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How to Prevent Marketing Team Burnout and Get Over Overtime

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This year, the US government began enforcing an updated overtime pay law, and businesses immediately dialed in to the financial and operational impact of the change. Although the new law affects only a certain group of workers, overtime is still a hot-button issue for workers who spend more than 40 hours a week in the office or on the computer.

Marketers are often known for late nights and jam-packed days. Unfortunately, that kind of schedule can lead to diminished productivity at best—and burnout and turnover at worst. Considering that one employee costs a company 6-9 months in training efforts and up to 213% of salary to replace, there's a clear financial imperative to address the issue sooner rather than later.

According to Workfront's 2016-17 State of Marketing Work report, 66% of marketers work more than 40 hours a week on a regular basis. In fact, every year, the average marketer puts in an entire extra workweek (41.6 hours) compared with his or her non-marketing counterparts.

And yet, the same survey reveals marketers are spending only 38% of their day on their primary job duties. The answer to the dilemma seems obvious: If marketers could increase the percentage of time they spend performing their most important work—the real work—we'd soon see overtime numbers start to fall and real productivity rise.

But how? After all, marketers aren't deliberately wasting 62% of each day on unimportant tasks.


For a start, managers can take a closer look to realize their team members are on average spending 21% of their time in meetings, 17% devoted to email, and another 17% occupied by administrative tasks and interruptions.

Managers who acknowledge there is a disconnect with focusing on the right work, and who then deal with those daily distractions head on, can ultimately avoid unnecessary overtime and employee burnout.

Though these tips may seem obvious, it takes conscientious marketing managers to address three critically important points head on.

1. Identify what each team member is working on

The overtime hours referenced above are mere averages. You're bound to have a few overachievers who regularly work 50+ hours a week, offset by employees who have never worked past 5:30 in their lives.

Managers need to address both issues, and understand why certain team members are perpetually overloaded while others never do more than the bare minimum. After all, your overloaded overachievers are going to be most prone to burnout, and they're also the employees you'd most hate to lose.

To address the issue takes visibility into each person's workload and progress, best accomplished through a work-management software solution. Why? So you have access to the information you need without scheduling yet another meeting—or intruding on your employees' precious work time for a status update.

2. Drill down into how long the work actually takes

Here's another way work management software can help: It can automatically track how long each task, project, or assignment takes to complete, making it easier to assign realistic deadlines—and to consistently meet them. There's nothing more frustrating, as an employee, to always have 12 hours' worth of work to complete in only 8 hours' time.

Even without a robust software solution, you can use Agile marketing principles to better predict how long work takes and allocate that work more evenly across your team members.

The idea is to assign "story points" (a measurement usually based on hours and complexity) to every project, and then assign those projects based on available bandwidth, which takes a realistic understanding of how much real bandwidth your team has.

As time goes on, you'll get better and better at accurately estimating how long work takes, and how many story points your team as a whole can tackle in a week.

3. Reward productivity, not busy-ness

Let's talk again about those overachievers who are putting in 50+ hours a week. Are they really truly productive, or do they just look busy? Without visibility into individual responsibilities and output, there's no way to really know.

It could be possible that your employee who never stays past 5:30 at night is the one who's getting the most important work done—by proactively eliminating unnecessary meetings, excessive emailing, and other distractions. And the perpetual overtimers may be staying so late simply because they aren't setting the right boundaries during the workday.

One way to address this issue is to start rewarding actual productivity over simple hours worked (which is much easier to do if you have an objective window into each team member's output). Even consider embracing flexible work hours, with specified core hours when everyone needs to be plugged in and available. The State of Marketing Work report revealed that 32% of marketers are most productive before standard work hours even begin, with another 40% being most productive between 9 and 11. The worst hours by far are between noon and 3.

Why not allow employees some flexibility in the hours they work, taking advantage of their most productive time? Even if it means people are working remotely for part of each day, you'll reap the benefits of increased output and more balanced and contented employees. After all, it is about the results, not activity (busy-ness).

The result? You avoid burnout

Studies suggest that as many as one million people per day miss work because of stress, translating into a $150-$300 billion annual loss for US employers.

But if you're willing to address those three questions—increase your visibility into individual workloads, get realistic about bandwidth and deadlines, and start rewarding productivity over apparent busyness—you can reduce stress, overtime, burnout, and turnover throughout the team.


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Joe Staples is chief marketing officer of Workfront, a Cloud-based enterprise work automation solution that helps marketing, IT, and other teams avoid excessive email, redundant status meetings, and disconnected tools.

LinkedIn: Joe Staples

Twitter: @jstaples21

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