Some advertising agencies are responding to pandemic-related burnout that is straining employees and leading some to quit an industry already known for long hours.
Insider recently spoke to ad agency employees who described working long hours as clients demand faster response times and shorter deadlines since the pandemic started. Adding to the workload, some are now seeing an influx of new business pitches from marketers who put off agency searches during the height of the pandemic.
The rising demands are deterring some agency employees from taking time off, leading to further exhaustion and burnout.
Insider spoke to eight ad agency executives who are trying to curb burnout by enacting new workplace policies and intervening with clients to ensure expectations are manageable and fair.
Below are their responses, edited for brevity and clarity.
The Martin Agency gives more company-wide vacation
IPG’s The Martin Agency enacted more company-wide vacation — adding up to four extra weeks since March 2020 and a four-day weekend this year — after finding employees were not taking enough PTO during the pandemic.
Its Chief Culture Officer Carmina Ortiz Drummond said the agency introduced programs to help people with stress, like a company-wide vacation called “Martin Days” and “Moments at Martin” to help people manage workloads. Drummond said The Martin Agency also did some reorganizing internally to help manage and lighten people’s workloads.
“We’re listening,” Drummond said. “We have ‘Moments at Martin’ where people can send a note to my team about what it is they’re struggling with and we can get them help, figure out what it is they need. Sometimes it’s a 48-hour reprieve. We tell them, ‘You need to rest.'”
Solve Innovation Group is trying to cut down Zoom meetings
Solve Innovation Group Chief Client and Communications Officer Aniesia Williams said she’s asked clients to schedule fewer Zoom meetings when they’re not necessary. “Zoom fatigue is real.”
Williams said the Brooklyn-based agency is also urging people to take vacation and turn notifications off when they do. Solve Innovation Group also provides money toward childcare and spa gift certificates to employees experiencing stress.
“I’ve been working from home for two and a half years but now there’s this expectation to be available 24/7,” Williams said. “In the beginning, I was running myself ragged. If I’m feeling it, imagine what my staff is feeling. We know not everyone is fine so we provide them with as many resources as we can.”
Dentsu’s Carat gives free time on Friday
Dentsu’s Carat already had unlimited PTO but it started to enact agencywide days off, Carat US CEO Angela Steele said. It also gives staff extra free time on Friday afternoons. Steele said the agency and its parent Dentsu urge employees not to schedule meetings after 2 p.m. on Friday so people can log off early or catch up on work.
“It’s one small step,” she said. “I think like many agencies we also have a wealth of professional resources [for managing burnout]. But the thing is we all have to take time.”
Wieden + Kennedy is giving staff an extra week off
Wieden + Kennedy added more than 10 extra company-wide vacation days in the US in the past six months and a weeklong office closure in 2021, with the office-by-office dates to be determined.
To ease workloads, leaders have split employees by disciplines and projects into pods and put them on alternating time off schedules.
Wieden + Kennedy also encourages employees to cut down on the communication tools they use.
“In order to cut down on too many forms of communication — Slack, email, Gchat, text, calls, Zooms — we experimented with cutting out Gchat on one team,” an agency spokesperson said. “Let’s just say that experiment failed. The team really found that they rely on it. What we ended up asking people is essentially be mindful of bombarding each other from every direction possible.”
Take Some Risk discourages weekend work
Duane Brown, the founder and head of strategy for Canadian performance marketing agency Take Some Risk, said he reinforces to his team that they do not need to work 24/7 or on weekends. “The work will be here on Monday, Tuesday.” Between PTO, company holidays, and sick time, employees get six weeks of paid time off a year, he said.
“We got used to working a lot last year,” Brown said. “We got so used to working to make sure all our clients survived. It’s hard to break that habit. I tell people to take their breaks, take two days off, take a walk.”
EP+Co lessens individual workloads
IPG agency EP+Co increased people’s mental health days and closed the agency on a couple occasions. It did some reorganizing before the pandemic, including hiring some people who are multifaceted and can fill in for people on vacation, which helped reduced workloads during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit and client and creative strategies needed to shift rapidly, we were able to rotate workloads a lot more efficiently so that we could tap into a broader network of people to get the work done versus leaning into the same people over and over again,” an EP+Co spokesperson said.
Fitzco requires staff take four weeks off
This year, Atlanta-based agency Fitzco introduced unlimited PTO and required every employee to take at least four weeks off a year.
Dave Fitzgerald, founder and CEO, said that after learning many employees thought they had to be available 24/7 while working remotely, he told agency leaders to avoid sending emails late in the evening and that if they do, to make sure people know they’re not expected to respond right away.
“The beauty of work from home is flexibility and the downside is flexibility,” Fitzgerald said. “If you’re more productive from 6 p.m. to midnight, you’re going to work 6 p.m. to midnight. I have a bad short-term memory, so if something comes to my mind at 11 p.m., I’m going to tell you, but I don’t expect a response.”
MDC Partners created support groups
MDC partners started support groups and encouraged employees to talk about their burnout experiences. It’s also working on easing performance metrics and giving people more information on their benefits and resources.
“I know [burnout] first-hand as in the last year, I became a new dad while also taking on an expanded role. And I’m a perfectionist,” said Jason Cammorata, MDC’s SVP and head of global operations. “But we have a strong community at the agencies extending up to corporate who support open conversations. For example, I recently started a group for working parents. We understand burnout is real.”