“I was working 18 hour days.” “I wanted to close down the agency.” “I ended up heading to Panama.”
These are just some of the comments we received in our recent agency expert roundup on the topic of burnout.
We were expecting the conversation to strike a chord with those at the top of their agency game, but what we didn’t realize is just how real burnout is – and how painfully it is being felt across all sectors and job roles in the industry.
Our roundup included questions on personal experiences with burnout, the potential impact of economic conditions, the types of agencies that may be more vulnerable, and what leaders are doing to prevent it.
The results offer a fascinating view into the current mindset of agency leaders – their hopes, their fears, and everything in between – and how they are adapting to the ever-present and evolving threat of burnout.
Before you dive into the full article, here are the five headlines we took away from it.
A problem not shared is a problem doubled
“I got to the point where I had a job interview and I wanted to close down the agency.” ~ Jason Swenk, Agency Mastery 360
While our experts agree that burnout can affect nearly anyone working in an agency environment, the responses suggest owners and leadership are carrying the biggest burden of stress and anxiety at work.
For agency owners in particular, the passion they have for their businesses has the potential to tip them over the edge – with many reporting working long hours and spinning too many plates at the same time.
With the seemingly endless pressure to maintain profitability and keep staff and clients happy, it’s perhaps not surprising that leaders feel this way. But as we’ll go on to explain, sometimes it’s better to talk about burnout with your peers, and recognize the signs before they get out of control.
Burnout means different things to different people
If you Google “common signs of burnout”, a whole bunch of phrases come up. From feeling tired and drained, to having self-doubt and feeling overwhelmed, the list of physical and emotional signs of burnout is long and (in some cases) convoluted.
With so many factors involved in determining whether someone is experiencing burnout (or not), it can sometimes be difficult to pin down exactly what it is, how it feels, and what you can do about it.
With this in mind, it’s interesting to see the differences in how our experts define and perceive burnout within their own daily lives. For some, it’s about being “exhausted” and “stressed”, while others talk about “work overload” and constantly feeling the need to “prove themselves.”
The reality is that burnout comes in all shapes and sizes, and affects people in different ways. What’s important is that workplaces have a plan in place to spot the signs of chronic stress (whatever they may be), and provide support where needed.
Things could get worse before they get better
“With tighter budgets comes the need to do more work with fewer hands. Agencies all over the place are running on leaner budgets than they did 12 months ago.” ~ Trevor Longino, CrowdTamers
Perhaps the biggest finding from our survey was that nearly nine out of every 10 agency owners (85%) believe burnout will get worse as a result of the current economic climate.
With downward pressure on client budgets and the need to prove ROI at an all time high, agencies everywhere are having to do more with less. We saw this during the 2008 financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, and we’re seeing it again – although perhaps not quite to the same extent.
Either way, a lot of agencies are facing a challenging time financially, and it’s only natural for this uncertainty to spill over and cause unwanted stress and anxiety for employees. It’s clear from our responses that agency leaders are concerned about the future and the impact it could have on staff burnout.
Also, with AI being such a hot topic right now, it was predictable that it would feature in our roundup. A few of our leaders talked about the risks associated with the move towards automation – both in terms of replacing their work, and the agency world becoming so data-driven that creative people could leave the industry for good.
No agency is immune from the threat of burnout
We also asked our panel about whether certain types of agencies are more vulnerable to burnout than others. While everyone has a view on this based on their own personal experiences, it’s clear from our responses that every agency type can be vulnerable under certain conditions.
Let’s take small and large agencies as an example. While smaller agencies might be more prone to burnout due to a lack of “structure to delegate and compartmentalize”, larger agencies can also suffer as a result of “more seniority leading to intense financial stress.”
Agencies in high-pressure industries like advertising and public relations are also perceived to have a higher risk of burnout. Similarly, creative agencies that have more subjective opinions potentially face a greater risk of rejection and endless approval processes – which can weigh heavily on teams’ stress levels.
Even digital and social agencies aren’t immune from the threat of burnout. The 24/7 nature of the work makes it difficult for employees to switch off – particularly in a world where professional and home lives are so intertwined.
Burnout is real, but it’s preventable (if you take the right steps)
Every agency owner has their own story to tell, but one commonality is the acknowledgement that burnout is preventable.
For our final question, we asked leaders to share their own advice for managing and preventing burnout. Below is a summary of some of the tips they shared:
Take the time to know each employee and what they care about, and make sure they have the space to develop their own career interests alongside the needs of the business.
Offer services that people can speak to outside of your HR department, such as coaching and counseling.
Keep a keen eye on team capacity to make sure no one is being over or under utilized.
Automate admin tasks to take the pressure off employees and give them more space to work on things they love.
Provide employees with 100% clarity at every opportunity and job level – be it their job duties, performance, daily tasks or the week’s priorities. Confusion always leads to stress.
Get more insights into burnout from agency leaders
Working in an agency can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster. One minute you’re flying high off the back of a pitch win, the next you’re having stressful conversations with clients about deadlines and deliverables.
When combined with uncertainty around the economy and job security, it’s completely understandable that many agency owners and employees are experiencing symptoms associated with burnout.
Thankfully, there are ways of recognizing the signs and taking action before things go too far.