Long hours, overwhelming workloads, shared pressure, and frustrating tasks can cause serious employee burnout, especially in the fast-paced world of marketing and PR. Employees and owners may feel like they are always playing catch up and can never find a comfortable place with their duties, chasing trends and trying to innovate. This might lead to a lack of sleep, overwhelming stress, unhealthy habits, and overall unhappiness. Small businesses lean on a few people to get a lot done, so burnout can be extremely common. However, there are ways to avoid it.
In the chaos of a deadline or end-of-month tasks, it can be hard to take a step back and look at the problem, but that can be exactly what your small business needs. Identifying the pain points causing burnout can lead to a resolution for everyone. Your company might need to focus on hiring more people who are better trained to help take the load off of other employees. Maybe you need to work on protecting your employees and delegating tasks properly. No matter what the cause may be, there is a way to avoid it and remedy the problem in order to avoid burnout in a small business setting.
Why Small Businesses Deal with Burnout Often
Small businesses are often filled with people who are very close-knit and hardworking. These few people feel a sense of responsibility in the company as a whole, so they tend to overload themselves in order to complete tasks and ensure the business is successful. However, this sense of pride and passion is a double-edged sword. It creates a dedicated employee, but also an employee who is in danger of burning themselves out.
Burnout in the PR realm can lead to costly mistakes. The wrong tweet going viral, or a bad ad decision, could sway the public’s perception of the client or company. Just think of how many times a fed-up employee has hijacked a brand’s social media account and used it as their personal platform. It almost invariably leads to the employee being fired, but the damage is done, and the employee is already burned out.
For example, it was likely a disgruntled employee who tweeted out an infamous offensive message to its readers, which autocorrect would change to “Duck you,” from the Nokia New Zealand account. Later, in an attempt to mitigate the damage, the account tweeted, “Hi everyone, contrary to the last tweet, we love our Nokia NZ fans! Apologies to those who were offended- we’re investigating the source now.” Then, they blamed it on hackers, which is dubious at best. Now, the account is utterly blank, with all tweets deleted.
Damage control, which could be costly, is likely the only remedy in many of these cases. For a small business, this may not be an option, and the lost revenue could spell the end for the business. Social media is powerful — just look at how a hacked tweet from the Associated Press cost the stock market $136 billion in equity. A burned out, a vengeful employee could severely harm a company’s reputation.
In addition to that, fewer employees mean more work on fewer hands. Even for an employee who isn’t driven to chronic burnout due to their commitment to the success of the business or brand, they may still be overwhelmed by the number of tasks required of them. Small businesses often have employees completing a variety of different tasks in different departments, which can be difficult to balance. All that multitasking can lead to burnout.
Worse yet, millennials feel they are “work martyrs” and are workaholics. They don’t take vacation time, feeling that their bosses will look negatively on missing work and that others in the company can’t do what they do. They want to prove they are indispensable so they don’t lose a job. This is especially true in a small business format, where both the company — say a small PR firm — and the employee is trying to prove themselves. This, of course, is a recipe for burnout.
Finding Pain Points
One way to avoid burnout in a small marketing business is to find the pain points. It might be that some employees aren’t working as hard as others, leaving a bulk of the work to a few of them. It might be that coming up with an innovative marketing strategy that is suitable for the client takes longer, with fewer people to bounce ideas around. This can lead to employees working overtime, not taking their vacations, avoiding breaks, and feeling overworked as a result. This can be especially harmful to creatives, who feel their energy is being sapped and thus can’t come up with new, good ideas. There are a million things that could be the source of burnout, but pinpointing the pain points is important in order to fix the problem.
Finding the pain points of business is done by writing down the biggest hurdles as a business owner and discussing the biggest struggles of each employee. It’s also helpful to ask how each employee would go about fixing their own pain point. After all, no one knows the employee and their capabilities like the employee, and it can’t hurt to ask. It might be as simple as delegating tasks more efficiently. For example, assigning a single person to come up with graphics, outline a campaign, and handle a brand’s social media is far too much for one person to comfortably do at once.
For example, I was once assigned duties that were clearly not my best strength, and I let my managers know. I wasn’t good at those parts of the job, and I had told my managers multiple times since I started at the company. When I was eventually assigned to do these tasks again, it was clear I simply was not skilled at those tasks. A few weeks later, I was assigned different tasks in more of a support role — something I excelled at. I was starting to feel burned out, and instead, I got a breath of fresh air, doing something I was good at.
Discover which pain points can be fixed easily, or which ones will make the biggest impact. This will also show employees that the business is invested in their happiness.
“Employees quite literally run the company,” notes office supplier Bostitch. “It doesn’t matter where you rank or what your job title is; if your workers aren’t performing well, it affects the company. However, it is an owner/manager’s job to set employees up for success.”
