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Creatives more likely to experience workplace burnout, per TBWA study

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By Audrey Kemp | Junior Reporter

June 20, 2022 | 5 min read

The findings show how the priorities and values of top creatives are changing. In order to retain creative talent, companies must reevaluate how they can support employees’ mental health, uphold boundaries and eliminate operational bottlenecks.

A study released by TBWA Worldwide at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity today suggests that the needs of creative talent are no longer being met in the workplace, leading to widespread dissatisfaction and burnout.

“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,” said TBWA global chief creative experience officer Ben Williams, who co-led the study with the agency’s global chief strategy officer, Agathe Guerrier.

a worker has a burnt matchstick for a head as a metaphor for "burnout"

TBWA's latest study underscores the need for creative workplace change

Analyzing data from three different global sources — including a global quantitative study, syndicated resources Forrester and Harvard Business Review as well as 68,000 online employee reviews — the study seeks to uncover how much the culture of creative work has changed since the “workism-fueled” 2010s.

Evidently, it’s changed a lot. When compared to the general workforce, creative talent are significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their work-life balance and feel burned out. Boundaries, mental health and a sense of stability are revealing themselves as being the most important, and most neglected, needs among creatives.

“The findings of the research should act as a wake-up call,” said Guerrier. “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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Today’s talent works to live — not vice-versa

According to the study, today’s talent is driving the culture of work into a new era. That shift is driven by three demands of their employers: first, to help creative employees strike a healthy work-life balance, second, to achieve stability in their work life, and, finally, to care for their mental health by circumventing unnecessary stressors.

“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,” Guerrier said.

Much of this shift can be attributed to attitudes stemming from the Great Resignation, a term to describe the mass voluntary exodus of employees from the workplace. Many of its participants rethought their careers, work-life balance and working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although talent across specialties agree upon these factors, they matter significantly more to creatives, with 63% of creatives strongly agreeing on the importance of a healthy work-life balance—compared to 44% in the general population sample.

According to Williams, companies are falling short on the day-to-day employee experience, as creatives are two times more likely to find “the daily grind,” be it approvals, task management or daily commutes, degrading to their work experience and flow.

What employers can do about it

TBWA’s study identifies not only clear problems in the workplace, but also potential solutions to these issues.

The study’s author suggests that creative organizations should identify and nullify the operational burdens that hinder workflow and efficiency while also respecting the boundaries of their employees. They also argue that employers should shift their focus from high-level ethos to pragmatic issues, like annual reviews, growth plans and compensation.

“We’re seeing talent increasingly ask for their boundaries to be respected, help achieving their goals and for support with their mental wellbeing,” Williams said. “They know what they want, and we need to be giving it to them.”

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