That open dialogue has become a necessary part of the culture of many agencies across the country, which rely upon creative people who may be feeling the effects of the past few years’ unique challenges.
“We understand we are living in unprecedented times and that our employees face levels of stress that many of us had never even considered in the past, whether it be due to political division, climate change, economic fears or the spread of new and old diseases,” said Mark Drossman, executive creative director of health and wellness at Cien+, where mental health considerations range from online therapy and meditation sessions to team get-togethers, workshops and dinners, open dialogue between employees and supervisors and regular wellness surveys. “Creativity doesn’t work best under pressure, so it’s in our best interest and the interest of our employees and clients to do everything we can to help make our people feel good about themselves and the impact their work can have on the world.”
Fostering the type of culture that promotes mental wellness also means better work, and better collaboration.
“Creating an open culture has helped us move forward together working from home, working hybrid and working IRL. This has sustained our creativity through difficult times and made us stronger as individuals, because you don’t always know what’s going on in someone’s life outside of work,” said Sean Dana, VP of creative at Empower, where the team has committed to take on one pro bono project per quarter to help give the team “a serotonin boost while supporting our community,” the latest example being a rebrand and positioning for My Fave Five.
Encouraging work-life boundaries
While open dialogue is critical, so too are clear lines between when the work begins and ends. Since the onset of the pandemic, and the unprecedented blurring of lines between work and home, agency leaders have had to adopt new ways to preserve the sanctity of off-hours. At Heartlent Group, internal meetings are forbidden on Thursdays and Fridays, in part to help staff manage their individual priorities and in part to encourage a four-day weekend if desired.
“By preemptively keeping people’s schedules void of meetings, it enables them to look at those days differently—they aren’t saying ‘no’ to things and canceling and feeling like they can’t miss something that’s scheduled on their calendar,” said Heartlent’s Stoeckeler. “We have to be our individual best to do our best work, and sometimes that means starting work late, ending work early, taking a day or two away from work or prioritizing and scheduling that vacation. The key is to support and trust each other to work in a way that works best for everyone, which might not be the way that works for you, and that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”
San Francisco- and L.A.-based Duncan Channon made a similar decision to close their offices one extra day per month to encourage staff to turn off and recharge. “Remote work and our tech-enabled, always-on lives have blurred the lines between work, play and rest,” said CEO Andy Berkenfield. “In recognition of this challenge, we felt a responsibility to create new boundaries that give staff time to themselves and freedom from pressure to be available 24/7. The decision to close as an agency—together and completely—combats the intrinsic pressure to check in or be helpful when you know the rest of your team is working.”
Fridays after noon at Duncan Channon are also designated “meeting-free zones” to avoid having work spill over into employees’ weekend time, while DE&I town halls and culture club meetings provide space for people to bring real-world conversations into the workplace.
“Earlier this year, we had an entire conversation on how people were dealing with the feeling of ‘languishing’ at home during the pandemic,” said Berkenfield. “The candor created a palpable sense of connection and signaled that it’s OK to be human at our agency.”
“One way we know we can support well-being at Jack Morton is helping our employees step away from work and disconnect. However, it’s not just about more PTO days,” said Natalie Ackerman, executive VP of talent and inclusion at Jack Morton, where mental health benefits include behavioral healthcare coverage, access to Talkspace and Sanvello, and an employee assistance program. “We realized people feel relieved when everyone is off at once, versus working late to wrap up projects before a vacation or sifting through hundreds of emails upon return when you’re the only one off.”
Jack Morton now closes their offices twice a year for a full week, in addition to the 10 company holidays they previously closed for. The global agency is also moving to MyTime PTO, offering 10 paid time off days throughout the year in addition to unlimited additional days on request.
“Our hope is that this new PTO scheme will encourage employees to take days as needed, rather than having to bank them for scheduled vacations,” said Ackerman.