‘Pay constant attention to levels of fatigue’: Bosses work to combat continued morale-drop

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The holiday season is over. The weather is dreadful. Spring won’t be here for weeks.

January is typically the cruelest month. This year, the month has been harder than usual, courtesy of a seemingly inexhaustible pandemic and political unrest in the U.S. in the run-up to Inauguration Day.

Boosting morale among staff is more critical than ever for employers, many of whom are aiming to pivot back to growth following a year of stalled business and cost containment.

To promote the wellness of its employees, New York-based digital marketing firm January Digital launched a program called Well Works, which includes unlimited online therapy sessions alongside an annual stipend to cover individual mental, physical, emotional and spiritual support. The program also features generous parental leave and return-to-work policies; monthly events that provide wellness education and prioritize personal growth, incorporating topics like nutrition and stress management as well as free healthcare coverage, including dental and vision.

It is just one way that companies are working to boost the spirits, morale and productivity of homebound, stressed out employees, many of whom are also feeling burned out from the effects of a year-long pandemic that’s upended their work and personal lives.

“In an industry that has traditionally considered providing free snacks and ping-pong tables to employees as benefits, we saw an opportunity to do more and be better,” said Megan Jones, VP of marketing and a partner at January Digital, a company name inspired by the idea of a fresh start and anything being possible, and with clients including Peapod and The Honest Company.

Another shop’s entire business is shaped by the acknowledgement that everybody suffers from the winter blues and may not be at the top of their game.

“We have a strict no-stress policy for months like these,” said Aaron Haynes, CEO of Seattle-based Loganix, which specializes in SEO marketing. “Everyone is obliged to take it slow and easy to keep the spirits high and work clean. We try not to work too hard and instead focus on planning, strategizing and talking things over for future work. Once the team is warmed up, we start the year strong and maintain that performance throughout the year.”

The digital agency McKinney in Durham, North Carolina, which has done work for Little Caesars and Samsung, has an employee experience team that provides care packages, organizes weekly virtual events and has brought two social workers on board to ensure mental health is prioritized. Every week, it hosts an all-company meeting for business updates as well as employee recognition and open dialogue around the events of the day. “By focusing on employee experience, we stayed motivated and energized,” said CEO Joe Maglio. That led to organic growth and seven account wins this past year, including four in the fourth quarter.

Some leaders have had to focus on keeping up employee morale even as they faced unique disruptions. Take the Los Angeles-based market research firm DISQO, which had to deal not only with the pandemic but a war in Armenia, where its tech division is headquartered. “We decided early on to control what we could,” said co-founder and CEO Armen Adjemian. “We balanced the needs of all our stakeholders: our people, consumers in our panel, investors and other partners.” The company adjusted its financial plans to avoid layoffs and focused on being transparent about its mission, values, goals and responses to crises.

“As a small advertising agency, keeping our energy and creativity up is a must,” said Brian Anderson, principal and creative at The Perception, a Black-owned firm in Philadelphia with clients including Nike and Apple. Outside the usual client meetings and brainstorming sessions, a daily Zoom call focuses on matters beyond work. “We catch up on each other’s lives, current events, say ‘hi’ to each other’s spouses and kids … and just talk,” Anderson said. “Allowing us some laughs on the good days and a place to vent in the mornings that are a little dark creates an outlet for all of us to be in the right headspace for the rest of the day.”

Thibaud Clement, co-founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based marketing software firm Loomly, with agency clients like Havas and BBDO, has this piece of advice for his fellow leaders: Do everything you can to keep employees from feeling stressed out and burned out in the first place. That includes paying close, constant attention to the levels of fatigue and motivating your team members.

After all, doing so is just good business. Clement is careful to always remind his employees of their vital role in meeting the company’s goals, encouraging them along the way. “This allows us to share a common purpose and work towards it together, no matter what comes our way,” he added.


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