Lifting the lid: marketing agencies wake up to burnout

The Life Adventure


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

April 4, 2019 | 6 min read

“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” Freud was perhaps one of the first to recognise the connection between work and mental health. Now, approximately 100 years on, the worldwide trend towards poor mental health is rising at an alarming rate.

The Happy Prize Company consider the implication of poor mental health on agency wellbeing.

The Happy Prize Company consider the implication of poor mental health on agency wellbeing.

Where did it all go so wrong?

When we lift the lid and look under the bonnet of most workplaces, we see that staff experiencing job stress, tend to triple their risk of experiencing mental health issues. And with the average person spending around a third of their life at work, it doesn’t take a genius to appreciate that we’re now facing an epidemic. Chronic stress and anxiety, leading to burnout, is now prevalent in the workplace affecting 94% of employees at one time or another. Mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and will cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030 - primarily due to early onset of mental illness and lost productivity, with an estimated 12 billion working days lost due to mental illness every year. Employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions and is responsible for up to 50% of annual workforce turnover.

The marketing industry

Arriving into the reception of many of the UK’s leading marketing agencies, what do you see? Bright colours perhaps, a huge dollop of creativity, and a sparky person to greet you? But what’s behind the façade? Emotional and mental health disorders are becoming more widely acknowledged and less stigmatised in certain industries, but not everyone has woken up yet to the issue that’s right in front of them.

So, has the marketing industry?

Reports of agency staff experiencing high levels of burnout, along with concerns about their mental health, are becoming more and more frequent. And for some, it’s obviously linked to the very nature of the agency industry itself, which is famed for being relentless, high pressured with long working hours and dependent upon client whims. This sits alongside an increase in uncertainty and potential redundancies over recent years.

Because not much has been written about this in the UK press, I decided to do my own research, and reached out to a cross section of under 30s who had worked in several agencies to see how they felt about this topic. The common theme and response from each of them was the same – it’s time for a change and it’s time this was brought out more into the open.

One very experienced account handler, who has worked in several agencies in her six-year agency career and preferred to remain anonymous, told me, “Now, more than ever young people are feeling huge amounts of pressure at work and the competition for agency roles is huge. There’s an expectation in a lot of agencies that you should work through your lunch break, stay late and work fast, which often leads to burnout. This needs to change to ensure long term gain for the both the agency and for their staff.”

She went on to say, “Every week I experience some level of anxiety and stress, which primarily stems from a heavy workload, demanding clients, multiple deadlines and internal pressures. As an account handler, we are in the firing line if something goes wrong, so that is always at the back of my mind. Ultimately, agencies simply need to look after their staff better, whether they are under or over 30. We are the driving force - the ones that build client relationships, create beautiful work and create a profitable business.

"Mental wellbeing is not something that is talked about a lot or prioritised in agencies so there is a big educational piece to be done here for us to better understand individual needs and the ripple effect mental ill health can have on overall agency’s performance, as well as staff turnover.”

What’s the alternative?

In any organisation, the workforce is its biggest asset and never a truer statement could be uttered when it comes to the marketing industry. Without a mentally healthy workplace, a team tends to experience low morale, people often become cynical, stressed and anxious; physical health problems increase, sickness levels rise, productivity drops and the office environment becomes deeply affected. And clients pick up on these things. A mentally healthy agency, on the other hand, has a different vibe altogether – it’s a happy, healthy environment and one which fosters collaboration, support of each other, growth and overall happiness. With those high productivity levels and superior efficiency, these places are much more open to discussions about any mental health issues which arise.

Further reading

Over in the US, one study finds that 32% of agency staff (media and creative) feel worried about their mental health. That’s pretty high. So over the coming weeks I’ll be writing more about the findings of this, further disclosuring testimonies from agency staff about their true feelings surrounding mental health, what the way forward could like and useful advice for agency owners and staff. Stay tuned!

Justine Clement is the founder of The Life Adventure.


Content by The Drum Network member:

The Life Adventure

We work with individuals, agencies and organisations to enhance emotional wellbeing through insightful talks, workshops, e-courses and retreats.

Find out more

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +