Wake-up call as burnt out creatives threaten exodus

alone2The Great Resignation may have been sparked by disgruntled workers in China recoiling at their 72-hour working week but it could just as easily have erupted in marketing agencies and other creative businesses, with the vast majority of creatives claiming they face burnout and mental health hell.

So says a new TBWA\Worldwide global study entitled the Future of Creative Work, which reveals how creative talent feels about the state of the workplace, and what companies can do to make it better.

Analysing data from three different global sources – a proprietary TBWA global quantitative study which surveyed employees at creative companies as well as a general employee sample; syndicated resources such as Forrester and HBR, and by scraping content from employee review sites – the study seeks to uncover just how much the culture of creative work had changed since the “workism”-fuelled 2010s.

It found that compared with the general employee benchmark, creative talent are significantly less likely to be satisfied with their work/life balance (55%, compared to a 64% global benchmark), and more likely to feel burned out or discouraged a lot of the time. In a culture where boundaries, mental health and stability are the most important values, the time has come for change, the report authors insist.

TBWA global chief creative experience officer Ben Williams co-led the study with the agency’s global chief strategy officer Agathe Guerrier. He said: “Creativity has the ability to move the world forward. But for agencies and creative companies to be leading this progress, our work cultures need to evolve, quickly.”

To put the research into context, the study looked at the top three areas that resonated the most in the study across the general sample of all employees, not just creative, all showed work being put firmly back in its place.

Work/ Life Boundaries: Four-fifths (80%) of respondents agree/ strongly agree it is important their employer helps them achieve a good balance between personal and professional life.

Stability Pursuit: A similar proportion (79%) strongly agree it is important their employer helps them maintain stability in their work-life so they can confidently plan for the personal milestones they care about. Stability is most important to the youngest employees: 69% strongly agree among 18-25s, versus 51% among 41-55s.

Mind Maintenance: Over three-quarters (77%) of respondents agree/ strongly agree it is important their employer helps them care for their mental health by avoiding unnecessary pressures or stress, and proactively supports their emotional wellbeing.

The cultural value that mattered the least among all respondents, creative and the general sample, was “Activist Awakening”; the idea that work should align with a person’s values or causes they care about.

While creative companies are recognised for placing a high value on creativity (81% vs a 51% global benchmark), as well as building cultures where employees feel respected by their co-workers (86%) and receive praise and recognition for their work (71%), they are falling short on the day-to-day employee experience.

Creatives are twice as more likely to say things like approvals and authorisations, day to day schedule and task management and daily commutes degrade their work experience than the global benchmark.

Williams notes: “The biggest problem is with the day-to-day experience of creative work – the pain points and daily grind standing in the way of flow. We’re seeing talent increasingly ask for their boundaries to be respected, help achieving their goals and support with their mental wellbeing. They know what they want, and we need to be giving it to them.”

The findings point to some actionable changes all creative companies can make.

Creativity cannot thrive without daily process and structure: Creative industries are not delivering on the functions of daily work – the approvals and processes and operational burdens that get in the way of getting down to work.

Talent wants work to stay in its lane: While it was once thought that staff wanted work and life to blend, it is clear they now want boundaries, the study reveals.

Stability matters more than spirituality: Where it was believed staff wanted an employer who aligned with their high-level values and worldview, it is now clear their expectations are more pragmatic.

Companies can focus on the fundamentals, from annual reviews to growth plans to compensation, and gain more satisfaction than offering quick fixes.

Guerrier concluded: “As an industry, we have a tendency to use creativity as an excuse, as if working in a creative field was reward enough to forego such mundane notions as annual reviews, career paths, functioning processes and fair pay. The findings of the research should act as a wake-up call. Our talent is asking us to respect their time and mental space, to provide financial stability, and to deliver a better daily experience of creative work.”

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