As Eric Garton mentions, instead of stretching your star team members across multiple projects, put them all together on a particularly tricky project.

encourage people to be creative outside of work [how to prevent team burnout]

Encourage Side Projects

No matter who you are and how much you say you love your job, it’s impossible to come to the office five days a week and do nothing but perform the exact functions of your role. Humans need creative, extracurricular stimulation. Allowing staff to participate in a passion project for part of their day or week will go so far in amping up dedication and productivity when it comes to getting back to “real work.”

  • Though some say Google’s 20% time policy, which allowed employees to spend that amount of time on side projects, is dead, the original idea remains. Encourage employees to form their own teams to work on what interests them.
  • Some companies dedicate a whole sprint week to these efforts, culminating in presentations to the rest of the company.
  • Surface some of the company’s challenges at a starting point to keep employees thinking about ways they can flex their creative muscle but still impact the organization. Maybe it’s testing out a new technology that could later be applied to help a client’s business.
  • You never know when an inspired employee could come up with the next product iteration. Crew, a freelance-for-hire marketplace credits side projects with helping them save their business when they inadvertently created a stock photo site while building their main business’s home page.

Make the Office Fun and Flexible

Before you start building a gourmet cafeteria and mapping out where to put the indoor fire pit a la Google, keep in mind Bagel Tuesdays can offer a big boost in morale and not sink the company’s budget.

  • Consider allowing occasional work from home days to give employees more flexibility while maintaining productivity. A 2016 survey cited in this Forbes article found American workers felt they’re more productive, more satisfied with their jobs, and happier overall when working remotely. You don’t have to allow employees to work from home every day to get the benefit. Mostly, employees just want to feel they have some flexibility and say in how their schedule looks Monday to Friday.
  • Plan simple surprises. Get fresh baked cookies delivered on a Thursday afternoon and invite everyone to take a milk and cookies break.
  • Sync up with a charity and invite employees to take a break during the day to participate. Girls Love Mail facilitates hand-written letters to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

Make Everyone’s Lives Easier

There’s the manager who makes every day hard, and then there’s the manager who understands (and cares about) supporting and encouraging his or her team to do the best work. Be the latter! All of the below are great ways to show staff you value and appreciate them and their time.

  • Whether it’s introducing a new tool to make pulling PPC reports a breeze, or finding the budget to hire a new job function to take that task off everyone’s plates, a great manager is always looking for ways to increase productivity while lightening workloads.
  • Think of little ways you can improve touch situations, like getting lunch or dinner catered when the team is heads down on a big project.
  • Work with HR to find partners to provide discounted laundry/cleaning services, entertainment, tickets, etc.

an performance agency director's guide to preventing team burnout

Check in and Listen

Sometimes (actually, oftentimes), employees just want to be heard. A little attention from senior management can go a long way in making employees feel valued and engaged. When meeting with staff, do your best to make them feel comfortable so they can open up about their satisfaction and needs. Let them know this is the right time to flag if their workload is too much, too little, too beginner, they don’t have access to the right tools, etc.

  • Schedule one-on-ones with the appropriate staff members, letting them know what the time is for. The last thing you want is people running around nervous they’re getting called to the boss’s office.
  • Ashley Dennison, the communications professional, says, “In the past, I've made off-campus vent sessions mandatory for my teams. After many days or weeks of nonstop production and activity, team members need to let their hair down in a safe space. Setting a "meeting" to take off at 4:00 p.m. for margaritas, chips, and guac with a small group of like-minded team members can work wonders to hit the refresh button.”
  • On a collective level, poll employees to see what perks or benefits they might enjoy. While you might be thinking they’ll ask for the moon, maybe what they’d love is to be able to knock off an hour early for Summer Fridays.

Give Feedback Often

Feedback may have a negative connotation, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. If someone doesn’t know what’s expected of them or is unclear on what they should be doing for their position, it can quickly lead to burnout. Opening up a direct line of communication is a great way to build employee engagement both when times are great, and when they become more challenging.

  • Employees want to hear when they’re doing a good job, but they also want to hear how they can get better (at least the ones worth keeping around do!). The Balance has some great tips on giving feedback to help employees improve.
  • When appropriate, call out great work in a public forum. It’s great to feel like an asset to the company, but it’s awesome to be able to show your colleagues your impact without bragging on your own.
  • The Office of Personnel Management mentions specificity, timeliness, and manner as the most important elements of effective feedback. If you’re already meeting with staff members on a regular basis as suggested above, you’re in a great position to knock out at least ⅔ of those.

Wrap Up

It’s easy to fall into the overworked, non-unified rut that leads to burnout, but it can be just as easy to right the ship, too. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to make every change listed above. Start with what feels like it matters most and adjust from there. You can even enlist the help of employees to carry out some of the above. No doubt there’s someone on the team who would love to facilitate guest speakers or make sure there are fresh bagels on the cafeteria table every Tuesday morning.

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AdStage Team