How to avoid agency burn-out in five steps

As clients have come to expect more from agencies, Nel Flint Chief Operating Officer for NYS, responds to claims that the events industry is behind the times in managing working hours for agency staff and the impact on the employees’ mental health. She also shares her top 5 tips for agencies to avoid staff burn-out.

As with anything, it wouldn’t seem right to collectively tar our entire industry with the same ‘behind the times’ brush, it really depends on the culture within any given agency.

With stress, anxiety and depression being the biggest cause of sickness absence in our society [source: MHFA], it’s certainly important for the industry, particularly as it is so fast paced, to make sure the bigger picture is being considered.

Like any relationship, that between employer and employee involves an element of give and take when it comes to the number of hours worked, which is undoubtedly a win-win – staff are happier and that shines through to customers, and in their individual productivity too. If someone has worked a late night on an event, for example, and they’re given the morning the next day for some rest and recuperation, it’s likely they’ll get more done the following afternoon than if they worked the whole day feeling tired. From an agency perspective, showing you care, certainly goes a long way in creating a mentally healthy environment.

Here are my top 5 basic steps employees can take to ensure their staff are rested and not burnt out:

1) Maintain a routine and enable flexibility

Flexibility and balance are also important – as mentioned, there’s an element of give and take required. MHFA say: “The key to creating a mentally healthy environment is about truly understanding the people within it – their attitudes, behaviours and learning needs,” and we couldn’t agree more. It really comes down to knowing the personality types within your team.

For example, one of our Sales Directors is most likely to be found saying ‘the early bird catches the worm’, where as our Creative team get their best ideas when most of the office has gone quiet sometime after 5.30pm – people flourish at different times of the day, some people like to work in quiet spots and some prefer to have background noise. Being rigid with working patterns day-to-day isn’t going the get the best out of the team because everyone works differently. Acknowledging that, whilst making sure there’s an element of uniformity to drive fairness amongst a team, is the way to go for an inclusive culture that recognises individuals for who they are, and at an advantage to the employer too.

2) Ensure time is taken off in lieu

Lieu time is invaluable – a rested employee will always be much more productive! Ensuring the team know the structure around time off in lieu upfront is important and be consistent with everyone! Having a resource plan & forecast can support with this.

3) Build into travel policies

There’s no denying, event planning is an industry where a large amount travel is involved so it’s important that this is taken into consideration when building travel and accommodation policies, whilst enabling staff, where possible, to keep to their routine. For example, if a hotel with a gym is an extra £10 for the night than the most cost-effective option, make sure staff have the option to book something that suits what they typically try do day-to-day, keeping that routine and allowing them a bit of head space at the end of what could’ve been a long and busy day shouldn’t be underestimated.

In the same vein, picking budget accommodation because it has the smallest impact on bottom line is great for budget reasons, but if it’s a Thursday night and an employee is in a hotel room next to people getting ready for their night out, who then come back at 3am and continue the party, or they’re next to a stairwell with little to no sound proofing and the quality of their sleep is impacted – do you think they’d be bringing their best self to work the following day? Probably not, which leads back to agencies considering the bigger picture.

4) Set expectations

Clearly set expectations up front – people get stretched because they don’t know what is expected. You want leaders who give the right direction. There are two things that are crucial from a mental health perspective. First, we should try and create a space so that people aren’t stretched. Second, if and when people are stretched, it is vital that we help people to communicate, talk about expectations and re-set priorities to manage people’s workload. Train your people leaders to spot the signs of burnout starting, rather than when their team is at breaking point.

5) Talk, talk, talk

Communication is imperative. That said, this will only really come into its own if the culture in an agency is right in the first place. If someone feels that they can say they’re being stretched too far and know they’ll be supported in the right way, then that is the ideal place to be.

Ultimately, it’s beneficial for an agency to ensure this cultural shift happens if it hasn’t already. If an employee is at the point they feel stretched but doesn’t feel like they can talk, then it’s likely to be to the detriment of their project or to mean they’re working to a sub-standard and being in an industry where people are incredibly passionate about what they do – it’s highly unlikely both the employer or employee want half a job to be done. Finding the middle ground early on, and balancing workloads before this happens should be every agency’s approach – a positive, cultural change that heightens morale, productivity and tenure too.