Marketers Today Face High Burnout and Crippling Anxiety

Are you burnt out?

You aren’t alone. Seven out of 10 marketers today are suffering from burnout, yet we aren’t seeing enough done to address the problem. Ask any marketer for yourself, more than 60 percent will tell you they expect their stress levels to get worse.

Talking to an agency-colleague recently, one who has been in the game for 15+ years, I asked her how she was doing. “Working harder, enjoying it less.” Far from joking, she was on the verge of a mental break down (which are becoming all too common in this industry). Everything in her voice and body language suggested she was crying out for help. I asked her what she does at night or on the weekends to disconnect: “I don’t. I just end up connecting to the VPN and firing off emails.”


9 Signs You’re Nearing Burnout:

  1. You eat lunch in front of your computer every day (continuous work involvement)
  2. Over-commitment (more work to do than hours to do it)
  3. Idealistic standards (high client expectations, but short-handed on resources)
  4. Endless amount of client requests (occasionally interrupted by a crisis or fire-drill)
  5. Chronic fatigue (no idea how you’re going to get through the day)
  6. Guilty feelings about missing out on activities or events with friends/family
  7. Strong sense of responsibility (especially when others are dropping the ball)
  8. Trouble saying “no” or pushing back
  9. Constantly thinking about work (even while you’re showering or trying to sleep)

The ugly truth is that our industry is struggling to keep up with the modern world. Today’s professionals have it harder than any other generation that came before us due to globalization and the 24-hour nature of our work. While you’re trying to put your child down for bed on the east coast, your client in California is just reviewing your deliverable before End of Day– expect revisions. In 2018, it’s growing impossible to juggle a career while balancing the demands of our personal lives.

It’s an ongoing inside joke for U.S. marketers. Sit long enough at any PRSA or AMA event and sooner or later the conversation turns to the frustrations of the day-to-day hustle. In a world where Amazon is king, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s driving this insanity– the “do more” way of business demands that we delight customers with better service and lower prices. And then our customers respond by outsourcing more marketing to us. We grow faster, invest more, and delight more customers. The cycle continues. Leadership will insist that long hours are not a badge of honor, but the promotions and awards continue to end up in the hands of those who burn the midnight oil. An unstressed marketer? I may be the only one. But that’s only because I mostly quit social media and stopped reading the news.

At first glance, the problem seems unique to our industry. But a deeper look shows other industries with agency models are facing the exact same problem (e.g. lawyers, doctors, management consultants). In our world, our success is measured by revenue and billable hours. Our merit is earned through long hours in a fast-paced, pressured, and highly competitive environment, often including the burden of emotionally charged situations and stressful client interactions.


Does the following sound all too familiar?

  • Long hours, followed by remote work from home and out-of-pocket emails
  • Clients and coworkers constantly passing judgment on your performance
  • Ever-present deadlines amidst constant interruptions by phone and email
  • Client stress transferred to account managers and agency team members
  • Competition to win clients’ ongoing business
  • Job security concerns and lack of upward mobility
  • A gap between the ideals of entering the professional world and the reality

In essence, today’s marketers sacrifice their freedom for the comfort of their clients. Written out like this, it doesn’t sound like much of a problem at all. It sounds like the way we do business in America. But maybe that’s something we can change.


Is All Hope Lost for Marketers?

Over the past few years, work-life balance has become a popular topic among marketing and communications professionals. There are many agencies that exist today that are working hard to figure out new ways to make our profession easier to manage. Balancing the 24-hour work day is a common problem in agency HR departments today. Is all hope lost for marketers? I expect not, but it’ll require a great deal of effort and rethinking the way we invest in the welfare of our workers.

A few years ago, the agency I worked at in Miami, FL was considering whether to allow workers to access email from their phones or simply let them connect by VPN. It was a noble pursuit, designed with flexibility in mind. Forget the cables, the docking station for your HP laptop, and the wasteful minutes it takes for your version of Windows to reboot. Now you can quickly get that pesky email sent off from the comfort of your mobile phone.

It goes to show, not all investments return a profit. Now agencies have their employees on a tight 24-hour leash. Miss an important client email and expect to be reprimanded or shamed when you get to work the next day. I once had a manager forbid me from checking my email while on vacation. A sad reality for workers today when you feel handcuffed to your work email, even when you’re thousands of miles away in South America.


Band-Aid Solutions We’re Tired of Hearing

  • Implement better time-management skills
  • Learn to “manage up” and push back on deadlines
  • Turn your out-of-office on when you’re head down in assignments

Those are all great options in theory, but many times all three are non-negotiable when your client is facing “an emergency” (every client thinks their issue is an emergency). And even when these are feasible solutions, it doesn’t explain how to reprogram an achievement-oriented type-A professional’s definition of great work ethic and success. Let’s not forget that all three of these band-aids can also get in the way of revenue and billability, two very real success metrics for most agencies.


Broader Solutions for the Long Haul

“Take care of yourself: When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers. Love those close to you: Failure of your company is not failure in life. Failure in your relationship is.” — Julia Hartz, Founder of Eventbrite

Looking for ways to improve the work-life balance of today’s marketers means:

  • Workers have the right to unplug from their jobs. In France, the law requires companies to ensure that work email doesn’t infringe on days off, evenings, or weekends.
  • Employees can take sick days and vacations when they want to, which may help with high turnover rate and keeping positions from shifting away from full-time roles in favor of consulting. Brazil, Finland, and France all grant their employees 30 paid days off per year in addition to public holidays and sick days, that’s nearly 4 times the amount of days off us Americans enjoy in our first year on the job (and most Americans today have to earn cumulative PTO).
  • Focusing less on billability rates and more on investing in the workforce. In Denmark, most companies have corporate policies that allow employees to take paid classes to learn new skills. This causes Danish workers to be more relevant and engaged in the workforce.
  • Time can be set aside for billing clients, filing expense reports, team meetings, and other administrative work.


One more final thought in passing…

If you’re looking for a job in today’s market, you’ll notice employers today are increasingly interested in who you are both inside and outside of work. It’s important to develop both of these areas to make a name for yourself in any industry. What makes you a great professional is as much your experiences, habits, and daily rituals as the amount of coffee and client emails you consume on any given day. A burnt out employee isn’t much good to any employer or client. If you’re facing burnout today, try out this short exercise:

  1. Do not read any news or check your social media.
  2. Do not listen to any podcasts or audiobooks.
  3. Do not watch more than 1 hour of television.
  4. Do not read any non-fiction or business-related books.
  5. Listen to as much music as you like.
  6. Read as much fiction as you like.
  7. Take a short walk each day, and ditch your phone.

Give it an honest try outside of regular working hours and let me know how you feel. I have a feeling that once you get a taste of how much more productive you can be, your week will never look the same again.


Be sure to click ‘Get Access’ if you want to read more from Eduardo Lopez. He is the author of “Social Media Career Building” and is working on his second book, an exploration of ancient wisdom and self-help advice. Follow him on LinkedIn and his email is

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