One of the biggest problems facing digital marketing organizations is burnout. Whether it takes the form of a decline in quality of work or turnover, we must be aware of this problem and address it head on.
Now, there's a huge difference between someone giving up on a job and getting burned out. The former is unacceptable and should be dealt with by other means.
That being said, true burnout happens to all top performers at one time or another. And if it isn't handled, it can be devastating for all parties involved, including the employer.
"Burnout creeps up and you don't know until you're in the midst of it," said Dr. Todd Dewett, author of the book "Leadership Redefined." "It does not happen overnight. It happens in tiny little chunks slowly. This is why it is difficult to read any given instance for what it is, let alone judge where you are in the process of becoming burned out."
How to Spot Burnout Before it Happens
So as managers and leaders within our organizations, how do we make sure we spot burnout before it becomes a significant problem, and then what steps do we take to solve it?
- Meet regularly with your direct reports outside of daily workload. Buy them a beer or Coke every now and then. Take them to lunch. Make an effort to get to know them. It's unlikely they will open up to you in a 9 a.m. status meeting.
- If they won't open up directly, then find out another way. Ask others who work directly with them about their state of mind, their attitude, their enthusiasm.
- Ask questions like, "How are things going?" or "Are you feeling good about your day-to-day and where you're headed?" or "How's your workload? Is there anything I can help take off your plate?" Profound, huh? But these questions are asked less frequently than you'd think.
- Ask difficult questions. Challenge them and observe how they meet that challenge. Is it with enthusiasm? Or is it with reluctance?
- Let them know you're on their team. You're for them, not against them. You want to see them flourish.
How to Fix Burnout After it Happens
So now that we've identified how to prevent it, how do we fix it when burnout ultimately happens? There's no one way to comprehensively "solve" burnout. It will inevitably depend on the person, which makes it often difficult to recognize and diagnose.
Perhaps you won't be able to identify specific symptoms. Recognizing that something is different, and that the change is negative, is the first step to tackling the problem. So what's next?
- Challenge them to go outside of their normal day-to-day job responsibilities to take on new and stimulating projects. Do they have an interest in social, mobile, or some other emerging channel?
- Give them opportunities to lead internally on specific initiatives. Are they super-talented in a specific area? Build them up as a go-to expert for others within the company. Does your organization have a specific growth track for employees who want to "minor" in an area of passion? Whether business development, social media, event marketing, or campaign efficiencies, stepping outside the day-to-day search marketing management responsibilities for a portion of the week provides inspiration, reduces burnout, and creates innovations for the company and our clients.
- Take over a specific aspect of their job for a set amount of time to free them up. For example, take over weekly reporting for two weeks, during which time they are free to tackle something outside of their normal day-to-day. This breaks up the monotony, and also oftentimes can result in new ideas that turn into real game changers for the client.
- Give gifts. Yes this one can be a touchy subject. But if you have someone who has been killing it for months on end and doing a great job, why not give them an extra day off? Tell them to get out of the office and do something fun. Or if a day out of the office would add to their stress even more, then hand them a restaurant gift card on their way out the door on Friday.
- Be sure they're leaving work at work. Do whatever you can to share workload or more evenly distribute it across the team if you have people working all hours of every day. Emphasize work-life balance for everyone, even if that means that you lose yours for a short period of time.
Nothing in this column is new to anyone. However, everything in this column can easily get lost in our daily lives as we wrestle with the demands of our jobs.
Print it out. Keep a checklist. Make sure you're doing it. The result will be a team with a more positive outlook and a bigger capacity for long-term success.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!