By The Malketeer

In the chaotic world of advertising, where creativity and innovation reign supreme, the well-being of employees often takes a backseat. Amidst demanding clients, relentless deadlines, and high-pressure campaigns, the emotional and mental health of advertising professionals too frequently falls by the wayside.

This begs the question: Should advertising agencies hire Chief Well-Being Officers (CWOs) to champion the well-being of their teams?

A State of Crisis in Advertising Well-Being

Advertising, renowned for its high-octane work environment, places immense pressure on creative individuals to deliver groundbreaking ideas under severe constraints. The industry’s reputation for burnout, anxiety, and depression is deeply concerning, and the toll on professionals’ lives is undeniable. Behind the glamour of creative campaigns lies a well-documented mental health crisis that advertising agencies must confront.

The advertising industry was shocked to learn of a 27-year-old copywriter who tragically passed away from work exhaustion in Jakarta after a grueling 30-hour shift at a global agency in late 2013. This heartbreaking incident was not an isolated case. A young PR Executive in China also succumbed to work exhaustion. Earlier this year, a Media Executive passed away while on duty at a Bangkok news channel due to work exhaustion. Similar cases have also been reported in Japan and India involving creatives.

Ironically, as a novice copywriter at O & M, I was nurtured on David Ogilvy’s famous mantra: “Hard work never killed a man. Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work.” Many of us at the peak of our careers took  grave risks working 16 hours daily, week after week. For some of us, the only break was to gulp a couple of stiff Patiala pegs of single-malt whiskies prior to the so-called rejuvenating power naps.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over one million people in China die from overwork every year. The Japanese even coined a name for their 10,000 workers who drop dead annually from putting in 60-to-70-hour work weeks: “karoshi,” which hauntingly translates as death from overwork!

Crucial Lessons from Other Industries

To understand the importance of Chief Well-Being Officers in advertising, we can look to various industries that have seen transformative effects due to the introduction of such roles.

The Tech Paradigm

Google and Facebook, synonymous with Silicon Valley’s tech giants, have embraced Chief Happiness Officers (CHOs) and Chief Well-Being Officers (CWOs) to elevate employee satisfaction and productivity. These roles focus on fostering a supportive work culture, implementing stress-relief initiatives, and providing a spectrum of mental health resources. The result is a happier, more productive workforce, directly contributing to the financial success of tech companies.

Healing the Healers – Healthcare Industry

The healthcare sector, with its life-and-death decisions, is a breeding ground for immense stress among medical professionals. Hospitals and healthcare organisations have appointed Chief Wellness Officers who concentrate on reducing burnout, improving work-life balance, and enhancing mental health support for their staff. This approach diminished staff turnover and led to improved patient care.

Academic Elevation

Universities and colleges globally have recognised the mounting mental health issues affecting their students. These institutions have responded by appointing Chief Well-Being Officers who create a nurturing academic environment, offering counselling services and peer support systems. This shift has empowered students to seek help, resulting in better academic performance.

Applying These Lessons to Advertising

A Chief Well-Being Officer (CWO) can help address burnout among creative employees in an advertising agency by implementing a range of strategies and initiatives.

Flexible Work Arrangements: The CWO can introduce flexible work arrangements, allowing creative employees to set their own hours, work remotely, or adopt compressed workweeks. This flexibility enables individuals to better manage their work-life balance and reduce burnout.

Mental Health Support Services: The CWO can partner with mental health professionals or an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to provide counselling and support services. Creative employees can access confidential assistance for managing stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.

Creative Project Management: Implement effective project management systems that distribute workloads more evenly and reduce last-minute deadlines. This helps prevent creative professionals from feeling overwhelmed and reduces burnout.

Training and Development: Provide training on time management, stress reduction, and emotional intelligence. These skills can help creative employees better manage their workload and cope with stress.

Peer Support Networks: Foster peer support networks where creative employees can share experiences and coping strategies. Peer support can create a sense of camaraderie and help individuals navigate burnout.

Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular one-on-one meetings between creative employees and their managers. This offers a platform for discussing workloads, expectations, and any concerns related to burnout.

Creative Outlets: Encourage creative employees to explore personal creative projects or hobbies outside of work. Engaging in non-work-related creative activities can provide an outlet for self-expression and relaxation.

Sabbatical Programmes: Consider offering sabbatical breaks where employees can take an extended leave of absence to recharge and pursue personal interests. This can be an effective way to prevent burnout in the long term.

Role Modelling: As the CWO, actively promote and prioritise your own well-being. Lead by example to show the importance of maintaining balance and self-care.

Well-Being Metrics: Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) related to employee well-being and regularly report on progress. Use these metrics to track the agency’s efforts in mitigating burnout.

Onboarding and Orientation: Ensure that new hires receive orientation about well-being initiatives and resources available within the agency, making them aware of the agency’s commitment to employee well-being from day one.

A Flourishing Future for Creativity and Well-Being

Advertising agencies must recognise the significance of well-being, which often languishes in the shadows of creativity. By embracing Chief Well-Being Officers, agencies can embark on a transformative journey. In an industry that thrives on creative brilliance, the mental and emotional health of its professionals is the springboard of innovation.

Chief Well-Being Officers are not a luxury but a necessity, a catalyst for healthier, more creative, and ultimately more successful advertising agencies. They offer the industry a unique opportunity to reinvent itself, nurturing the genius that fuels its continued success.

It’s time for advertising agencies to put the well-being of their creative forces front and centre, for the sake of their employees, their clients, and the enduring legacy of their campaigns.

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The APPIES is an annual event that presents a rare opportunity for creative, media, digital and marketing agencies or brands to present their best campaigns to the industry.

This is the only event where Live Presentations meets Live Judging.

Similar to TED Talks, The APPIES is the chance for great presenters with outstanding work to show it off to some of the industry’s most important industry leaders.

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APPIES Festival – Judging & Presentations
11th – 12th July 2024 (Malaysia)


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