Your Marketing Staff Are Burned Out: What to Do About It
A recent study suggested that 73 percent of marketers are now officially burned out from the job, some of that due to the pandemic and work-from-home-related policies. Yes, you read that right. Three-quarters of marketers are barely hanging on. And while Covid-19 hasn’t made the job any easier, it’s no secret that marketing has long been one of the most difficult jobs at any organization. The hours are long, the work seems endless, and the turnover is crazy high. Even before the pandemic hit, marketing had the highest turnover of any job function – at 17 percent a year – about 45 percent more than finance and IT, and more than double that of business development.
Why so high? There’s no doubt that some of it stems from the opportunities available: With the increased specialization of digital skills, marketers who become experts in a particular area of focus are much more highly valued these days, and can move from job to job as a result. But clearly, that’s not the entire picture.
Marketing: Too Much Work, Too Little Budget, Too Little Respect
Some turnover certainly has to do with the work itself. Real operational marketing, after all, can be a grind. The work requires attention to the smallest details – everything from paying attention to a headline on a sitelink extension in Google Ads, to the color of a call-to-action button in an email, to an image alt text tag on a page for SEO. The more attention to detail, the better the results. That means good marketing professionals never just “phone it in” – they have to care about those little things that help move the needle toward success. Such work, while rewarding, can be draining.
Second, marketing remains woefully underfunded in many cases. On average, companies spend about 11 percent of their revenue on marketing but that number may also include headcount, which means the dollars available to truly market the product or service might be quite a bit less. We’ve known plenty of marketing departments that spend only 5 percent of revenue on marketing activities, meaning even more pressure on limited marketing resources to hit a fiscal-year revenue goal. That pressure on costs often translates a lackadaisical commitment to fill open roles (particularly during a pandemic) and increasing workloads on the part of the existing staff, who have to become even more efficient.
Lastly, even though marketing plays one of the most key roles in driving revenue, the department often suffers from a lack of respect around the office. Part of it is what Steve Tobak made clear in his famous essay “Marketing Is Like Sex: Everyone Thinks They’re Good at It”. Indeed, a lot C-suite executives chime in on marketing because they think it’s straight-forward but don’t understand the intricacies: (“Why don’t you just do XYZ!”) This “focus group of one” attitude is so prevalent that Chief Marketing Officers rarely last long. The average tenure of high-level CMOs hit a low of 40 months in 2019, compared to the CEO average at 76 months. This turnover at the highest levels of marketing creates more chaos in departments, leading to additional uncertainty and additional burnout among staff.
What Can You Do About Burnout?
Burnout among staff often translates into unwanted turnover, which then translates into additional costs and resources for companies to recruit and train new staff, often those who don’t come in with the expertise and industry knowledge of the marketers who left. How can you reverse this trend at your organization? Here are a few thoughts.
- Look at Marketing as an Investment in Long-Term Growth
Successful companies think long-term. Too often, though, many organizations look at marketing simply as the engine to drive immediate-term growth (for that fiscal year). This short-term mindset leads to pressure every year to hit growth targets, without providing marketers the freedom and resources to actually think longer-term to grow business. And it becomes a vicious cycle in many ways, leading to fatigue on the part of both the existing customers and the staff.
Think of it this way: Most companies look at investments in research IT or other areas as longer-term plays. And while some of those costs can be depreciated, the net result is that the company thinks about its growth not just this year, but in years to come. Marketing is no different. Short-term results are important, yes. But isn’t the long-term health of the business even more important? Providing marketing the right budgets to pursue a full-funnel marketing strategy can help you achieve balanced results – hitting your targets this year, while setting the foundation to grow next year and the year after.
2. Consider a Limited Job Rotation for Marketers
One area of burnout for many marketing staff is the specialized and repetitive nature of the role. Email marketers send similar emails every day, paid media / search specialists focus on implementing new Google Ads or applying negative matches to keywords, and content marketers may simply just write a new piece a few times a week. After a while, the job starts to seem repetitive and mindset starts to be: “Get the work done!” rather than “Do the work well!”
One way to relieve this Groundhog-Day-like environment is to rotate marketers in a limited fashion, taking the time to cross-train them on other areas so they learn something new. This may seem counter-intuitive at a time when resources are already stretched thin. But cross-training does two things: a. It allows for one specialist or manager to help pitch in when someone else may be out or too swamped with work; b. It breaks up the usual, day-to-day experience, allowing your staff to learn something different and; c. Exposes your team to different areas, which ideally would increase their knowledge of the big picture, improving creativity.
3. Help the Marketing Team Focus
Many organizations take the approach that “everything is important,” so in the end, nothing ends up being so. Having a more focused product and marketing approach, cutting fat areas that take a lot of resources but provide little visible return can be a benefit to help focus staff on those areas that matter. That said, be careful not to cut diverse revenue streams or products and services that may provide an additional benefit beyond revenue such as content creation or branding efforts.
In marketing in particular, focus at the macro level is especially an acute problem given already limited resources. Hence, it’s never a bad idea to take an audit of what the most crucial activities are, what role they play in the entire marketing buyer journey, and decide which ones the team can focus on first. Prioritizing work can also be done by focusing on immediate-term needs versus the longer-term. The danger, of course, is that the longer-term work never gets accomplished, but creating a reasonable time line for such activities to be completed can also make something seem more achievable, boosting morale.
4. Prioritize Professional Development Opportunities
Lastly, don’t forget your employees want and need career growth. They can only grow if they continue to learn new things. Prioritizing professional development opportunities is key in this respect, especially with the increased specialization that occurs in marketing. Specialization means that marketers, more and more, are being pigeon-holed into particular roles – a development that hinders their long-term career growth. Providing learning opportunities such virtual learning days, boot camps, or even more formal corporate marketing training can help marketers reset and refresh their skills, and sometimes even provide a boost in terms of renewed enthusiasm. By learning new things in other areas beyond their specialty, marketers also can improve their big-picture focus and set the stage for the next step in their career.
Burnout is a real thing. And if companies aren’t careful, marketing departments may be hit with even more turnover, increasing costs, and losing valuable team members who possess both industry knowledge and experience. We’d love to hear your feedback on the issue. Feel free to comment below or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marketing Nice Guys helps individuals and businesses excel at digital marketing. We provide consulting and marketing operations services to help augment existing staff, as well as training in the form of boot camps and customizable corporate events. Contact us to learn more.