Is well-being in an agency the responsibility of the company or the individual?

Paul Crabtree Work Practices & Wellbeing

Working in an agency can be hard, particularly at specific times of the year.  We do our best to manage workloads and timelines at an organisational level, but with varied and challenging work, there is always room for improvement.  Everyone has different needs and tolerances. Operating in a world where change is a constant simplifies this.  The big question I feel that I grapple with regularly is where is the line – is team well-being the responsibility of the agency or the individual?

I believe it is both.  And I believe that all agency owners should not ignore it.  Judging by recent applicants to our open roles, I fear many still are.

Good well-being is not about words or signs. It is about actions and percolating an attitude through education without ignoring that high performance standards are needed to be commercially sound.

This is why I believe it is important that the employer provides leadership, particularly around education so that the individual can be the one who can take the right action at the right time.

And I believe it needs to transcend all the trials and tribulations of agency life. Sadly, not every agency thinks the same way.

Growth and change make this worse

2023 was a year of change for many agencies. At Velo, we grew with new clients which means new stakeholders, relationships and projects. AI appeared, adding fuel to the fire. My team has had to adapt, learn and work hard to keep standards up.  Thankfully they’ve been good at this.

It takes a toll though, and for many, the Christmas break couldn’t come quick enough even though their job satisfaction levels have never been higher.  We’ve navigated it by educating our team and our managers.

How are we providing this education?

At the start of Jan, we hosted our latest “Live well at Velo” event for our team, focused on their wellbeing.  The sessions included a deeply personal presentation by Exec Creative Director, Matt Scutt, who shared not only his own lived experience but ways of looking forward that were fully grounded in day-to-day life at Velo. Designed to encourage a more open dialogue, it showed how his time spent learning about mental health with St John Ambulance has been hours well spent.

This was followed by nutritionist Kate Cook giving us a taste of how good eating and living habits sit at the heart of well-being. Advocating a personalised approach, her energetic talk extolled the virtues of sensible breakfasts, reduced sugar in a diet to avoid fluctuating blood sugars and the importance of ingesting specific vitamins and minerals our body needs.  When combined with exercise and good sleep, this fuel powers performance and sets us up to navigate our days.

Both were fully focused on practical steps to take and were a call to action.

Providing ongoing support through our managers

It is harder than ever before to have line management responsibilities.  It is difficult to develop people who work from home, literally out of your sight. Delegation is equally challenging, as miscommunications are harder to spot. You can’t overhear and you can’t do an informal “tell me how far you’ve got” without a call.  Learning from afar is difficult. It’s easier when people are next to you.

Likewise, it is hard to spot signals that things are not quite what they should be.  This is why we use Melissa Romo’s remote working framework to identify signs that things are not going well.

The consequence of this, and a world that is changing, means that being resilient has become one of the most important attributes of management.

This is why we’ve invested in manager training, going beyond the textbook and using real practitioners to share their own experiences. There is nothing more relevant and inspirational than talking with those who are leading complicated and international marketing teams for practical guidance and answering their own specific questions.

How do we help the team day-to-day?

If you’re reading this expecting a golden bullet, I fear you may be disappointed. Our approach is to provide safety nets and make it a subject that we are comfortable talking about. We do not push it.  It remains the remit of the individual.

We use stand-ups and team meetings to spot patterns in well-being so support can be provided in advance in times of high work levels and short deadlines. We use consistent workflows to make this easier.

We have guard rails such as our HR Burnout tracker, which monitors holiday usage, and scheduling tools, which highlight signs of overwork in advance.  Our feedback mechanisms ensure positive relationships, too.

Our mental health policy is documented, clear and explained during onboarding showing its importance. This puts the onus on the individual.  We signpost services such as Nabs for confidential support, with a full pathway for support.

As an agency owner, I am very aware that our industry can be stressful, particularly at busier times of the year.  Pitches make this worse, which is why we support the Pitch Perfect Pledge and are very selective in the new business relationships we look to pursue.  Our industry is hard, but this is not an excuse to hide behind.  Agency owners need to do more than they have before.

I’m fortunate that the calibre of the people who chose to join Velo are drivers who make things happen for our clients. They make things happen for themselves, too.  We’ll continue to provide the tools and education needed to help them do this.  I feel privileged that this knowledge will be of benefit to them in their career well beyond their time with us.

So far, our team has been very positive. Organisationally, sickness is down and team satisfaction is up. Our team says they’re growing and developing and our status as Campaign “Best Places To Work” Award in 2023 suggests we’re getting more right than wrong. Without a doubt, we’ve more to do. Our policies and efforts will evolve as we learn more, and if you fancy being part of that journey, check out our open roles at:

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Paul Crabtree

Paul Crabtree

Managing Director

An IDM-qualified senior sales and marketing professional who has held board positions in various marketing agencies since 2005. Although he claims not to look old enough, the emerging silver locks tell a different story. As MD, founder and owner of Velo, his role is to lead the agency maintaining our quality standards to be the level that means we continue to be built on recommendation. He has a particular focus on new business, overseeing all our client relationships and leading our strategy function to make sure that our team has the skills and capabilities that our clients need, so we continue always craft great work to be proud of. Find him on LinkedIn here.