Burnout is a very real problem in the agency world -- and in marketing in general. Yes, it can happen due to long hours and high stress levels. That's the case in any industry. But at marketing agencies in particular, rejection is a part of the game -- rejection by potential clients, rejection of ideas by existing clients, rejection even by your own colleagues. Even if you're very good at your job and win more than you lose, it can be tough to take. Couple that with the occasional sneaking suspicion that you might be no more than a soulless corporate shill, and the job can get you down. The highs are high. But the lows can be quite low.
It's easy to let yourself get caught in a spiral of negativity; the end result of which is that you end up hating your job or, in the very least, not liking it as much as you should or could. And that's no way -- no way at all -- to live.
But if you're not quite ready to quit your job, give society the middle finger, and go live in a cabin in the woods, there's good news: Your happiness in your job is potentially more in your control than you might think. In this article, we'll discuss some ways to enjoy your job -- and your career -- more. Please add your own ideas in the comments.
Empower your employees (and yourself) with honesty
So many times in marketing, you find yourself being less than completely honest. Sometimes it's to cover someone's ass or your own. Sometimes it's to land or keep a client. You know the kinds of dishonesty I'm talking about: spinning the results of a campaign in a perhaps overly sunny light or fudging your agency's capabilities a little because you know that you can scurry to outsource a function if the client bites.
Being dishonest is stressful, even if you don't realize the extent of the strain. I don't want to be a Pollyanna here, but your mother was actually right: Honesty is the best policy. It's best for your health, your sanity, and believe it or not, your career. If you're honest with a client -- completely honest -- it's better in the long term. If you screw up, admit it. Quite often, you'll find that such honesty will build trust and create new opportunities with a client.
One of the most frustrating parts of agency jobs is spending time on something that you're not sure the client will like. And quite often, given the hectic nature of our industry, a client will forget to tell you how they felt about a campaign. Sure, you'll hear about it if they really hate it -- or really love it. But quite often, the feedback loop isn't there, and you're left questioning your success.
If you are proactive and solicit more feedback from your clients, you're probably going to feel better. Yes, sometimes the feedback you receive will not be sunshine and roses. But no matter what, you will gain new insights into the client, and it will strengthen your efforts moving forward. Plus, you won't be left wondering whether your work is good enough.
Ask for client testimonials
This builds on the previous point, but in a more formal way. Yes, most agencies request testimonials from time to time, but if you bake it into your process, it's going to improve the way you feel about yourself and your job. Testimonials are a line of communication that's not part of a normal project, and when you see your efforts encapsulated in the client's words, you're likely to feel even better about a project that you already were proud of. And if the client won't give a testimonial? Well then that opens up a new line of communication that, if handled correctly, could improve that relationship down the road.
Yes. More money makes people like their jobs more. It can't solve every problem within a given position, but it helps ease the sting. But that's not really what I'm talking about here.
Agencies (and people in general) often undervalue their work to get a job. I understand that. But don't ever give work away for free. Line item it as a discount. Comps are OK. But if you don't feel you're getting paid what you're worth, you should be charging more. If a client is paying $1,000 for $2,500 worth of work, that should at least be demonstrated some way. Otherwise, over time, you're going to start to question your own true value.
Pro bono work for a beloved cause
I know. This seems to fly in the face of the previous point, but hear me out. Donating your services to a charitable cause isn't the same as giving work away for free. (Even the IRS respects that.) But it's more than a tax write-off. It's a way to feel truly good about what your skill set can do to make the world a better place. I don't care if it's a multi-national campaign for an AIDS relief organization or a poster you design for the local animal shelter. Do something good with your skills. It's well worth the time -- even when you have so little to spare.
Take smoke breaks -- or coffee breaks -- or just a damn break
You forgot to take a break today, didn't you? Go take one now. Seriously. I'll be here when you get back.
...See? I'm still here. Here's a fun game to play with somebody else right now. Ask them, "Wanna play a brain game?" And assuming that you don't get chased away, say, "OK. I'm going to read you a list of numbers: 12, 6, 27, 43, 5, 18, 9, 35, 28." Now ask them to remember as many of those numbers as they can. In my experience, most people will remember the numbers closest to the beginning and end but have trouble with the ones in the middle. So it seems logical to me that the more breaks you can take, the more stuff you'll remember because there are more beginnings and ends that way. In fact, I first learned this studying skill as a student.
Plus, taking breaks is fun. Hang out and make some new friends.
Volunteer for projects with people that you like
...or people who make you feel productive. Otherwise, you're going to get assigned to projects by your boss who likely doesn't know or really care much who you get along with. In other words, be in control of your own destiny.
That said, it's sometimes interesting to take on a project with a person you haven't worked with before. Not someone that you can't stand, obviously. But if the professional team-up works out, you might find a new dimension to your job both personally and professionally. If it doesn't, OK. No big deal.
Make friends with receptionists, janitors, and IT guys
If you work in an office building, these three jobs make your world go 'round, whether you know it or not. And if the behavior that I have observed over many years is any indication, most people don't know it. Receptionists, janitors, and IT guys are the most constantly shit-on people in your office. A well-timed cupcake can change your job forever.
The sad part is, you don't even have to be all that nice if you're not feeling up to it. Extend everyone that you work with the most common of human courtesies -- just a smile and a hello -- and you'll eventually alter how everybody else treats you in return. Just don't be the overly-fake-happy office creep. There's a limit.
People like food, even when they're not particularly hungry. Bring it to them. Focus on food. Donuts are good. Bagels are great. But tacos are perfect because there's something mildly funny and eccentric about 50 tacos. And if you shop at the right store (Jack In The Box or Burger King), that only costs $25. Imagine the accolades you'll receive after the impromptu taco party in your cubicle. And all you had to spend was $25.
Or bake a cake. Everybody likes cake. People who say they don't are either lying or communists.
Eliminate something that makes you unhappy
Just pick one thing -- make it doable. So, you know, don't fire your biggest client because you can't stand his stupid face. It can be anything. Switch chairs, take a different route to work (even if it takes a little longer), change desks, or buy some more comfortable shirts.
But here's a big one: Is your computer too slow? Does it make you crazy? If you hate your work computer, you're eventually going to hate your job. A faster, better computer will save you hours of frustration. And since you baked the IT guy cupcakes, he's going to give you a brand new one.
"Businessman swimming" image via Shutterstock.