Before I started a previous job managing a PPC team, my boss pulled me aside and gave me one simple piece of advice.
“If you’re stressed, the team notices and they react the same. Everyone will be more on edge. No more throwing your head down on your desk in frustration. Go for a walk. Leave early. Hell, go kick a wall.”
It provided me with a wakeup call that 1) I wasn’t great at hiding my emotions and 2) my boss was more aware of how stressed I was than I was. Not surprisingly, I wasn't alone. A joint study by Future Workplace and the Workforce Institute found that 95% of human resource leaders say that employee burnout is “sabotaging their workforce.” Worse yet, they attribute half of employee turnover to burnout.
After that conversation, I evaluated how I was manifesting my burnout and stress. In doing so, I learned how to tell if my team was feeling the same. Below are common signs of burnout and tactics to address it so you can help manage stress on your team before burnout leads to turnover.
Exhaustion: It’s difficult for an employee to summon the energy he or she needs to complete work they once had no problem doing such as: budgeting, account optimization, reporting, or new client spin-ups. Employees dread coming to work and may have difficulty dealing with client-facing tasks such as performance review calls.
Neglecting Personal Health: A burnt out employee may start to neglect their health or appearance. You may notice a once-active employee stops working out or a former “morning person” struggles to get to work before 10 a.m.
Deteriorating Physical/Mental Health: Stress can weaken an employee’s immune system, increase how often an employee get sicks, and even manifest itself in symptoms such as chest pain and chronic headaches. Anxiety and depression can cause an employee to withdraw and struggle to meet the expectations of their professional and personal lives.
Cynicism and Pessimism: For PPC teams managing numerous advertising accounts, team members may start to feel buried under a never-ending pile of work. Employees may think no one understands their burden, the organization doesn’t care about them, or that possible solutions to improve their workload won't work. It is especially important to monitor cynicism and pessimism when team turnover is high. Employees may feel that workload is being unfairly distributed to them without any financial (or other) compensation.
Apathy & Team Avoidance: This person actively distances themselves from their team and others across the company. Former “team cheerleaders” who used to be regularly involved in company and team activities, meetings, etc. may become reserved or even outwardly negative in group situations.
Feelings of Inadequacy: Regardless of the workload this employee completes, he or she may believe they never get enough work done or that it is good enough. No amount of positive feedback will sway this person's mindset. He or she may look for new projects to take on and committees to join regardless of their workload. This person is often the first to arrive and last to leave.
Limited Concentration/Attention to Detail: Employees make ridiculous mistakes they shouldn’t, fall behind on their workload, or forget tasks. Those employees already on correction plans may ignore the steps they need to take to improve altogether.
Anger, Irritability, and Jealousy: An employee in this stage may unleash negativity toward their manager, team members, other departments, clients, or even themselves. An angry employee may make snide or incendiary remarks about others, show outward disdain toward the company, or exhibit jealousy (especially if they feel they’re being asked to work harder/more than others).
Poor Performance/Productivity: Regardless of their previous level of output or work quality, burnt out employees will find it hard to execute at the same level they were before. Team members may complain more frequently about this person if they share projects with the employee or have dependencies they must wait on.
How to Address:
The first step to address burnout (in yourself and your team) is making sure you recognize the signs. But, it’s equally important to know how to reduce your team's stress level. While our list is by no means exhaustive—for that, there are thousands of articles including a few of our favorites from Psychology Today, Lifehacker, The Muse—we’ll outline some of the techniques we've used below.
1. Ensure employees know what their roles and responsibilities are and what is expected of them to be successful in their job. Offer ongoing feedback (through one-to-ones, reviews, etc.) and a clear path to advancement (if possible).
2. Fight for your team to have the resources they need to meet your organization's goals. Be able to prove how adding a new employee or tool is essential to scale your department profitably. When you start to see signs of the team’s workload becoming dangerously overwhelming, you’ll be prepared to take immediate action.
3. Make sure new employees are trained properly and that your entire team receives the ongoing education they need. Offer training on job skills and human resources issues (such as how to recognize burnout).
4. Set achievable expectations for your team members. Be clear when employees are not meeting their goals and give them clear guidance (or even formal plans) on how to improve. Be firm but supportive rather than condescending and disparaging.
5. Employees should have an open forum for providing feedback. But don’t just provide employees lip service. Show them that something is being done or, at the minimum, that their comments were received and evaluated by management.
6. No matter how hard an employee wants to excel at a position, there may be a point when you realize the employee is not the right fit. Be open minded to determining if the employee is better suited to another role at your organization.
7. Challenge your team members to create passion projects they enjoy working on and that benefit the team. If your company has strict policies against this, start by asking HR approval for one or two hours a month. Aim to build in more time from there as the organization recognizes the benefits.
8. Encourage employees to work reasonable hours to get their work done and to alert you when they cannot. Allow employees to disengage from work when they’re away from the office (ex: don’t expect an immediate response to your email at 11 PM).
9. Plan activities as a team and escape the office together every so often. Schedule a team lunch or an off site. If you can't leave the office, make a goal of being the best-dressed department on Halloween or create a similar tradition.
10. If a team member takes on extra work (ex: to achieve a big company milestone or due to turnover), reward them. A reward can be as small as a symbolic weekly “Best Team Player” award or something bigger (a free lunch or day off).
11. Work with your HR team to provide counseling resources to employees or help on where to find them. Ask if your company has an employee resource hotline that offers counseling help or referrals. Make sure your employees are aware it exists!
12. Address your team’s fears, uncertainties, and doubts. FUD is often thought of as a negative marketing ploy to encourage people to take an action by playing to what worries them. But, we’ve used FUD to give voice to our team on their concerns within the team and greater organization. Time was spent: 1) talking through each fear, uncertainty, and doubt 2) assessing if anything was currently being done to address the FUDs and 3) identifying how we could help resolve FUDs at our company.
13. Allow employees to take vacations where they disconnect from work. German automaker Daimler deletes all of an employee’s emails while they’re out of office. The sender can either redirect the email to someone else or resend it when the employee is back.
14. As a manager, be willing to complete the same work your team does. Don’t ask you team to do anything you wouldn’t be willing to do, and don’t hesitate to lend a hand or provide guidance when you have the time and ability to do so.
15. Acknowledge your team when they excel and never take credit for an employee’s work. If a team member bends over backwards to complete a project and you fail to acknowledge their contribution, you will demoralize them and discourage them from ever going above and beyond again.
16. Address an employee’s negativity toward his or her coworkers immediately. Understand where their frustration is coming from and work on a plan on how you both can rectify it.
Recognizing and addressing stress amongst your team members requires commitment and diligence, but above all, empathy. Realize and act as if you’ll one day find yourself in the same position as a burnt out team member. I did.
Two years after that initial “head slam” conversation with my boss, I realized I couldn’t overcome or outwork my stress no matter how hard I tried. After working through many of the steps above, I had the opportunity to take a new position in my organization. In turn, my team benefited from getting a new, energetic manager.
As the leader of a PPC team, it’s inevitable you’ll face employee burnout. Take time to prevent burnout now as it will benefit your team immeasurably in the long run.