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Dog days: Tackling stress without gimmicks

By James Dutton, Managing director, Asia Pacific



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.

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March 5, 2020 | 6 min read

Agency life wouldn’t be the same without a small pug, chihuahua, or other miniature inbred animal sniffing beneath my desk at least once a week. However, the concept of ‘dog days’ among the multitude of other supposedly morale-boosting initiatives does highlight an issue I’ve found impossible to ignore in the past year since leaving university and beginning a career in advertising.

A neon wall-mounted sign reading: "And Breathe..."

Kemosabe suggest some ways that marketeers can improve employee wellbeing in the workplace. / Image by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash.

As a junior copywriter and senior Generation Z member, I feel like I’m viewing the ad industry through fresh and slightly sceptical eyes. And, as more and more articles on engaging the new generation of young adults saturate the pages of every ad mag, its painfully clear that many people in the industry haven’t quite grasped what matters to those beginning agency life - whether it's their well-being, health, happiness, or sense of purpose.

I personally cringe the very moment I read a senior analyst, strategist or marketer claim to speak the ‘language’ of the younger generation as if they consider themselves bilingual. The moment I’m confronted with forced woke language, inauthentic attempts at moral masquerading or the greenwashed buzzwords that my cohort and I apparently love so much, my mind switches off quicker than you can say ‘KeepCup’.

It’s not gimmicks or morale-boosters that young people care about, it’s just genuine, simple interaction. Don't go on about your company authenticity, just be transparent, honest and a good person. Don't give a false, man-made vision of a perfect reality in which puppies run wild and we all blissfully play ping pong in our neon-lit office. That isn’t a vision that means anything to me.

A common purpose

Instead, why not dedicate time and effort into doing something genuinely positive? This will ensure future employees are happy at your agency. Without claiming to save the world, think of ways that you and your team can tackle a problem or issue that means something to someone. This can come in all shapes and sizes, and lends itself perfectly to filling time in between inevitably busy schedules made up of client work and deadlines. It can be as little as replacing 15 minutes of ping pong at the end of the day to sorting some recycling, going out to buy a copy of The Big Issue, or tidying away coffee mugs to help out the cleaning team.

At Kemosabe, I’ve spent any free time I’ve had in the past few months sat with the design team on a pro bono branding project to tackle loneliness in the UK with a new Social Enterprise biscuit. It’s time well spent, and it makes me feel happy at the agency - not stressed with gimmicks or edgy office fittings.

There’s odd bits and pieces we can all do in our free time to contribute to a happy and healthy relationship in our own individual agencies, but there’s also the opportunity to use the bigger picture for good. More and more agencies are being challenged for what they stand for. Kemosabe, for example, was set up after our co-founders decided to leave their jobs at an agency that worked on Trump, UKIP and Say No to Gay Marriage campaigns.

In my working environment, there’s a mutual understanding that we’re faithful to one another and trusted by our clients. This in turn, creates an family-like atmosphere and means I’ve not felt uncomfortable or unhappy in my workplace.

The greater good

The continuous group effort to become a B-Corp - a status that certifies businesses that put profit on an equal footing with people and the planet – proves that the agency is serious about achieving this goal. They set weekly meetings and even homework to ensure that they become an ethically- and environmentally-certified business, which means a lot more to me than if we were to use the meeting room for cheese and wine afternoons.

This ethical approach to business does more to boost morale and wellbeing than any gimmick. When an agency adopts this approach, it creates a genuine sense of purpose and place, and means that employees are proud of their role in business. One tangible example of this came when I first started at my agency and we were approached by a big-budget betting company. Though it was unanimously agreed at the time that we would turn this down, it’s only looking back on it now that I realise how much that decision affected me. In my very early days at my first job, it cemented a moral code in my mind that has filled me with a lasting trust for the people I work with.

Ultimately, trust in each other is essential for a business to work effectively and retain staff that feel valued and listened to. The belief that I play an important and valued part in my agency, despite my junior status, is a significant factor in my satisfaction during working hours. This sense of trust is echoed in both a professional capacity, through representing the agency in writing this article, and a personal capacity, such as when I was given the day off after calling my boss in tears at 10pm. It’s this kind of support that a pinball machine can’t provide.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say no to a monthly massage, but it shouldn't be used to treat or make amends for burnt-out employees that shouldn’t have been stressed in the first place. Agencies need to straighten out their priorities if they truly want to ensure the wellbeing and happiness of their employees. Lord knows that a ping pong table in our shared office hasn't once helped my mental wellbeing, but it has led me to question my own sanity on a couple of occasions.

James Dutton, copywriter at Kemosabe.


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