Burnout is the number one driver of turnover on in-house creative teams. Learn how creative leaders can prevent their team from burning out.
Building a solid, congruent creative team takes time. And once you have the right people in the right positions, keeping them is critical to your ability to keep up with the pace and quality your clients and stakeholders expect. Turnover is costly, financially and creatively, and finding and training new employees takes time. But what can be even more costly than turnover is burnout.
Burnout happens when members of your team lose their passion and drive to create exceptional work. Yes, they still come in every day, get their work done, and meet their deadlines, but they’ve lost their passion. They aren’t going the extra mile, pushing their limits, or truly caring about the clients’ needs. Burnout can be the silent killer of high performance, and it’s contagious.
Many companies are starting to understand the consequences of burnout, which explains the rise in office perks such as flexible work schedules, game rooms, and workout facilities in the office. But ultimately, burnout isn’t conquered with perks, but by addressing the actual causes:
- Poor or undefined process
- Overworked and underappreciated employees,
- Poor communication
Here are some best practices I’ve used to keep my team happy, productive, and most of all, creative.
Process Isn’t Optional
It’s true, process isn’t sexy. It also doesn’t seem very creatively exciting. But without a solid process in place, chaos rules. At the end of the day, the Creative team suffers the most from weak processes.
- Define your process and stick to it. Of course, there are occasions when the pressure is on, and we have to take a shortcut or two. Knowing that these situations come up, I highly recommend building an abbreviated process, or a “rush path”, in addition to your “standard path”. The rush path cuts a few corners to speed things along, but it still ensures that all the necessary steps remain in place and keeps chaos at bay.
- Make sure all job requests come through your workflow system. Do not accept jobs through email, drop-ins, or verbal requests in the hallway. Set up a quick, easy intake form with the top five questions you need to get rolling.
- Prioritize the work. Your traffic/account/creative services position should always be the one to set the priorities for your team, not the creatives themselves. Someone with an overview of the entire workload needs to assign tasks and set deadlines.
- Use a Creative Brief. Make sure you are getting all the pertinent information you need to start the project upfront to avoid the stop/start pitfall.
One of the biggest ways you can show your Creative team that they are vital to the organization is to treat them with the same respect shown to other departments in the organization. Clients for in-house agencies are peers. They can grab you in the hallway, at lunch, pull you into distracting conversations after meetings, etc. Moreover, their jobs are the only jobs they think your team is working on. Every client and stakeholder wants their work to be your top priority.
The most-often cited reason creatives leave a job is because they don’t feel respected by their peers. Feedback from clients is an important part of the creative process, but if its unstructured or doesn’t respect the creative team’s process and ownership of the work, it kills creativity and leads to burnout. Encourage productive feedback by:
- Assigning a Gatekeeper. Whether you call them a Traffic Manager, a Project Manager, an Account Manager or a Creative Services Manager, the primary responsibility for this person is to keep clients and stakeholders from derailing the creative team.
- Channel feedback through a Creative Director or Copy Chief. Often multiple reviewers will provide conflicting feedback on a review, making it difficult for the designer to know which direction to follow. Also, reviewers may occasionally give feedback that is more critical than constructive. Channeling feedback through a Creative Director allows them to filter out the unproductive or unnecessary feedback so that the designer has a clear way forward.
- Always refer to the approved creative brief. When a client provides feedback that is inconsistent with the original direction, the best approach is to go back to the brief. Did we meet the goals and objectives? Did we hit the key message points?
Communicate early and often
One of the biggest causes of team frustration and burnout is the feeling of being left in the dark. Making time for one-on-one communication is vital to keeping your team engaged.
- Spend time with your team weekly. Set up individual meetings with each team member. Use this time to catch up with them on their work and ask how they are doing. Make sure they know that they have an opportunity to share any concerns before they become bigger problems.
- Show your team their opinion matters. Have the team play an active role in changes to the workflow, process and/or organizational structure. This is the best way to ensure that the team accepts the changes. Even if they disagree with the end results, they will know that they had a hand in the ultimate decision.
- Celebrate successes. After nearly 30 years in the business, I still get pumped when a client is blown away by a pitch, or when ROI of a project meets or exceeds the goal. When something goes incredibly right, celebrate it with your team, show them they are appreciated. It really doesn’t take a lot. Something as simple as surprise bagel and coffee breakfast at your morning meeting can go a long way.
Creatives are hard-working, incredibly talented individuals who enjoy challenging work that pushes them to grow in their craft. But just like all of us, they can become burned out and unfulfilled when their work life descends into chaos, they don’t feel respected by their peers, or they get left in the dark. I hope these tips will give you some ideas for how to help your creatives stay energized and passionate!
About the author: Debbie Kennedy is former Head of Advertising Operations with CarMax, and is currently Creative Director for Capstone Production Group, and CEO of Write for You, a Digital Content and Creative Workflow Consulting Firm based in Durham, North Carolina. She’s been a power user and advocate of inMotionNow since 2014.