Focusing on Smart Hiring Practices
In order to create a team of people who are all working hard, trained appropriately, and committed to a healthy work-life balance, it’s important to focus on smart hiring practices. In a small business, it’s not uncommon for employees to multitask and take care of myriad duties. The person trained in SEO, for example, might also take on managing social media, as the two often overlap. However, it’s important to hire more employees if you’re overworking your existing ones. Assigning the SEO to manage multiple campaigns for different clients while also posting to each of the clients’ social media accounts will quickly lead to burnout from overworking. Saving money now by not hiring enough people can cost you more in the future when employees leave due to being overworked.
In addition to that, it’s important to hire people who have the right experience, as well as offer the training specific to your company. Each person should be in their position because they are trained and right for the job, not because you need someone to complete that work. Efficiency is key, so hiring the right amount of people and the right type of people is paramount in creating a team of people who aren’t constantly stressed. For example, a person who is focused on writing a brand’s blog may not be the best to interface with the client on a regular basis, other than to present blog topics for approval.
Here’s a real-world example, though not in marketing — it will still illustrate the point. Tyler (his real name; we aren’t protecting the innocent) got a job in rental management. He has little experience in this world, having worked in shipping and logistics previously. A few weeks into the job, he was selected to go and represent the small company in evaluating a new property. He hardly knew what he was doing. He didn’t have the experience. He was sent alone. He quit the job a month later as duties he was not trained in piled on. Taking this example back to marketing and PR, we can look at SEO again.
It’s fine to hire someone with only writing experience — say a journalist or creative writer — but don’t expect them to be able to take on harder clients or represent the company at trade shows a month in. Without proper training, the employee will feel like they have been thrown in the deep end and they haven’t been taught to swim. It’s a great method for spooking employees and quickly causing burnout as the stress quickly mounts; it’s not great for retaining an employee who otherwise might have created a stellar marketing campaign.
Protecting Your Employees
Every business should value and protect their employees. Allowing them to feel burnt out or overworked makes them feel taken advantage of. Good employees who feel cared for will give their job everything they have, so it’s best for everyone to make sure employees are happy and as stress-free as possible. Create a culture of openness so they can be honest when they are overworked. Be strict about the hours they are allowed to work and don’t praise employees who don’t have a healthy work-life balance.
Be responsible for what is required of you as a business owner. This means having insurance for your business that is fair to both you and your employees, providing benefits for your employees, and prioritizing sick leave and vacation time.
Startups can expect to be hit fairly hard, but it is a long-term solution to keeping employees with training around. “Generally, you can anticipate spending between 20% to 30% of your business’s gross sales,” The Hartford notes. “The cost of Business Insurance can be affected by the type of coverage you choose, the level of coverage, the size of the company, and any unique needs.”
Protect the business and those working for it by offering competitive wages, making responsible financial choices, and offering safety and harassment training. These aspects of business will help employees feel protected and less stressed, helping to avoid burnout.
Responsible Task Delegation
The way to avoid burnout for employees is not to take on as many tasks as possible as a small business owner. On the flip side, the way to avoid burnout as a small business owner is not to put all of your tasks on your employees, either. Balance is key, which requires responsible task delegation. For business owners or those in leadership positions, it’s important to practice responsible task delegation for the sake of everyone and their workload. Delegate tasks based on strengths, fairness, and available time. Obviously, coming up with a campaign or writing a blog post will take longer than posting something to social media. Running damage control for a brand will take a large amount of creative power and time compared to a simple blog post.
The key is that each employee should feel safe speaking up if they aren’t getting enough tasks delegated to them, or if they have too many. Some managers have issues letting go of control long enough to allow others to complete their tasks, and other managers tend to delegate tasks too often. It’s a balancing act to get it just right, but the result should be less stress for everyone, which can help eliminate burnout.
Small businesses have culture specific to them. Employees will feel less of the corporate structure and more kinship with the business they work for. With low employee numbers and closer proximity to the business owner, relationships are stronger. They may feel more pride in their role and with their duties. They may feel direct responsibility in how the business is running.
However, this feeling of responsibility can lead to overworked employees and overworked business owners. However, as we previously saw, this can lead to a certain zealousness, not wanting to miss work. This is where responsible delegation comes into play. If, as a manager, you are able to delegate — especially if the employee needs to take time off but the project still needs to get done — employees will feel others can take over and they won’t worry about taking a day to relax and unwind, combating burnout.
Nevertheless, avoiding small business burnout can be done. It takes work to find the pain points, hire responsibly, protect employees, and delegate in a helpful way. However, the result is an employee base who is happier and more engaged in their work, leading to more creativity and better marketing campaigns.