How to stop overworking your agency

Working long hours—sometimes during the weekends—seems to be the norm for many advertising and marketing agencies. Only 11 percent of marketers do not exceed their contracted work hours , according to a survey from Marketing Week. Almost 40 percent of respondents claim that they work at least 5 additional hours per week, and 12 percent report working more than 10 extra hours. For senior level positions, these numbers tend to go higher.

Though maximizing your employee output appears to make sense from a business standpoint, it’s possible to go overboard. Besides, maximizing performance or productivity doesn’t necessarily mean mandating longer work hours. On the contrary, this approach can take its toll not just on the employees themselves, but also your agency.

 

How overwork is hurting your agency

In the worst cases, some employees are literally worked to death. In 2013, a copywriter for Young & Rubicam died after working for 30 hours straight. That same year, an Ogilvy & Mather employee died from a heart attack after working until 11:00 P.M. for a whole month. When stories like these are reported in industry blogs and news sites, it calls attention to advertising’s overwork problem.

But even in less extreme cases, chronic overwork can cause long term problems for both the employees and the agency. For employees, it can lead to lack of sleep, which damages the brain’s ability to learn and consolidate memories. Working long hours may lead to other health problems, such as heart disease, and bad habits like heavy drinking.

Even if workers are given extra compensation for overtime, this doesn’t undo its negative effects. A study from Penn State University showed that people who work overtime experience greater stress and fatigue which aren’t offset by the additional income. In fact, according to the study, the solution isn’t to reward overtime, but to minimize making it mandatory.

As for agencies, the risk associated with the effects of overwork can be more expensive in the long run compared to any possible productivity gains. Healthy employees take fewer sick days and file fewer worker’s compensation claims. In general, healthy employees cost less than unhealthy ones.

Given all the problems that result from an overwork culture and the possible gains of keeping employees healthy and happy, agencies should try an alternative approach to maximize their investment in employees. Instead of getting your staff to work more, encourage better work by putting their health first.

 

The best agencies prevent overwork

Just because overworking is the norm for the industry, it doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to thrive. In fact, many award-winning agencies put the health and wellness of their employees first. Here’s how they do it:

 

More time off

Rather than stick with the conventional two weeks of vacation time, some agencies have gone the extra mile. Red Ventures, a marketing company from North Carolina, offers untracked vacation time, as well as company trips to the Caribbean or Mexico. Some agencies, such as Argonaut, even offer unlimited paid vacation time.

Though it sounds like these programs are encouraging employees to slack off, most employees ultimately don’t change their time off that much. These less structured policies attract talent, make international employees feel more at ease when taking trips back home, and give employees more room to explore their creative influences.

The “unlimited” approach doesn’t work for all agencies, however. It requires careful planning and clarifying expectations with employees, ensuring that they are aware of the requirements they need to meet to perform their jobs well. Increasing annual vacation time to three to four weeks would be an easier way to start offering more time off without the logistical problems that come with suddenly offering unlimited vacation days.

 

Flexible work arrangements

Apart from offering more time off, give employees more control of how and when they work. Sparks, an agency based in Philadelphia, offers flexible work hours to employees and work-from-home privileges for employees with children.

This approach makes sense if you want your staff to perform at their best. According to research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, control over scheduling could reduce the negative impacts of workload on fatigue and performance.

 

Health and wellness programs

From providing yoga and meditation classes to providing fresh food to expanding health benefits packages, more agencies are offering health and wellness programs as part of their company perks.

In one example, Figliulo & Partners in New York has a program called “Fitcoin”, which gives employees a $1,500 budget to spend on health and wellness. In another example, Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, doesn’t just specialize in advertising for health and wellness brands, they take care of their employees by providing them with health coaching. Perhaps these programs have helped both companies land on Ad Age’s 2015 list of Best Places to Work.

 

Foster a culture against overwork

Earlier this year, advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy London experimented with cutting back on agency overwork. Among the new policies they tested: minimizing meetings too early or late in the day, eliminating work-related emails after 7 p.m., and not expecting staff to exceed 40 hours per week.

The idea behind these trials is to attract and retain talent, which is already challenging for ad agencies. According to Wieden + Kennedy London Executive Creative Director Iain Tait, there was already a “big impact” on his personal experience a mere two weeks after the initial trial. He no longer felt perpetually connected to the office, “in a state of permanent amber-alert.”

 

Do better, not more

Now that many agencies are experimenting with flexible work hours, longer vacation times, and giving their employees more control, the old model of squeezing as much work as possible from each employee seems both cruel and ineffective. When more agencies understand that getting better work out of their employees means letting them have ample rest and recreation, perhaps more top talent will be attracted to working in advertising.

Celine Roque
Post by Celine Roque

Celine Roque is an independent author and marketer focused on entrepreneurship, marketing, and creative work. Her writing has appeared in Gigaom and The Content Strategist.

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