A disturbing 80% of marketers already say they’re overworked. And two in three of them expect their workloads to increase in the coming year. Marketing departments and agencies across the country are quickly approaching a perfect storm for employee burnout, which has dire implications for any marketing operations with ambitious targets to reach in 2016.
Marketers are no strangers to stress. Our discipline has become one of high accountability, myriad technical and experiential demands, growing competition, and responsiveness to business cycles that can suddenly pile on work when it’s least expected. Marketing departments are already spread quite thin, and 2016 could well be the year where there’s simply not enough in-house talent to keep up with expectations in many organizations.
In fact, several things are likely to give, beginning with the mental health of your marketers and ending with the productivity of your marketing. Left unchecked, the Great Burnout will result in:
- Stressed and overworked marketers that produce quantity over quality. Work will have more small mistakes, be less optimized, and be delivered behind schedule more frequently. ROI will dip as the little things add up.
- Higher employee turnover as harried talent looks elsewhere for other jobs with more realistic expectations and better work-life balance. That means vacancies in critical skill and leadership positions, and expensive marketing recruitment to hire and onboard a replacement.
- Damaged reputation of the Marketing operations to the rest of the organization, clients, and potential employees.
It’s hard for many marketing leaders to see this Great Burnout coming. In many cases, the additional work isn’t all piled on at once, but has been gradually growing at a steady pace without corresponding growth in staff and production capacity. It’s a case of not noticing the slowly-rising waters until you’re drowning in them.
Additionally, the expectations placed on Marketing are growing at a rapid pace. As accurate attribution becomes more viable and CMOs have greater ability to prove their value, ROI goals are on the rise. Budgets are growing to growing match those expectations, but often those additional resources are reserved for tech investments rather than headcount and talent development.
While strategic technology acquisition can certainly increase productivity and talented marketing automation consultants can slash the man hours required for many menial, time consuming tasks, technology simply can not replace some critical skill, leadership, and executional positions. We too often see firms make a major investment into a new CRM or media management service, only to quickly find they have no one on hand to make full use of the tools.
What Marketing Leaders Can Do Now to Minimize Burnout
Prepare Ahead of Time
To avoid disaster this year, it’s critical for marketing executives to get ahead of the Great Burnout by managing expectations, both among corporate leadership and your marketing team itself.
The CEO and rest of the executive board aren’t going to want to hear that ROI could stagnate if Marketing is pulled in too many directions without enough manpower. But it’s better that they get that news beforehand than to be caught off guard halfway through the year by lackluster results.
Similarly, warning your Marketing team now about their workload will help them mentally prepare for a potentially tough year and not get blindsided by mounting requirements. Your marketing management can start shifting their 2016 strategy toward tactics that can still provide strong results with relatively minimal labor investment. And the marketing executive team should begin investigating pockets of resources in various corporate budgets to pull from to alleviate the pressure on your team with supplementary marketing talent to smooth out the peaks and valleys of dynamic workloads.
Recognize and Reward
When your marketing team is in the thick of overwork this year, make sure they know you know it, and go out of your way share your appreciation for their hard work. Recognizing their contribution individually and as a team through a variety of verbal and tangible ways helps your staff understand they’re appreciated and makes the extra work “worth it.”
Rewards can come in many shapes and sizes, and it’s up to you and your management to determine what the best strategy is for your marketers. If possible, a financial reward in the form of a bonus or raise can be entirely reasonable for exemplary work under pressure. Many organizations that haven’t approved additional headcounts still provide room for this kind of extra compensation, which can in turn motivate the rest of the team to keep going.
Reinforce with Extra Capacity When It’s Needed Most
At times of especially high demand, or for critical projects you simply can’t afford not to execute perfectly, bring in additional interim marketing talent to provide an extra boost of expertise and capacity.
Even under strict hiring freezes or headcount restrictions, it’s often possible to supplement your strategy with contracted marketing execution capabilities, from creative to digital to technical and beyond. Good talent brought in at just the right time is worth its weight in gold, and is often a viable flexible workforce solution even when full-time headcount is capped or being reduced.
Listen and Communicate
Nothing is worse than feeling overworked and underappreciated with no end in sight, and feeling helpless to do or say anything about it. Encourage your team to come to your marketing leaders if they’re about to “lose it” and move past that breaking point. Solicit suggestions you may not have considered to improve efficiency and better manage workloads, and periodically communicate what’s being done to overcome the challenge.
Simply listening to grievances on its own won’t reduce workloads or solve the stress problem. But it can offer some amount of relief and reassurance to your team that their challenges are understood and are being addressed.
Moving Toward Sustainability
There are ways to manage overbearing workloads and stress in the short term, but in the long term living on the edge of Burnout simply isn’t sustainable. As you work to make it through a challenging 2016, it’s best to start now to relieve the strain in the near future. Gather the needed research and metrics to show the value of strategic acquisition of additional full-time staff, along with supplementary marketing consultants/contractors, and look into how to better use automation tools to continue trimming down the most manual, time-consuming work.