How not to burn out?

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How not to burn out?


We asked six managers and leaders at Progressive about burnout. As a warm-up, it turns out everyone has struggled with lack of motivation or even burnout during their careers. Perhaps that's not surprising among the leaders of a large agency. But it is can be surprising that within Progressive, there are a myriad of informal and formal ways to help those who are trying to get off the merry-go-around or are struggling with personal issues.


What is burnout?

We talked to Progressive's leaders about burnout, after the agency census data revealed some pretty sorrowful results. It seems that everyone has struggled with motivational issues among our leaders. The managers are Progressive-trained, so they have not only been with us for years, but have seen multiple levels of operation, and as managers they can also report on their own experience as well as about the team. 


One of the findings of the article is that burnout is particularly common in the advertising industry. According to Zoltán Kovács (group account director), this is not really industry-specific: ‘I think it depends mainly on individuals and what they expect from the job and what they get. If there's a big gap, you can get the feeling that you don't want to do it anymore’. Zoltán believes that individuals have a big responsibility, they have to be aware of their goals and know whether the job is satisfying or not.


Wine and Deep Purple

According to Mihály Horváth (group account director), some people tackle agency life better than others. But even for those who can cope better, it's stressful. In his experience, commitment helps a lot, and if you don't have it, it's easier to burn out: ‘I haven’t burn out because I live and like the advertising business. I could do other things, but I'm really interested in it; it's not just a job, it's a vocation. The people I see and know almost all share this passion’. And what helps you to see things clearly? Mihály has the answer to that too: ‘a glass of wine, Deep Purple and you just think by the reading lamp’.


Generations see work differently and therefore have different attitudes. Zsanett Tóth (account director) sees the difference between the generations as important factor: she believes that thinking has changed, which of course has an impact on the image of work. ‘The 20+ year old employees now have a different view than our parents' generation. This attitude has also affected ours, many of us still live for work. There are a ton of young people in this profession, but they already see and know a lot on depression and burnout. So they are more aware of work-life balance and better at articulating their needs’. She adds that for the newer generation, no company or job is important enough to subordinate their own mental balance. For older people, however, this is still a problem and they need to be more alert to the symptoms.


Pay attention, but by whom?

Whose responsibility is it to pay attention and care? To what extent is it the responsibility of the workplace, the company, to take care of employees? Or is it up to the employee? All respondents said that the role of the manager is important, and that he or she can do a lot for the staff, whether formally or informally. According to Zoltán, the company also has a responsibility, but ultimately, they are a business: ‘we have to keep in mind that we are making a profit, therefore the psychological aspects have to be dealt within these frameworks’.


Zsanett says that we have to find a balance between how far we push the employee and when we let go, and what the company's responsibility is. You need to create a positive atmosphere, with an optimistic outlook, not building on stress but on trust. ‘Progressive has really caught on in the post-Covid era to what is needed when someone is tired and burnt out: load shedding, a proven appraisal system, management discussion and an internal coach’.  Dia Kontra, a coach, spends two days a week inside, and her door is always open for everyone, from junior to senior management. The coach's role can extend beyond work, sometimes helping with personal issues.


What does the manager do?

They all mention the responsibility of leadership. Mihály says that it's not just looking at the company's interests, but also the individual. If you really love the profession, you have to put in the energy and work it out together. ‘Do you have a problem with processes or brands? Or maybe moving within the agency could be the answer? Let's look at what has gone wrong and how it can be fixed’. And what happens if there is still no solution: 'if it's not his world, that's a tougher nut to crack'.


Zsanett gives an example from one of the recent job interviews. A candidate, on what is an important subject for her, was told not to shout at her. This is obviously not so hard to meet. Before the Covid, teams already got support and attention. After the outbreak, they focus even more on individual well-being. She says it takes a leader as well as the individual. And Zsanett believes that the new generation is not waiting.



How much are other areas burning?

What about the design team? How hard is it to be creative on a deadline? Zsolt Baranyai (creative group head) says that not everyone can cope with the creative pressure. Generally main reasons are chaos and disorganisation. The solution in this case is obviously planning. ‘We can't eliminate difficulties completely, but we can provide the frames, and so the stress is reduced because of the focus’. This seems to be working well because, despite the workload, turnover is low, with approximately one person leaving the team every year.


He also adds that in the creative profession, the feeling of success comes quickly and that means a lot: ‘maybe I'm too optimistic (like Forrest Gump), but if we draw something nice and another designer passes behind us, he or she will praise it’. Perhaps that's why Zsolt knows just a few designers who leave the profession.

 There are also many challenges in the event field, and it's not always easy. According to Péter Tóth (event executive director), the job is exhausting indeed and although you have to work a lot in the office, but the variety of going to the event helps a lot. But what can kill motivation, he says, are tenders, or more precisely: tenders that are not won. There's a lot of work involved in one presentation, they always strive for the best, and you need the results to stay enthusiastic. Overtime is also noticeable, and if you add to that some failure, it can be damaging: 'you put in 100 per cent, but the client says it's only 50. Demotivation can lead to a situation where you really fed up’. However, communication and listening can help, a few good words can get you through the impasse. He mentions another important factor - trust. ‘You have to let your colleagues develop and even make mistakes, you have to trust them because if they feel their work is important, they will go much further’.


What can be done?

Managers say listening and communicating is important, but we also need to know and improve ourselves. Péter, for example, says that changing tasks among team members is important, and in addition, he underlines the importance of belonging to a community: ‘we know that we are not alone and that everyone contributes. If I have to write in the presentation at 10pm, I'm almost sure I'll see a few more people's names in Microsoft Teams.


Mihály emphasizes the importance of self-awareness. ‘Every few years you need to do a self-examination, review your individual goals and motivations. The profession and the market are changing fast, so you need to check from time to time if you are going in the right direction. For me personally, it has helped a lot to set huge goals that I can glance at difficult times to draw strength from’.


Illés Simon (head of digital) says that at Progressive, not only can you ask for help, but it's supported. ‘Whatever the challenge, I got a lot on my mind or overtime, I can communicate my difficulties calmly and confidently. At the agency, I feel that I can articulate this. Challenges are handled thoughtfully. Our open, honest atmosphere and our systems ensure that this.’ Illés also says that relaxation, whether it's a sport or a hobby, helps a lot. When you shut out work, it inspires you and then eventually seeps into your work and actually adds a lot. 


Even after five years at Progressive, Zsanett continues to improve in how she finds balance. As she says, she learned from Mihály how to switch off: ‘there can be some overtime, but when the day is over, you have to stop working or you'll fail. Mihály adds that sport helps him a lot: he puts on his shoes and runs. Off the record he reveals himself to be a true obsessive: he can run for hours without music, podcasts or any other distractions.

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