ITL #224 Overwork and burnout: what it really means to put your people first

11 months, 1 week ago


Staying late in the office on a regular basis is sadly the norm for employees at many companies. But stressed, overworked staff aren’t good for business. By Nicky James.

Most private sector organisations – including PR agencies – will tell industry, their employees and potential hires that ‘people are our most valuable asset’ and ‘our people come first’. Strange then that we have lost track of the number of potential candidates we’ve interviewed who want nothing more than to move agencies because they say they are completely burnt out, feel exploited, and have absolutely no work/life balance.


Sometimes it’s so obvious that they don’t even need to tell us: they sit across the table completely exhausted by the endless cycles of late night sessions and early morning meetings. All the while pressured by family, partners and friends until they eventually realise there is more to life than being an agency stooge.


I believe that there is more to life than regularly working 10 - 18 hour days, and I believe that agencies enabling this as a rule rather than a rare exception are completely exploiting their staff with scant regard for anything but excessive profits. There is so much more to life than winning the imaginary ‘I’m the busiest person alive’ competitions that I frequently see playing out among industry colleagues on social media.


Over-stressed, over-stretched

An agency is not winning at anything if its over-stressed people are over-stretched trying to deliver on over-stated promises to clients, made in the hope of achieving over-extended revenue targets. The agencies that do this are more likely to lose in the long term – failing thanks to a negative reputation within our own industry, loss of clients tired of sub-standard work from exhausted consultants, and institutional knowledge and consultant expertise lost due to staff turnover.


High staff turnover is more than an irritation that incurs repeat bills from recruitment agents; it speaks volumes about the culture of an organisation. Clients may be impressed initially that their team works all hours to produce the goods, but will they still be so impressed when they are introduced to their fourth account manager in a year?


In fact, a few of our recent business wins resulted from clients who made the decision to switch agencies because of the high consultant turnover on their team, despite actually liking their existing agency and the work they produce.


Our hiring policy

Tribeca has a strict policy of hiring people before we win business, preferring to invest in building capacity before filling it. As a result, our people are not vulnerable to retrenchment should we lose an account – we hold onto them until we can fill any business gaps. This certainly isn’t the industry norm.


We run our timesheets as a business information resource, and not just a billing mechanism. Any overtime logged shows us that we’re either over-servicing our clients, or that we don’t have sufficient staffing capacity on the accounts. Once we identify the underlying issue, we rectify and resolve it – by either hiring, or managing the over-servicing proactively.


Exception, not the rule

I acknowledge that there will always be stressful periods where we are required to work overtime for our clients, but this is the exception, and Tribeca compensates its consultants with lieu time for doing so. Overtime is not expected, and we do not think less of colleagues who leave the office precisely at the end of office hours. I view overtime as a serious business issue that shows blatant disregard for colleagues’ personal time.


We have stuck to our ‘people first’ policy since we opened Tribeca’s doors in 2006. We haven’t grown as quickly as other agencies have, however we have grown sustainably, building long-term relationships with our employees and our clients. What’s more, we’re most proud of the fact that we as owners, and our staff, are able to switch off at the end of the day and spend time with our families and friends.


Testament to this is the fact that we have been a top five finalist in the Holmes Report Best Agencies to Work for in EMEA for the past two years. This employee-led survey asks employee for their views on the agency they work for including the integrity of management to the quality of professional development, from empowerment and risk-taking to compensation.


In the fast-paced lives we lead, we remain committed to ensuring everyone who joins us does so understanding that while we work really hard, achieving work-life balance is a reality here. We challenge the industry to strive for the same.

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The Author

Nicky James

Nicky James, Co-owner and director, Tribeca Public Relations.

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