Build a Plan to Avoid the Burn of Workplace Burnout

By 1stFive Archives
Cover image for  article: Build a Plan to Avoid the Burn of Workplace Burnout

The blazing heat of summer calls forth a certain nostalgia; memories of swimming lessons, camping trips, and chasing ice cream trucks. With that feeling comes a certain sadness as you struggle to remember the last time you went on vacation, especially as co-workers begin to leave for their annual August getaways, while your paid time off (PTO) seems like a distant dream. And even if you do manage to break away for a long weekend, you catch yourself unintentionally checking work emails or fielding calls from clients.

As work-life "blending" becomes more commonplace than work-life balance, stereotypes of the  "lazy and entitled" millennials — along with other younger workers — are becoming outdated. It seems that, in fact, the opposite is true: According to a study conducted by Project: Time Off, half of all interviewed millennials wanted to be viewed as workaholics. After witnessing the financial crisis of 2008 and entering a rocky job market right out of college, it makes sense that younger employees want to be seen as dedicated workers with a passion for their company.

This attitude, combined with the ease of communication that technological advances bring, is a surefire recipe for workplace burnout. The situation is especially problematic in the media and advertising industry, where long hours and high pressure to meet client demands are the norm.

A Gallup survey from last year discovered that seven in 10 millennials are experiencing the insomnia, increased depression and anxiety, and reduced immunity to illnesses that come with burnout. This is a situation that needs to be remedied. Doing so will help prevent the decreased productivity and increased turnover rates that accompany the exhaustion of overworked employees.

Here are three primary causes of workplace burnout and recommended solutions for each:

More hours mean more stress.

In the media and advertising industry, workdays tend to run long to meet client needs and tackle looming deadlines. A recent survey by Digiday found a direct correlation between mental health and the amount of hours employees work every week. While 40 percent of participants working 50-59 hours a week felt concern for their mental health, only 27 percent of agency employees who work 40-49 hours felt they were at risk. For millennial perfectionists who often feel guilty for clocking out on time, working excessive hours can lead to exhaustion, decreased productivity, and, eventually, seeking out less intense work environments.

In an industry where long hours are a fact of life, it's essential to find ways for employees to unplug. That may include simple perks such as working remotely and flexible hours that can help to create a balance.

Better technology means anywhere can be a workspace.

How often do you pick up your phone upon waking to check work emails? Are you inclined to log back in to your work email or other systems after you get home for the day? An inability to disconnect from work and the rise of workplace telepressure — an urgent need to respond swiftly to emails through communication technology — have become the Achilles heels of younger employees.

For the generation born alongside computers, responding to an after-hours email on a mobile phone isn't always thought of as working. The issues arise when these after-hours exchanges leave little room for personal time or lead to obsessing over work — both of which contribute towards the strain of burnout. It's important to encourage younger employees to unplug and not answer work emails, especially if they're on holiday. Set up contingency plans that will minimize the need for additional communications while employees are out of the office. This support will help overall workplace productivity upon their return.

Salary and benefits impact mental health.

Compensation that matches one's workload can go a long way in helping to prevent unnecessary stress and workplace tensions. So, it stands to reason that entry-level salaries weigh heavily on the shoulders of junior employees. The Digiday study shows a direct correlation between mental welfare and compensation, with 41 percent of agency employees who earn less than $51,000 a year stating that they were concerned for their mental wellbeing.

This even extends into benefits such as vacation time; employees with unlimited vacation time are actually less likely to take paid time off than employees with a limited number of PTO, who would rather "use it than lose it." Unlimited vacation time can even spur a negative competitive culture where employees compete to take the least time off, leading to feelings of guilt, resentment, and exhaustion, especially among perfectionist millennial employees who don't want to feel as though they've let anyone down.

In response to these issues, some companies offer adult coloring books, meditation rooms (VaynerMedia's Hudson Yards office has one infamously nicknamed the "cry closet"), and pizza parties in place of more beneficial measures, such as taking steps to change their culture. These companies are missing the point.

If executives within the media, advertising, and agency space want to help foster a positive work environment and break the negative cycle of tired, overworked employees, change is needed. This can be as simple as reducing office hours or as complex as finding the right combination of benefits for your team.

All the company-sponsored happy hours in the world can't cure this mental health epidemic. It requires leadership to be onboard with enterprise-wide — and perhaps industry-wide — wholesale change.

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