You’re living the dream. You work for yourself. You make the money and you’ve cut out the middleman. You have your first clients. You’ve made your first hire. Profits are rolling in, and your staff is working diligently. Your dreams have come true and you can proudly call yourself the CEO of a strong, young agency.
Fast forward six months. Your agency has expanded and you’ve made some serious gains. You’ve been promoting your business, and the leads are rolling in. You’ve been featured in the local newspaper, had podcast interviews, hired more staff, and upgraded your office space. On paper things are looking really good as you pop a bottle of bubbly for your six month anniversary. But all is not well in paradise.
You hate going to work. Everybody around you annoys you and the job you’re doing is monotonous and pointless. You’re tired all the time and find it impossible to concentrate on your work. Sometimes your head hurts, sometimes you’re not hungry at all, and you’re not sleeping well when you get home. You notice that your co-workers aren’t getting along with one another the way they used to, and your agency is suffering. Simply enough, you’re all burning out.
Don’t let those get the better of you. There are ways to turn the ship around.
Relax, your ship isn’t sinking. There’s no need to run for the lifeboats and abandon ship. Use the opportunity to take a big step back and ask why you’re running into the problems you’re experiencing. You’re not alone when running an agency. You have a whole team for a reason. Sit down with your leadership team – maybe even your whole staff – to talk about how everybody’s feeling and why you’re feeling what you’re feeling.
Don’t work all weekend to try and get something done just because there’s a close deadline. That will ultimately hinder more than help your team as a collective and it won’t do you any favours. Your boss won’t need a hero, just someone who‘s consistent and dependable. Spending a whole weekend to work on that project doesn’t always help everyone.
It’s better to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture. Agencies are like an analogue clock – they have lots of moving parts and cogs that fit with other pieces. Each has a specific role that works in tandem with the rest. If one part is too big, too small, or not there the whole thing becomes difficult. Take a step back and observe the bigger picture. A study from the University of Illinois gave six recommendations on how to mitigate burnout and stress:
- Talk less and listen more;
- Give clear expectations;
- Have more informal interaction with staff;
- Assign tasks to staff based on skills rather than office politics;
- Give more rights to staff; (e.g., give staff more opportunities to make a decision for certain tasks) and
- Respect people with greater expertise. You’re not expected to have all of the answers.
Don’t make a habit of overtime
It’s one thing to be the first one in and the last one out. It’s another thing to take that to extremes and start working before the building even opens. Working overtime once or twice isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps you missed out on some work or a project is taking just a bit longer than you thought. But working overtime every single day and taking little to no time for yourself will come back to bite you.
Making a habit of overtime will actually make you less productive in the long run. Missing out on sleep and working outside of normal working hours has detrimental effects on your health. There’s a correlation between mental health and the number of hours agency professionals are working per week – a survey from Digiday noted that 40 percent of people who work between 50-59 hours a week said they were worried about their mental health, compared to 27% of those surveyed who work between 40-49 hours a week who said they were worried.
Alienation from your work and your colleagues will be a result of continued overtime. If you keep focusing your efforts on overtime you’ll distance yourself from your colleagues in the office and may unwittingly contribute to morale problems. Simply enough, coming to work tired from all the overtime work you’ve done won’t show that you’re a team player.
Overtime can also damage your personal health. Agencies are increasingly aware of the effects that technology can have on your personal life; agencies like Anagram have policies that prohibit employees from emailing or using Slack in the evenings and on weekends.
Use your overhead time wisely
Overhead time is the time you don’t bill. It can be general administration, water cooler conversations, meetings, or vacations. It’s all of the little things that add up throughout the day that make up office life. The reality is sometimes you’ll end up wasting your time away scrolling through Facebook or flipping through Instagram, reducing your productivity and your utilization.
Invest in training as an agency. A commitment to lifelong learning is a trait that employers find valuable, and learning as an agency can be beneficial as a team building exercise. Whether it’s honing your skills at a graphic design workshop, networking with other professionals established in their field, or even team building activities, training takes a lot of forms.
Recharging is equally important to using your overhead time productively. Exercise has consistently proven to be some of the best medicine available, with even a short walk around the block helping make you feel better and more productive. Some businesses subsidize gym memberships or help run yoga classes to encourage the healthy body healthy mind mentality. According to a Harvard study, if your employees are feeling physically healthy they’re far more likely to contribute productively.
Remember to have fun
In the midst of the hustle this can often be lost but it’s the most important aspect of the agency. When you and your employees stop having fun the burnout will set in with force and you’ll grow to resent the work you do.
Make your workplace somewhere you want to be. Maybe it requires a small change in how you frame your day. Instead of viewing work as a burden or an item to be checked off a to-do list, tell yourself that you get to go to work today. Try talking to your co-workers and learning more about them. Connecting on a personal level can make it a more enjoyable environment to work in and improve the whole mood of the team.
Sometimes that fun means getting out of the office. Accounting firm Ernst & Young did a study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.
Celebrate the little things. Often we get so wrapped up in the chase for the big picture that we forget to take stock of how far we’ve come.
You’ve invested so much time into getting your agency off the ground that to see it fall apart would break your heart. If you can avoid burnout by remembering to check in with yourself and understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing, you might be able to turn your good agency into a great agency.