How to Keep Your Team of Creatives From Burning Out
Creative agencies thrive when the people who work there are in a healthy state of mind.
If there’s one thing we know about creatives, it’s that they are free spirits. They don’t like to be constrained artistically and professionally. That is why artists like graphic designers and animators are turning to freelance work in an attempt to become their own bosses. When you’re the master of your own time and space, you can mold your hours and surroundings to allow minimum creative burnout.
However, if you’re operating within a team in a workspace, there are a lot of external stimuli that affect your performance. Dipping team morale, a tense office environment and the pressure to come up with a steady stream of creative ideas can often become overwhelming. As a boss, hiring manager or creative team leader, you want to give your team the right environment and resources to remain consistently productive. That’s easier said than done.
Since creativity is a free spirit phenomenon, trying to manufacture it regularly increases the chance of creative burnout. Identifying burnout in creative teams becomes difficult if employees don’t feel comfortable voicing their concerns. That’s why as a leader, you constantly have to be on the lookout for signs of creative burnout.
Ask for timelines instead of deadlines
As a business owner, client satisfaction is your prime concern. So while setting project timelines, it’s natural to skew towards client convenience and set unrealistic expectations.
Oftentimes, this is to the detriment of your creative team and their productivity. The key here is to understand that to delight your clients, you have to take care of your employees first. You can’t give them an unsurmountable workload for longer periods and expect them to work at optimum efficiency throughout.
I always find it best to discuss the project specifications with the team and ask them about suitable timelines for each milestone — this requires a certain level of trust in your team. I then negotiate those timelines according to client needs, and we ultimately arrive at a happy medium that works for both the clients and team.
All in all, the process makes them more in control of their work and keeps the collective overwhelm at bay.
Allow inter-team idea exchange
So you’ve hired a team of the best creatives. They’re enthusiastic, understand client needs and come up with great ideas accordingly. But let’s face it: At the end of the day, creativity is work for them. Going through the creative process day in and day out can drain your team. They fall into a pattern, and the ideas start to run dry.
When my creative team is having trouble "thinking outside the box", we ask for ideas from members of other teams in the company Slack channel. They then come in with fresh minds and good spirits. To them, it’s much-needed mental stimulation, a break from their usual jobs, and they actively pitch in ideas.
Encourage learning new skills
When it comes to creatives, lack of mental stimulation quickly starts translating into a lack of productivity and eventual creative burnout. They function best when they feel challenged. To keep your employees on their creative toes, urge them to practice new skills. Allow them time and space to explore new facets of their creativity.
We have a special training allowance for each employee that they can use to buy courses to advance their skills. That way, our creatives always have the opportunity to try new things if they start feeling stagnant. It’s also important to observe which creative team members have outgrown their original job description. You can always discuss assigning new roles and additional responsibilities with them.
Harness the power of mindless tasks
Coming up with creative ideas is hard work for the mind. When creatives are heading towards burnout, mindless tasks can be lifesavers. Look at mindless tasks as a way of taking "productive breaks". For instance, arranging assets and folders for archiving, looking for stock footage and images for projects and company repository, downloading fonts, and more can be mindless tasks
Mindless tasks are also a great way to unwind, as that’s when you can easily put on some music or listen to a podcast in the background.
Shake things up — literally
This goes without saying, but exercise is a great way to avoid both mental and physical burnout. Getting the creative juices flowing requires moving around. Encourage your creative team to take regular breaks and walk around. Install standing tables in your workspace. Or, just follow this quick office exercise routine.
If your organization can afford it, a few treadmills wouldn’t hurt either. A quick workout can increase endorphin levels and provide instant mood elevation, making for a happier, more productive team of creatives.
Offer positive reinforcement
Creatives are their own biggest critics. They constantly question their artistic value and wonder if they can do better. Providing regular feedback on their work keeps the uncertainty at bay. It gives them a clear idea of how their work is being received by the senior management and the clients.
I find that genuine positive reinforcement goes a long way in keeping the creative team motivated and productive. Moreover, if your creative team is putting in extra hours to ensure that your projects are delivered on time, make it a point to compensate them monetarily.
There is nothing more demoralizing than being taken for granted. Burnout is a given if employees are not getting paid properly.
Acknowledge creative blocks
Creativity can’t always be summoned. It’s important to accept that creative blocks are a thing and cut your team some slack when they strike. Try to listen and approach the situation with a problem-solving mindset, rather than holding it against them.
If one of my creatives comes up with the complaint of being stuck, I usually ask them to peruse Pinterest or Dribble for inspiration. I also offer to switch up the kind of work they are doing. For instance, if a designer who specializes in creating character illustrations is running dry, I’d ask them to experiment with a motion graphics project.
Use creative energy strategically
A tough thing to do while leading a creative team is knowing when to draw the line in creative improvements. Some projects don’t merit excessive time and energy. That often leaves creatives dissatisfied about how the project has turned out and they want to make improvements.
Moreover, some creative visions are hard to execute as they go beyond the scope of the project. That’s when you need to take the lead and make them understand that their energies would be better off spent on other projects.
Less is sometimes more. If you’re dealing with short creative windows, you need to allocate resources, both mental and physical, strategically.
To keep your creative team from burning out, you have to take a proactive approach. Anticipate and try to avoid burnouts before they happen. When they do occur, respect the creative process, practice empathy for your team and move forward with a solution-oriented approach.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor