Agency professionals have some of the most stressful jobs in the world. Agencies are expected to be constantly switched on, brilliant at a moments notice and drop everything for a client. Under immense pressure to deliver, agencies’ best people are burning themselves out and workplaces are losing thousands, if not millions of dollars in wages, recruitment fees and client relationships. In this opinion piece Rachel Service, the founder of Happiness Concierge, talks about Burnout and why it cost the Australian economy $20 Billion per year.
It’s the mental health of your people that will determine the quality of the work of your agency. What you are doing to prevent your top performers from burning out?
It’s your job to create boundaries, not your employees
As leaders in agencies, it is your responsibility to create a culture which avoids burnout.
Burning and overworking symptoms aren’t always always obvious. Often, it can feel like a deep depression you can’t shake, no matter how hard you try. At its worst, it can lead to severe anxiety and depression, weight fluctuation, migraines and vomiting, development of ulcers and leaving people unable to work.
If you’re noticing team members are frequently ill, sick, in the bathroom, appear to be zoning out, working late or are lacking motivation; the warning signs are all there.
Do not confuse overworking with inefficiency. Your people are not overworking because they aren’t doing their job well. Either they don’t have enough resources, are not clear on the brief, are facing client pressures or perhaps there is an implied pressure within your walls to over-deliver.
You need to have an honest chat with them in private. Ask them why they stay late and to give you a real answer. Ask them what resources you can bring in, or challenging conversations you can champion with clients if required. Ask them what would lessen pressure they may be facing.
Then, be the grown up. Don’t ask them to ‘workshop’ the problem. Tell them precisely how you’re going to fix this.
Resource Up Before They Hit The Wall
If your people are working overtime regularly, you have a resourcing problem.
Employees who are close to or in burnout phase will seldom ask for help. This is where you step in. If you are remotely concerned about a member of a team overworking, do not hesitate to get a contractor in for a few weeks to assist. Don’t ask them: tell them you’re bringing in resources. Even if it’s just for a few days. It sends the message you will do whatever it takes.
If dealing with a top performer who looks like they’re starting to overwork, tell them to let you know before it becomes clear that they have to work overtime. And if they don’t – that’s when you step in as the leader.
Knowing there are people in the wings to help and that the whole company supports them to the job done is a huge weight of anyone’s shoulders.
There’s a reason people leave agencies after two years on average. And it’s because agencies often accept overtime as the rule.
Lack Of Constructive Feedback
Believe it or not, a major contributor to burnout is a lack of constructive, critical feedback from peers, colleagues, bosses and clients.
Studies have shown uncertainty in the workplace has more of a negative impact on employees’ health than consistently bad leadership. If your team aren’t being given constructive feedback from their peers (and you), chances are they’re running around in circles trying to figure out what they should be doing.
Overworking stems from fear. Fear of not doing a good enough job. Fear of not being sure about what is expected of you. Fear that someone you respect does not respect you or your work. Lack of clear feedback exacerbates this.
If it is the client’s inability to deliver constructive feedback; you need to have an honest conversation with them about what your team needs to deliver their project. (This will also give your client a chance to air any other feedback which they mightn’t be able to articulate to your team member for whatever reason).
If however, a team member delivers work that isn’t on brief for you, it is your duty as a leader to give constructive feedback so they can get on with doing their job.
Try these phrases:
“To be honest, this is a little off brief. Let’s figure this out.
“I must admit I had something different in mind. Let me tell you what I was thinking.”
And who doesn’t love a good compliment sandwich:
“I like the thinking here. To improve on this I would….”
“It’s a good start. I think we can do better. How about …”
Delivering constructive feedback is telling someone how to make something better. It is not about making that person feel worse about what they have done.
A successful interaction is where both parties leave feeling good about themselves. Be honest and collaborative to land on a solution – but never critical.
Rachel is presenting a seminar on avoiding burnout at work at General Assembly on April 13. http://www.happinessconcierge.com.au/events