Sun, 8 Sep, 2019
If you’re in the advertising and media industry, this topic doesn’t need any introduction. You’re familiar— all too familiar— with stress and work-related exhaustion. In this fish tank, all the fish want to be sharks and ‘work hard, play hard’ is the highest law.
Honestly, for many of us, the constant pressure of achieving the next lofty goal is the main source of motivation. High-energy performances become routine, and you end up staying at work too long, resting too little, and finding it harder to recover from your lows.
And thus, burnout is born. This is recognised by the World Health Organisation as an occupational syndrome directly linked to unmanaged workplace stress. Phew. The symptoms:
- Feeling tired, even exhausted.
- Being less productive at work.
- Negative feelings or mental distance towards your job.
â€‹These stress and burnout symptoms can happen at any time, particularly in the media and advertising industries. But, typically, it’s an end-of-year beast, waiting for us when we’re close to the finish line.
Why do Q4 stress and burnout happen?
The fourth quarter is, in these fields, quite unforgiving. With the approaching end of the financial year, achieving goals demands constant work, work nights get longer, and stress (not unexpectedly) mounts.
In Q4, there are typically more meetings going on and every client insists on you fulfilling their expectations without delay. There is an enormous amount of pressure to perform to your best standards— only now you’re not sleeping enough, you’re not getting enough personal time, and your physical habits are going downhill. It’s a recipe for disaster.
People end up being unproductive, those anxiously awaited results aren’t delivered, and companies suffer. All because of pushing employees too far or expecting them to push themselves to the limit.
But, despite what looking around at company culture may tell you, Q4 doesn’t have to mean stress and burnout. We can find a different way to do things in our industry.
How to prevent end-of-year burnout— Changing company culture
We’re not going to lie. Changing toxic productivity culture and ending burnout syndrome by yourself… is unlikely. For a real transformation to happen, the industry leaders need to work together to take care of talent. This, in turn, will turn the job market more competitive, making it more necessary to adopt burnout prevention policies.
So what are the 5 culture changes we need to bring about?
1. Review your priorities— and trim!
Maybe you’re going overboard with the final meetings. Reviewing this team’s work, setting New Year goals with the leadership, creating new strategies for the upcoming months— it can all get overwhelming pretty fast.
And it’s not all business obligations, either. The last quarter of the year tends to be chaotic in itself: holidays, family dinners, reunions… Everyone is drowning in social commitments along with company responsibilities.
The solution is simple: determine what is truly essential right now, leave the rest for the start of next year. Cramming everyone’s time with meetings and activities isn’t going to be useful if all employees are exhausted and wishing they were somewhere else. Be ruthless in trimming the extra stuff. Everyone will be better off and start off next quarter ready to be productive.
2. Start with the leadership.
No amount of verbal encouragement is enough for an employee to take good care of themselves if they see those in leadership roles pull constant all-nighters. It’s crucial to clear this up with the higher-ups: they should prioritise self-care to avoid burnout (their own as well as their team’s).
Leaders are always the ones to set the pace. So the easiest way to empower employees to, for example, stop their day’s work when they need to, is to ask leadership to do the same.
The most famous example of how this works: PepsiCo asks leaders to be loud when leaving. No, it’s not about slamming the door on their way out. It means being vocal about why they need to go home or take a break, so employees understand they have the same rights.
3. Break open the taboo topics.
On that same note, it’s important to talk about these topics. Sometimes, starting the conversation can be excruciating. After all, toxic productivity culture deifies running yourself to the ground and labels those who don’t do it as lazy. No one wants to speak up and be labelled as the Achilles heel of the team!
Again, it’s up to the team leaders to create a safe space to have that conversation. Have a meeting to discuss burnout— has anyone suffered from it before? What are the main stressors that Q4 has brought to the table?
Teach your team to recognise the signs of burnout and let them know that you value their talent and that their wellbeing is a company priority. Make it clear that they can always go to you (or to their team leader, if you’re not it) and be honest about their stress and need for time off. Keep the tone always positive and never point and blame.
4. Make space for change.
Despite what most of us would like to think regarding our mental strength, very few people can make solid decisions under extreme pressure. Employees— leadership included— should be encouraged to take time to think through their actions and talk their worries out with someone else.
Foster positive headspace: appropriate thinking time is key to minimising mistakes, poor work quality, and (yes) burnout. You might want to go the extra mile and offer employee perks such as yoga and meditation classes, productivity nap spots, and time for hobbies and personal activities.
Don’t think of these as losses— these are effective ways to increase your productivity and dividends big time.
5. Find year-round triggers.
Not all end-of-year stress has its roots in the last quarter itself. There are year-round stressors that, when this time of year comes around, add up to create a snowballing burnout mess.
The main causes of workplace stress (like too much pressure, harassment and bullying, traumatic events, or exposure to occupational violence) are not exclusive to Q4. Talk about these with your employees— and not in Q4, when they’re already burnt out. Talk about stress triggers in interviews, in onboarding, in meetings, in everyday life.
When this topic becomes approachable, you’ll have open conversations with your employees. That enables you to spot stress signs early and prevent them from escalating into burnout territory before Q4 comes around.
We can change this together
By setting new, more positive standards for productivity and creating space for honest conversations about workplace stress, we are starting to change the face of our industry. A more sustainable approach to the end-of-year phase is the key to improve our collective wellbeing, mental acumen, and creativity. All the ingredients for a successful career— together!
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